Part 2 out of 5
It's a job for the police!"
"Please yersel'," said the Chieftain, and looked at Heritage.
"I'm on," said that gentleman.
"Well, just you set out the morn as if ye were for a walk up
the Garple glen. I'll be on the road and I'll have orders for ye."
Without more ado Dougal left by way of the back kitchen. There was
a brief denunciation from Mrs. Morran, then the outer door banged
and he was gone.
The Poet sat still with his head in his hands, while Dickson,
acutely uneasy, prowled about the floor. He had forgotten even to
light his pipe. "You'll not be thinking of heeding that ragamuffin
boy," he ventured.
"I'm certainly going to get into the House tomorrow," Heritage
answered, "and if he can show me a way so much the better.
He's a spirited youth. Do you breed many like him in Glasgow?"
"Plenty," said Dickson sourly. "See here, Mr. Heritage. You can't
expect me to be going about burgling houses on the word of a
blagyird laddie. I'm a respectable man--aye been. Besides, I'm
here for a holiday, and I've no call to be mixing myself up in
"You haven't. Only you see, I think there's a friend of mine in
that place, and anyhow there are women in trouble. If you like,
we'll say goodbye after breakfast, and you can continue as if you
had never turned aside to this damned peninsula. But I've got
Dickson groaned. What had become of his dream of idylls, his gentle
bookish romance? Vanished before a reality which smacked horribly
of crude melodrama and possibly of sordid crime. His gorge rose at
the picture, but a thought troubled him. Perhaps all romance in its
hour of happening was rough and ugly like this, and only shone rosy
in retrospect. Was he being false to his deepest faith?
"Let's have Mrs. Morran in," he ventured. "She's a wise old body
and I'd like to hear her opinion of this business. We'll get common
sense from her."
"I don't object," said Heritage. "But no amount of common sense
will change my mind."
Their hostess forestalled them by returning at that moment
to the kitchen.
"We want your advice, mistress," Dickson told her, and accordingly,
like a barrister with a client, she seated herself carefully in the
big easy chair, found and adjusted her spectacles, and waited with
hands folded on her lap to hear the business. Dickson narrated
their pre-supper doings, and gave a sketch of Dougal's evidence.
His exposition was cautious and colourless, and without conviction.
He seemed to expect a robust incredulity in his hearer.
Mrs. Morran listened with the gravity of one in church. When Dickson
finished she seemed to meditate. "There's no blagyird trick that
would surprise me in thae new folk. What's that ye ca' them-
-Lean and Spittal? Eppie Home threepit to me they were furriners,
and these are no furrin names."
"What I want to hear from you, Mrs. Morran,' said Dickson impressively,
"is whether you think there's anything in that boy's story?"
"I think it's maist likely true. He's a terrible impident callant,
but he's no' a leear."
"Then you think that a gang of ruffians have got two lone women shut
up in that house for their own purposes?"
"I wadna wonder."
"But it's ridiculous! This is a Christian and law-abiding country.
What would the police say?"
"They never troubled Dalquharter muckle. There's no' a polisman
nearer than Knockraw--yin Johnnie Trummle, and he's as useless as a
"The wiselike thing, as I think," said Dickson, "would be to turn
the Procurator-Fiscal on to the job. It's his business, no' ours."
"Well, I wadna say but ye're richt,' said the lady.
"What would you do if you were us?" Dickson's tone was subtly
confidential. "My friend here wants to get into the House the
morn with that red-haired laddie to satisfy himself about the facts.
I say no. Let sleeping dogs lie, I say, and if you think the beasts
are mad, report to the authorities. What would you do yourself?"
"If I were you," came the emphatic reply, "I would tak' the first
train hame the morn, and when I got hame I wad bide there. Ye're a
dacent body, but ye're no' the kind to be traivellin' the roads."
"And if you were me?' Heritage asked with his queer crooked smile.
"If I was young and yauld like you I wad gang into the Hoose, and I
wadna rest till I had riddled oot the truith and jyled every
scoondrel about the place. If ye dinna gang, 'faith I'll kilt my
coats and gang mysel'. I havena served the Kennedys for forty year
no' to hae the honour o' the Hoose at my hert....Ye've speired my
advice, sirs, and ye've gotten it. Now I maun clear awa' your supper."
Dickson asked for a candle, and, as on the previous night, went
abruptly to bed. The oracle of prudence to which he had appealed
had betrayed him and counselled folly. But was it folly? For him,
assuredly, for Dickson McCunn, late of Mearns Street, Glasgow,
wholesale and retail provision merchant, elder in the Guthrie
Memorial Kirk, and fifty-five years of age. Ay, that was the rub.
He was getting old. The woman had seen it and had advised him to
go home. Yet the plea was curiously irksome, though it gave him
the excuse he needed. If you played at being young, you had to
take up the obligations of youth, and he thought derisively of his
boyish exhilaration of the past days. Derisively, but also sadly.
What had become of that innocent joviality he had dreamed of,
that happy morning pilgrimage of Spring enlivened by tags from
the poets? His goddess had played him false. Romance had put upon
him too hard a trial.
He lay long awake, torn between common sense and a desire to be
loyal to some vague whimsical standard. Heritage a yard distant
appeared also to be sleepless, for the bed creaked with his turning.
Dickson found himself envying one whose troubles, whatever they
might be, were not those of a divided mind.
OF THE PRINCESS IN THE TOWER
Very early the next morning, while Mrs. Morran was still cooking
breakfast, Dickson and Heritage might have been observed taking the
air in the village street. It was the Poet who had insisted upon
this walk, and he had his own purpose. They looked at the spires of
smoke piercing the windless air, and studied the daffodils in the
cottage gardens. Dickson was glum, but Heritage seemed in high spirits.
He varied his garrulity with spells of cheerful whistling.
They strode along the road by the park wall till they reached the inn.
There Heritage's music waxed peculiarly loud. Presently from the yard,
unshaven and looking as if he had slept in this clothes, came Dobson
"Good morning," said the poet. "I hope the sickness in your house
is on the mend?"
"Thank ye, it's no worse," was the reply, but in the man's heavy
face there was little civility. His small grey eyes searched
"We're just waiting for breakfast to get on the road again.
I'm jolly glad we spent the night here. We found quarters
after all, you know."
"So I see. Whereabouts, may I ask?"
"Mrs. Morran's. We could always have got in there, but we didn't
want to fuss an old lady, so we thought we'd try the inn first.
She's my friend's aunt."
At this amazing falsehood Dickson started, and the man observed
his surprise. The eyes were turned on him like a searchlight.
They roused antagonism in his peaceful soul, and with that
antagonism came an impulse to back up the Poet. "Ay," he said,
"she's my auntie Phemie, my mother's half-sister."
The man turned on Heritage.
"Where are ye for the day?"
"Auchenlochan," said Dickson hastily. He was still determined to
shake the dust of Dalquharter from his feet.
The innkeeper sensibly brightened. "Well, ye'll have a fine walk.
I must go in and see about my own breakfast. Good day to ye, gentlemen."
"That," said Heritage as they entered the village street again,
"is the first step in camouflage, to put the enemy off his guard."
"It was an abominable lie," said Dickson crossly.
"Not at all. It was a necessary and proper ruse de guerre.
It explained why we spent the right here, and now Dobson and
his friends can get about their day's work with an easy mind.
Their suspicions are temporarily allayed, and that will make
our job easier."
"I'm not coming with you."
"I never said you were. By 'we' I refer to myself and the
"Mistress, you're my auntie," Dickson informed Mrs. Morran as she
set the porridge on the table. "This gentleman has just been
telling the man at the inn that you're my Auntie Phemie."
For a second their hostess looked bewildered. Then the corners of
her prim mouth moved upwards in a slow smile.
"I see," she said. "Weel, maybe it was weel done. But if ye're my
nevoy ye'll hae to keep up my credit, for we're a bauld and siccar lot."
Half an hour later there was a furious dissension when Dickson
attempted to pay for the night's entertainment. Mrs. Morran would
have none of it. "Ye're no' awa' yet," she said tartly, and
the matter was complicated by Heritage's refusal to take part
in the debate. He stood aside and grinned, till Dickson in despair
returned his notecase to his pocket, murmuring darkly the "he would
send it from Glasgow."
The road to Auchenlochan left the main village street at right
angles by the side of Mrs. Morran's cottage. It was a better road
than that by which they had come yesterday, for by it twice daily
the postcart travelled to the post-town. It ran on the edge of the
moor and on the lip of the Garple glen, till it crossed that stream
and, keeping near the coast, emerged after five miles into the
cultivated flats of the Lochan valley. The morning was fine,
the keen air invited to high spirits, plovers piped entrancingly
over the bent and linnets sang in the whins, there was a solid
breakfast behind him, and the promise of a cheerful road till luncheon.
The stage was set for good humour, but Dickson's heart, which should
have been ascending with the larks, stuck leadenly in his boots.
He was not even relieved at putting Dalquharter behind him.
The atmosphere of that unhallowed place lay still on his soul.
He hated it, but he hated himself more. Here was one, who had hugged
himself all his days as an adventurer waiting his chance, running away
at the first challenge of adventure; a lover of Romance who fled from
the earliest overture of his goddess. He was ashamed and angry, but
what else was there to do? Burglary in the company of a queer poet and
a queerer urchin? It was unthinkable.
Presently, as they tramped silently on, they came to the bridge
beneath which the peaty waters of the Garple ran in porter-coloured
pools and tawny cascades. From a clump of elders on the other side
Dougal emerged. A barefoot boy, dressed in much the same parody of
a Boy Scout's uniform, but with corduroy shorts instead of a kilt,
stood before him at rigid attention. Some command was issued, the
child saluted, and trotted back past the travellers with never a
look at them. Discipline was strong among the Gorbals Die-Hards;
no Chief of Staff ever conversed with his General under a
Dougal received the travellers with the condescension of a regular
"They're off their gawrd," he announced. Thomas Yownie has been
shadowin' them since skreigh o' day, and he reports that Dobson and
Lean followed ye till ye were out o' sight o' the houses, and syne
Lean got a spy-glass and watched ye till the road turned in among
the trees. That satisfied them, and they're both away back to their
jobs. Thomas Yownie's the fell yin. Ye'll no fickle Thomas Yownie."
Dougal extricated from his pouch the fag of a cigarette, lit it, and
puffed meditatively. "I did a reckonissince mysel' this morning.
I was up at the Hoose afore it was light, and tried the door o'
the coal-hole. I doot they've gotten on our tracks, for it was
lockit--aye, and wedged from the inside."
Dickson brightened. Was the insane venture off?
"For a wee bit I was fair beat. But I mindit that the lassie was
allowed to walk in a kind o' a glass hoose on the side farthest away
from the Garple. That was where she was singin' yest'reen. So I
reckonissinced in that direction, and I fund a queer place."
Sacred Songs and Solos was requisitioned, and on a page of it Dougal
proceeded to make marks with the stump of a carpenter's pencil.
"See here," he commanded. "There's the glass place wi' a door into
the Hoose. That door maun be open or the lassie maun hae the key,
for she comes there whenever she likes. Now' at each end o' the
place the doors are lockit, but the front that looks on the garden
is open, wi' muckle posts and flower-pots. The trouble is that
that side there' maybe twenty feet o' a wall between the pawrapet
and the ground. It's an auld wall wi' cracks and holes in it, and
it wouldn't be ill to sklim. That's why they let her gang there when
she wants, for a lassie couldn't get away without breakin' her neck."
"Could we climb it?" Heritage asked.
The boy wrinkled his brows. "I could manage it mysel'--I think--and
maybe you. I doubt if auld McCunn could get up. Ye'd have to be
mighty carefu' that nobody saw ye, for your hinder end, as ye were
sklimmin', wad be a grand mark for a gun."
"Lead on," said Heritage. "We'll try the verandah."
They both looked at Dickson, and Dickson, scarlet in the face,
looked back at them. He had suddenly found the thought of a
solitary march to Auchenlochan intolerable. Once again he was
at the parting of the ways, and once more caprice determined
his decision. That the coal-hole was out of the question had worked
a change in his views, Somehow it seemed to him less burglarious to
enter by a verandah. He felt very frightened but--for the moment-
"I'm coming with you," he said.
"Sportsman," said Heritage, and held out his hand. "Well done, the
auld yin," said the Chieftain of the Gorbals Die-Hards. Dickson's
quaking heart experienced a momentary bound as he followed Heritage
down the track into the Garple Dean.
The track wound through a thick covert of hazels, now close to the
rushing water, now high upon the bank so that clear sky showed
through the fringes of the wood. When they had gone a little way
Dougal halted them.
"It's a ticklish job," he whispered. "There's the tinklers, mind,
that's campin' in the Dean. If they're still in their camp we can
get by easy enough, but they're maybe wanderin' about the wud after
rabbits....Then we maun ford the water, for ye'll no' cross it lower
down where it's deep....Our road is on the Hoose side o' the Dean,
and it's awfu' public if there's onybody on the other side, though
it's hid well enough from folk up in the policies....Ye maun do
exactly what I tell ye. When we get near danger I'll scout on
ahead, and I daur ye to move a hair o' your heid till I give the word."
Presently, when they were at the edge of the water, Dougal announced
his intention of crossing. Three boulders in the stream made a
bridge for an active man, and Heritage hopped lightly over. Not so
Dickson, who stuck fast on the second stone, and would certainly
have fallen in had not Dougal plunged into the current and steadied
him with a grimy hand. The leap was at last successfully taken, and
the three scrambled up a rough scaur, all reddened with iron
springs, till they struck a slender track running down the Dean on
its northern side. Here the undergrowth was very thick, and they
had gone the better part of half a mile before the covert thinned
sufficiently to show them the stream beneath. Then Dougal halted
them with a finger on his lips, and crept forward alone.
He returned in three minutes. "Coast's clear," he whispered. "The
tinklers are eatin' their breakfast. They're late at their meat
though they're up early seekin' it."
Progress was now very slow and secret, and mainly on all fours.
At one point Dougal nodded downward, and the other two saw on a
patch of turf, where the Garple began to widen into its estuary, a
group of figures round a small fire. There were four of them, all
men, and Dickson thought he had never seen such ruffianly-looking
customers. After that they moved high up the slope, in a shallow
glade of a tributary burn, till they came out of the trees and found
themselves looking seaward.
On one side was the House, a hundred yards or so back from the edge,
the roof showing above the precipitous scarp. Half-way down the
slope became easier, a jumble of boulders and boiler-plates, till it
reached the waters of the small haven, which lay calm as a mill-pond
in the windless forenoon. The haven broadened out at its foot and
revealed a segment of blue sea. The opposite shore was flatter,
and showed what looked like an old wharf and the ruins of buildings,
behind which rose a bank clad with scrub and surmounted by some
gnarled and wind-crooked firs.
"There's dashed little cover here," said Heritage.
"There's no muckle," Dougal assented. "But they canna see us from the
policies, and it's no' like there's anybody watchin' from the Hoose.
The danger is somebody on the other side, but we'll have to risk it.
Once among thae big stones we're safe. Are ye ready?"
Five minutes later Dickson found himself gasping in the lee of
a boulder, while Dougal was making a cast forward. The scout
returned with a hopeful report. "I think we're safe till we get
into the policies. There's a road that the auld folk made when
ships used to come here. Down there it's deeper than Clyde at the
Broomielaw. Has the auld yin got his wind yet? There's no
time to waste."
Up that broken hillside they crawled, well in the cover of the
tumbled stones, till they reached a low wall which was the boundary
of the garden. The House was now behind them on their right rear,
and as they topped the crest they had a glimpse of an ancient
dovecot and the ruins of the old Huntingtower on the short thymy
turf which ran seaward to the cliffs. Dougal led them along a sunk
fence which divided the downs from the lawns behind the house, and,
avoiding the stables, brought them by devious ways to a thicket of
rhododendrons and broom. On all fours they travelled the length of
the place, and came to the edge where some forgotten gardeners had
once tended a herbaceous border. The border was now rank and wild,
and, lying flat under the shade of an azalea, and peering through
the young spears of iris, Dickson and Heritage regarded the
north-western facade of the house.
The ground before them had been a sunken garden, from which a
steep wall, once covered with creepers and rock plants, rose to a
long verandah, which was pillared and open on that side; but at
each end built up half-way and glazed for the rest. There was a
glass roof, and inside untended shrubs sprawled in broken
"Ye maun bide here," said Dougal, "and no cheep above your breath.
Afore we dare to try that wall, I maun ken where Lean and Spittal
and Dobson are. I'm off to spy the policies.' He glided out of
sight behind a clump of pampas grass.
For hours, so it seemed, Dickson was left to his own unpleasant
reflections. His body, prone on the moist earth, was fairly
comfortable, but his mind was ill at ease. The scramble up the
hillside had convinced him that he was growing old, and there was no
rebound in his soul to counter the conviction. He felt listless,
spiritless--an apathy with fright trembling somewhere at the
back of it. He regarded the verandah wall with foreboding.
How on earth could he climb that? And if he did there would be his
exposed hinder-parts inviting a shot from some malevolent gentleman
among the trees. He reflected that he would give a large sum of
money to be out of this preposterous adventure.
Heritage's hand was stretched towards him, containing two of Mrs.
Morran's jellied scones, of which the Poet had been wise enough to
bring a supply in his pocket. The food cheered him, for he was
growing very hungry, and he began to take an interest in the scene
before him instead of his own thoughts. He observed every detail
of the verandah. There was a door at one end, he noted, giving on
a path which wound down to the sunk garden. As he looked he heard
a sound of steps and saw a man ascending this path.
It was the lame man whom Dougal had called Spittal, the dweller in
the South Lodge. Seen at closer quarters he was an odd-looking
being, lean as a heron, wry-necked, but amazingly quick on his feet.
Had not Mrs. Morran said that he hobbled as fast as other folk ran?
He kept his eyes on the ground and seemed to be talking to himself
as he went, but he was alert enough, for the dropping of a twig from
a dying magnolia transferred him in an instant into a figure of
active vigilance. No risks could be run with that watcher. He took
a key from his pocket, opened the garden door and entered the verandah.
For a moment his shuffle sounded on its tiled floor, and then he
entered the door admitting from the verandah to the House. It was
clearly unlocked, for there came no sound of a turning key.
Dickson had finished the last crumbs of his scones before the man
emerged again. He seemed to be in a greater hurry than ever as he
locked the garden door behind him and hobbled along the west front
of the House till he was lost to sight. After that the time
passed slowly. A pair of yellow wagtails arrived and played at
hide-and-seek among the stuccoed pillars. The little dry scratch of
their claws was heard clearly in the still air. Dickson had almost
fallen asleep when a smothered exclamation from Heritage woke him to
attention. A girl had appeared in the verandah.
Above the parapet he saw only her body from the waist up.
She seemed to be clad in bright colours, for something red was
round her shoulders and her hair was bound with an orange scarf.
She was tall--that he could tell, tall and slim and very young.
Her face was turned seaward, and she stood for a little scanning the
broad channel, shading her eyes as if to search for something on the
extreme horizon. The air was very quiet and he thought that he
could hear her sigh. Then she turned and re-entered the House,
while Heritage by his side began to curse under his breathe with a
One of Dickson's troubles had been that he did not believe Dougal's
story, and the sight of the girl removed one doubt. That bright
exotic thing did not belong to the Cruives or to Scotland at all,
and that she should be in the House removed the place from the
conventional dwelling to which the laws against burglary applied.
There was a rustle among the rhododendrons and the fiery face of
Dougal appeared. He lay between the other two, his chin on his
hands, and grunted out his report.
"After they had their dinner Dobson and Lean yokit a horse and went
off to Auchenlochan. I seen them pass the Garple brig, so that's
two accounted for. Has Spittal been round here?"
"Half an hour ago," said Heritage, consulting a wrist watch.
"It was him that keepit me waitin' so long. But he's safe enough
now, for five minutes syne he was splittin' firewood at the back
door o' his hoose....I've found a ladder, an auld yin in yon
lot o' bushes. It'll help wi' the wall. There! I've gotten my
breath again and we can start."
The ladder was fetched by Heritage and proved to be ancient and
wanting many rungs, but sufficient in length. The three stood
silent for a moment, listening like stags, and then ran across the
intervening lawn to the foot of the verandah wall. Dougal went up
first, then Heritage, and lastly Dickson, stiff and giddy from his
long lie under the bushes. Below the parapet the verandah floor was
heaped with old garden litter, rotten matting, dead or derelict
bulbs, fibre, withies, and strawberry nets. It was Dougal's
intention to pull up the ladder and hide it among the rubbish
against the hour of departure. But Dickson had barely put his foot
on the parapet when there was a sound of steps within the House
approaching the verandah door.
The ladder was left alone. Dougal's hand brought Dickson summarily
to the floor, where he was fairly well concealed by a mess of matting.
Unfortunately his head was in the vicinity of some upturned pot-plants,
so that a cactus ticked his brow and a spike of aloe supported
painfully the back of his neck. Heritage was prone behind two
old water-butts, and Dougal was in a hamper which had once contained
seed potatoes. The house door had panels of opaque glass, so the
new-comer could not see the doings of the three till it was opened,
and by that time all were in cover.
The man--it was Spittal--walked rapidly along the verandah and out
of the garden door. He was talking to himself again, and Dickson,
who had a glimpse of his face, thought he looked both evil and furious.
Then came some anxious moments, for had the man glanced back when he
was once outside, he must have seen the tell-tale ladder. But he
seemed immersed in his own reflections, for he hobbled steadily along
the house front till he was lost to sight.
"That'll be the end o' them the day," said Dougal, as he helped
Heritage to pull up the ladder and stow it away. "We've got the
place to oursels, now. Forward, men, forward." He tried the handle
of the House door and led the way in.
A narrow paved passage took them into what had once been the garden
room, where the lady of the house had arranged her flowers, and the
tennis racquets and croquet mallets had been kept. It was very dusty,
and on the cobwebbed walls still hung a few soiled garden overalls.
A door beyond opened into a huge murky hall, murky, for the windows
were shuttered, and the only light came through things like port-holes
far up in the wall. Dougal, who seemed to know his way about,
halted them. "Stop here till I scout a bit. The women bide in a
wee room through that muckle door." Bare feet stole across the oak
flooring, there was the sound of a door swinging on its hinges, and
then silence and darkness. Dickson put out a hand for companionship
and clutched Heritage's; to his surprise it was cold and all a-tremble.
They listened for voices, and thought they could detect a far-away sob.
It was some minutes before Dougal returned. "A bonny kettle o'
fish," he whispered. "They're both greetin'. We're just in time.
Come on, the pair o' ye."
Through a green baize door they entered a passage which led to the
kitchen regions, and turned in at the first door on their right.
From its situation Dickson calculated that the room lay on the
seaward side of the House next to the verandah. The light was bad,
for the two windows were partially shuttered, but it had plainly
been a smoking-room, for there were pipe-racks by the hearth, and on
the walls a number of old school and college photographs, a couple of
oars with emblazoned names, and a variety of stags' and roebucks' heads.
There was no fire in the grate, but a small oil-stove burned inside
the fender. In a stiff-backed chair sat an elderly woman, who seemed
to feel the cold, for she was muffled to the neck in a fur coat.
Beside her, so that the late afternoon light caught her face and head,
stood a girl.
Dickson's first impression was of a tall child. The pose, startled
and wild and yet curiously stiff and self-conscious, was that of a
child striving to remember a forgotten lesson. One hand clutched a
handkerchief, the other was closing and unclosing on a knob of the
chair back. She was staring at Dougal, who stood like a gnome in
the centre of the floor. "Here's the gentlemen I was tellin' ye
about," was his introduction, but her eyes did not move.
Then Heritage stepped forward. "We have met before, Mademoiselle,"
he said. "Do you remember Easter in 1918--in the house in the
Trinita dei Monte?"
The girl looked at him.
"I do not remember," she said slowly.
"But I was the English officer who had the apartments on the floor
below you. I saw you every morning. You spoke to me sometimes."
"You are a soldier?" she asked, with a new note in her voice.
"I was then--till the war finished."
"And now? Why have you come here?"
"To offer you help if you need it. If not, to ask your pardon
and go away."
The shrouded figure in the chair burst suddenly into rapid
hysterical talk in some foreign tongue which Dickson suspected
of being French. Heritage replied in the same language, and
the girl joined in with sharp questions. Then the Poet turned
"This is my friend. If you will trust us we will do our best
to help you."
The eyes rested on Dickson's face, and he realized that he was in
the presence of something the like of which he had never met in his
life before. It was a loveliness greater than he had imagined was
permitted by the Almighty to His creatures. The little face was more
square than oval, with a low broad brow and proud exquisite eyebrows.
The eyes were of a colour which he could never decide on; afterwards
he used to allege obscurely that they were the colour of everything
in Spring. There was a delicate pallor in the cheeks, and the face
bore signs of suffering and care, possibly even of hunger; but for
all that there was youth there, eternal and triumphant! Not youth such
as he had known it, but youth with all history behind it, youth with
centuries of command in its blood and the world's treasures of beauty
and pride in its ancestry. Strange, he thought, that a thing so fine
should be so masterful. He felt abashed in every inch of him.
As the eyes rested on him their sorrowfulness seemed to be shot
with humour. A ghost of a smile lurked there, to which Dickson
promptly responded. He grinned and bowed.
"Very pleased to meet you, Mem. I'm Mr. McCunn from Glasgow."
"You don't even know my name," she said.
"We don't," said Heritage.
"They call me Saskia. This," nodding to the chair, "is my cousin
Eugenie....We are in very great trouble. But why should I tell you?
I do not know you. You cannot help me."
"We can try," said Heritage. "Part of your trouble we know already
through that boy. You are imprisoned in this place by scoundrels.
We are here to help you to get out. We want to ask no questions-
-only to do what you bid us."
"You are not strong enough," she said sadly. "A young man--an old
man--and a little boy. There are many against us, and any moment
there may be more."
It was Dougal's turn to break in, "There's Lean and Spittal and
Dobson and four tinklers in the Dean--that's seven; but there's us
three and five more Gorbals Die-hards--that's eight."
There was something in the boy's truculent courage that cheered her.
"I wonder," she said, and her eyes fell on each in turn.
Dickson felt impelled to intervene.
"I think this is a perfectly simple business. Here's a lady shut up
in this house against her will by a wheen blagyirds. This is a free
country and the law doesn't permit that. My advice is for one of us
to inform the police at Auchenlochan and get Dobson and his friends
took up and the lady set free to do what she likes. That is, if
these folks are really molesting her, which is not yet quite clear
to my mind."
"Alas! It is not so simple as that," she said. "I dare not invoke
your English law, for perhaps in the eyes of that law I am a thief."
"Deary me, that's a bad business," said the startled Dickson.
The two women talked together in some strange tongue, and the elder
appeared to be pleading and the younger objecting. Then Saskia
seemed to come to a decision.
"I will tell you all," and she looked straight at Heritage. "I do
not think you would be cruel or false, for you have honourable faces..
..Listen, then. I am a Russian, and for two years have been an exile.
I will not now speak of my house, for it is no more, or how I escaped,
for it is the common tale of all of us. I have seen things more
terrible than any dream and yet lived, but I have paid a price for
such experience. First I went to Italy where there were friends, and
I wished only to have peace among kindly people. About poverty I do
not care, for, to us, who have lost all the great things, the want of
bread is a little matter. But peace was forbidden me, for I learned
that we Russians had to win back our fatherland again, and that the
weakest must work in that cause. So I was set my task, and it was
very hard....There were others still hidden in Russia which must be
brought to a safe place. In that work I was ordered to share."
She spoke in almost perfect English, with a certain foreign precision.
Suddenly she changed to French, and talked rapidly to Heritage.
"She has told me about her family," he said, turning to Dickson.
"It is among the greatest in Russia, the very greatest after the throne."
Dickson could only stare.
"Our enemies soon discovered me," she went on. "Oh, but they are
very clever, these enemies, and they have all the criminals of the
world to aid them. Here you do not understand what they are.
You good people in England think they are well-meaning dreamers who
are forced into violence by the persecution of Western Europe.
But you are wrong. Some honest fools there are among them, but the
power--the true power--lies with madmen and degenerates, and they
have for allies the special devil that dwells in each country.
That is why they cast their nets as wide as mankind."
She shivered, and for a second her face wore a look which Dickson
never forgot, the look of one who has looked over the edge of life
into the outer dark.
"There were certain jewels of great price which were about to be
turned into guns and armies for our enemies. These our people
recovered, and the charge of them was laid on me. Who would
suspect, they said, a foolish girl? But our enemies were very
clever, and soon the hunt was cried against me. They tried to rob
me of them, but they failed, for I too had become clever. Then they
asked for the help of the law--first in Italy and then in France.
Ah, it was subtly done. Respectable bourgeois, who hated the
Bolsheviki but had bought long ago the bonds of my country, desired
to be repaid their debts out of the property of the Russian crown
which might be found in the West. But behind them were the Jews,
and behind the Jews our unsleeping enemies. Once I was enmeshed in
the law I would be safe for them, and presently they would find the
hiding-place of the treasure, and while the bourgeois were clamouring
in the courts it would be safe in their pockets. So I fled.
For months I have been fleeing and hiding. They have tried to kidnap
me many times, and once they have tried to kill me, but I, too, have
become clever--oh, so clever. And I have learned not to fear."
This simple recital affected Dickson's honest soul with the
liveliest indignation. "Sich doings!" he exclaimed, and he could
not forbear from whispering to Heritage an extract from that
gentleman's conversation the first night at Kirkmichael.
"We needn't imitate all their methods, but they've got hold of the
right end of the stick. They seek truth and reality." The reply
from the Poet was an angry shrug.
"Why and how did you come here?" he asked.
"I always meant to come to England, for I thought it the sanest
place in a mad world. Also it is a good country to hide in, for it
is apart from Europe, and your police, as I thought, do not permit
evil men to be their own law. But especially I had a friend, a
Scottish gentleman, whom I knew in the days when we Russians were
still a nation. I saw him again in Italy, and since he was kind and
brave I told him some part of my troubles. He was called Quentin
Kennedy, and now he is dead. He told me that in Scotland he had a
lonely chateau, where I could hide secretly and safely, and against
the day when I might be hard-pressed he gave me a letter to his
steward, bidding him welcome me as a guest when I made application.
At that time I did not think I would need such sanctuary, but a
month ago the need became urgent, for the hunt in France was very
close on me. So I sent a message to the steward as Captain Kennedy
"What is his name?" Heritage asked.
She spelt it, "Monsieur Loudon--L-O-U-D-O-N in the town of Auchenlochan."
"The factor," said Dickson, "And what then?"
"Some spy must have found me out. I had a letter from this Loudon
bidding me come to Auchenlochan. There I found no steward to
receive me, but another letter saying that that night a carriage
would be in waiting to bring me here. It was midnight when we
arrived, and we were brought in by strange ways to this house, with
no light but a single candle. Here we were welcomed indeed, but
by an enemy."
"Which?" asked Heritage. "Dobson or Lean or Spittal?"
"Dobson I do not know. Leon was there. He is no Russian, but
a Belgian who was a valet in my father's service till he joined
the Bolsheviki. Next day the Lett Spidel came, and I knew that I
was in very truth entrapped. For of all our enemies he is, save
one, the most subtle and unwearied."
Her voice had trailed off into flat weariness. Again Dickson was
reminded of a child, for her arms hung limp by her side; and her
slim figure in its odd clothes was curiously like that of a boy in a
school blazer. Another resemblance perplexed him. She had a hint
of Janet--about the mouth--Janet, that solemn little girl those
twenty years in her grave.
Heritage was wrinkling his brows. "I don't think I quite understand.
The jewels? You have them with you?"
"These men wanted to rob you. Why didn't they do it between here
and Auchenlochan? You had no chance to hide them on the journey.
Why did they let you come here where you were in a better position
to baffle them?"
She shook her head. "I cannot explain--except, perhaps, that
Spidel had not arrived that night, and Leon may have been
The other still looked dissatisfied. "They are either clumsier
villains than I take them to be, or there is something deeper in the
business than we understand. These jewels--are they here?"
His tone was so sharp that she looked startled--almost suspicious.
Then she saw that in his face which reassured her. "I have them
hidden here. I have grown very skilful in hiding things."
"Have they searched for them?"
"The first day they demanded them of me. I denied all knowledge.
Then they ransacked this house--I think they ransack it daily, but I
am too clever for them. I am not allowed to go beyond the verandah,
and when at first I disobeyed there was always one of them in wait to
force me back with a pistol behind my head. Every morning Leon
brings us food for the day--good food, but not enough, so that
Cousin Eugenie is always hungry, and each day he and Spidel question
and threaten me. This afternoon Spidel has told me that their
patience is at an end. He has given me till tomorrow at noon to
produce the jewels. If not, he says I will die."
"Mercy on us!" Dickson exclaimed.
"There will be no mercy for us," she said solemnly. "He and his
kind think as little of shedding blood as of spilling water. But I
do not think he will kill me. I think I will kill him first,
but after that I shall surely die. As for Cousin Eugenie,
I do not know."
Her level matter-of-fact tone seemed to Dickson most shocking, for
he could not treat it as mere melodrama. It carried a horrid
conviction. "We must get you out of this at once," he declared.
"I cannot leave. I will tell you why. When I came to this country
I appointed one to meet me here. He is a kinsman who knows England
well, for he fought in your army. With him by my side I have no fear.
It is altogether needful that I wait for him."
"Then there is something more which you haven't told us?"
Was there the faintest shadow of a blush on her cheek? "There is
something more," she said.
She spoke to Heritage in French, and Dickson caught the name
"Alexis" and a word which sounded like "prance." The Poet listened
eagerly and nodded. "I have heard of him," he said.
"But have you not seen him? A tall man with a yellow beard,
who bears himself proudly. Being of my mother's race he has
eyes like mine."
"That's the man she was askin' me about yesterday," said Dougal,
who had squatted on the floor.
Heritage shook his head. "We only came here last night. When did
you expect Prince--your friend."
"I hoped to find him here before me. Oh, it is his not coming that
terrifies me. I must wait and hope. But if he does not come in
time another may come before him."
"The ones already here are not all the enemies that threaten you?"
"Indeed, no. The worst has still to come, and till I know he is
here I do not greatly fear Spidel or Leon. They receive orders and
do not give them."
Heritage ran a perplexed hand through his hair. The sunset which
had been flaming for some time in the unshuttered panes was now
passing into the dark. The girl lit a lamp after first shuttering
the rest of the windows. As she turned up the wick the odd dusty
room and its strange company were revealed more clearly, and Dickson
saw with a shock how haggard was the beautiful face. A great pity
seized him and almost conquered his timidity.
"It is very difficult to help you," Heritage was saying. "You won't
leave this place, and you won't claim the protection of the law.
You are very independent, Mademoiselle, but it can't go on for ever.
The man you fear may arrive at any moment. At any moment, too, your
treasure may by discovered."
"It is that that weighs on me," she cried. "The jewels! They are
my solemn trust, but they burden me terribly. If I were only rid
of them and knew them to be safe I should face the rest with a
"If you'll take my advice," said Dickson slowly, "you'll get them
deposited in a bank and take a receipt for them. A Scotch bank
is no' in a hurry to surrender a deposit without it gets the
Heritage brought his hands together with a smack. "That's an idea.
Will you trust us to take these things and deposit them safely?"
For a little she was silent and her eyes were fixed on each of the
trio in turn. "I will trust you," she said at last. "I think you
will not betray me."
"By God, we won't!" said the Poet fervently. "Dogson, it's up to you.
You march off to Glasgow in double quick time and place the stuff in
your own name in your own bank. There's not a moment to lose.
"I will that." To his own surprise Dickson spoke without hesitation.
Partly it was because of his merchant's sense of property, which
made him hate the thought that miscreants should acquire that to
which they had no title; but mainly it was the appeal in those
haggard childish eyes. "But I'm not going to be tramping the
country in the night carrying a fortune and seeking for trains that
aren't there. I'll go the first thing in the morning."
"Where are they?" Heritage asked.
"That I do not tell. But I will fetch them."
She left the room, and presently returned with three odd little
parcels wrapped in leather and tied with thongs of raw hide.
She gave them to Heritage, who held them appraisingly in his hand
and then passed them on to Dickson.
"I do not ask about their contents. We take them from you as they
are, and, please God, when the moment comes they will be returned to
you as you gave them. You trust us, Mademoiselle?"
"I trust you, for you are a soldier. Oh, and I thank you from my
heart, my friends." She held out a hand to each, which caused
Heritage to grow suddenly very red.
"I will remain in the neighbourhood to await developments," he said.
"We had better leave you now. Dougal, lead on."
Before going, he took the girl's hand again, and with a sudden
movement bent and kissed it. Dickson shook it heartily. "Cheer up,
Mem," he observed. "There's a better time coming." His last
recollection of her eyes was of a soft mistiness not far from tears.
His pouch and pipe had strange company jostling them in his pocket
as he followed the others down the ladder into the night.
Dougal insisted that they must return by the road of the morning.
"We daren't go by the Laver, for that would bring us by the
public-house. If the worst comes to the worst, and we fall in wi'
any of the deevils, they must think ye've changed your mind and come
back from Auchenlochan."
The night smelt fresh and moist as if a break in the weather
were imminent. As they scrambled along the Garple Dean a pinprick
of light below showed where the tinklers were busy by their fire.
Dickson's spirits suffered a sharp fall and he began to marvel at
his temerity. What in Heaven's name had he undertaken? To carry
very precious things, to which certainly he had no right, through
the enemy to distant Glasgow. How could he escape the notice of
the watchers? He was already suspect, and the sight of him back
again in Dalquharter would double that suspicion. He must brazen
it out, but he distrusted his powers with such tell-tale stuff
in his pockets. They might murder him anywhere on the moor road
or in an empty railway carriage. An unpleasant memory of various
novels he had read in which such things happened haunted his mind....
There was just one consolation. This job over, he would be quit
of the whole business. And honourably quit, too, for he would have
played a manly part in a most unpleasant affair. He could retire to
the idyllic with the knowledge that he had not been wanting when
Romance called. Not a soul should ever hear of it, but he saw
himself in the future tramping green roads or sitting by his winter
fireside pleasantly retelling himself the tale.
Before they came to the Garple bridge Dougal insisted that they
should separate, remarking that "it would never do if we were seen
thegither." Heritage was despatched by a short cut over fields to
the left, which eventually, after one or two plunges into ditches,
landed him safely in Mrs. Morran's back yard. Dickson and Dougal
crossed the bridge and tramped Dalquharter-wards by the highway.
There was no sign of human life in that quiet place with owls
hooting and rabbits rustling in the undergrowth. Beyond the woods
they came in sight of the light in the back kitchen, and both seemed
to relax their watchfulness when it was most needed. Dougal sniffed
the air and looked seaward.
"It's coming on to rain," he observed. "There should be a muckle
star there, and when you can't see it it means wet weather wi'
"What star?" Dickson asked.
"The one wi' the Irish-lukkin' name. What's that they call it?
O'Brien?" And he pointed to where the constellation of the hunter
should have been declining on the western horizon.
There was a bend of the road behind them, and suddenly round it came
a dogcart driven rapidly. Dougal slipped like a weasel into a bush,
and presently Dickson stood revealed in the glare of a lamp.
The horse was pulled up sharply and the driver called out to him.
He saw that it was Dobson the innkeeper with Leon beside him.
"Who is it?" cried the voice. "Oh, you! I thought ye were off the day?"
Dickson rose nobly to the occasion.
"I thought myself I was. But I didn't think much of Auchenlochan,
and I took a fancy to come back and spend the last night of my
holiday with my Auntie. I'm off to Glasgow first thing the morn's morn."
"So!" said the voice. "Queer thing I never saw ye on the
Auchenlochan road, where ye can see three mile before ye."
"I left early and took it easy along the shore."
"Did ye so? Well, good-sight to ye."
Five minutes later Dickson walked into Mrs. Morran's kitchen,
where Heritage was busy making up for a day of short provender.
"I'm for Glasgow to-morrow, Auntie Phemie," he cried. "I want you
to loan me a wee trunk with a key, and steek the door and windows,
for I've a lot to tell you."
HOW MR. McCUNN DEPARTED WITH RELIEF AND RETURNED WITH RESOLUTION
At seven o'clock on the following morning the post-cart, summoned by
an early message from Mrs. Morran, appeared outside the cottage.
In it sat the ancient postman, whose real home was Auchenlochan,
but who slept alternate nights in Dalquharter, and beside him Dobson
the innkeeper. Dickson and his hostess stood at the garden-gate,
the former with his pack on his back, and at his feet a small stout
wooden box, of the kind in which cheeses are transported, garnished
with an immense padlock. Heritage for obvious reasons did not appear;
at the moment he was crouched on the floor of the loft watching the
departure through a gap in the dimity curtains.
The traveller, after making sure that Dobson was looking, furtively
slipped the key of the trunk into his knapsack.
"Well, good-bye, Auntie Phemie," he said. "I'm sure you've been
awful kind to me, and I don't know how to thank you for all
"Tuts, Dickson, my man, they're hungry folk about Glesca that'll be
glad o' my scones and jeelie. Tell Mirren I'm rale pleased wi' her
man, and haste ye back soon."
The trunk was deposited on the floor of the cart, and Dickson
clambered into the back seat. He was thankful that he had not to sit
next to Dobson, for he had tell-tale stuff on his person. The morning
was wet, so he wore his waterproof, which concealed his odd tendency to
stoutness about the middle.
Mrs. Morran played her part well, with all the becoming gravity of an
affectionate aunt, but as soon as the post-cart turned the bend of
the road her demeanour changed. She was torn with convulsions of
silent laughter. She retreated to the kitchen, sank into a chair,
wrapped her face in her apron and rocked. Heritage, descending,
found her struggling to regain composure. "D'ye ken his wife's name?"
she gasped. "I ca'ed her Mirren! And maybe the body's no' mairried!
Hech sirs! Hech sirs!"
Meanwhile Dickson was bumping along the moor-road on the back of
the post-cart. He had worked out a plan, just as he had been used
aforetime to devise a deal in foodstuffs. He had expected one of
the watchers to turn up, and was rather relieved that it should be
Dobson, whom he regarded as "the most natural beast" of the three.
Somehow he did not think that he would be molested before he
reached the station, since his enemies would still be undecided
in their minds. Probably they only wanted to make sure that he had
really departed to forget all about him. But if not, he had
his plan ready.
"Are you travelling to-day?" he asked the innkeeper.
"Just as far as the station to see about some oil-cake I'm expectin'.
What's in your wee kist? Ye came here wi' nothing but the bag on
"Ay, the kist is no' mine. It's my auntie's. She's a kind body,
and nothing would serve but she must pack a box for me to take back.
Let me see. There's a baking of scones; three pots of honey and one
of rhubarb jam--she was aye famous for her rhubarb jam; a mutton ham,
which you can't get for love or money in Glasgow; some home-made
black puddings, and a wee skim-milk cheese. I doubt I'll have to
take a cab from the station."
Dobson appeared satisfied, lit a short pipe, and relapsed
into meditation. The long uphill road, ever climbing to where far
off showed the tiny whitewashed buildings which were the railway
station, seemed interminable this morning. The aged postman
addressed strange objurgations to his aged horse and muttered
reflections to himself, the innkeeper smoked, and Dickson stared back
into the misty hollow where lay Dalquharter. The south-west wind had
brought up a screen of rain clouds and washed all the countryside in
a soft wet grey. But the eye could still travel a fair distance, and
Dickson thought he had a glimpse of a figure on a bicycle leaving the
village two miles back. He wondered who it could be. Not Heritage,
who had no bicycle. Perhaps some woman who was conspicuously late for
the train. Women were the chief cyclists nowadays in country places.
Then he forgot about the bicycle and twisted his neck to watch the station.
It was less than a mile off now, and they had no time to spare, for away
to the south among the hummocks of the bog he saw the smoke of the train
coming from Auchenlochan. The postman also saw it and whipped up his
beast into a clumsy canter. Dickson, always nervous being late for trains,
forced his eyes away and regarded again the road behind him. Suddenly the
cyclist had become quite plain--a little more than a mile behind--a man,
and pedalling furiously in spite of the stiff ascent. It could only be
one person--Leon. He must have discovered their visit to the House
yesterday and be on the way to warn Dobson. If he reached the station
before the train, there would be no journey to Glasgow that day for
one respectable citizen.
Dickson was in a fever of impatience and fright. He dared not abjure
the postman to hurry, lest Dobson should turn his head and descry his
colleague. But that ancient man had begun to realize the shortness
of time and was urging the cart along at a fair pace, since they were
now on the flatter shelf of land which carried the railway.
Dickson kept his eyes fixed on the bicycle and his teeth shut tight
on his lower lip. Now it was hidden by the last dip of hill; now it
emerged into view not a quarter of a mile behind, and its rider gave
vent to a shrill call. Luckily the innkeeper did not hear, for at
that moment with a jolt the cart pulled up at the station door,
accompanied by the roar of the incoming train.
Dickson whipped down from the back seat and seized the solitary porter.
"Label the box for Glasgow and into the van with it, Quick, man,
and there'll be a shilling for you." He had been doing some rapid
thinking these last minutes and had made up his mind. If Dobson and
he were alone in a carriage he could not have the box there; that
must be elsewhere, so that Dobson could not examine it if he were set
on violence, somewhere in which it could still be a focus of suspicion
and attract attention from his person, He took his ticket, and rushed
on to the platform, to find the porter and the box at the door of
the guard's van. Dobson was not there. With the vigour of a fussy
traveller he shouted directions to the guard to take good care of
his luggage, hurled a shilling at the porter, and ran for a carriage.
At that moment he became aware of Dobson hurrying through the entrance.
He must have met Leon and heard news from him, for his face was red and
his ugly brows darkening.
The train was in motion. "Here, you" Dobson's voice shouted.
"Stop! I want a word wi' ye." Dickson plunged at a third-class
carriage, for he saw faces behind the misty panes, and above all
things then he feared an empty compartment. He clambered on to
the step, but the handle would not turn, and with a sharp pang of
fear he felt the innkeeper's grip on his arm. Then some Samaritan
from within let down the window, opened the door, and pulled him up.
He fell on a seat, and a second later Dobson staggered in beside him.
Thank Heaven, the dirty little carriage was nearly full. There were
two herds, each with a dog and a long hazel crook, and an elderly
woman who looked like a ploughman's wife out for a day's marketing.
And there was one other whom Dickson recognized with peculiar joy--
the bagman in the provision line of business whom he had met three
days before at Kilchrist.
The recognition was mutual. "Mr. McCunn!" the bagman exclaimed.
"My, but that was running it fine! I hope you've had a pleasant
"Very pleasant. I've been spending two nights with friends
down hereaways. I've been very fortunate in the weather, for
it has broke just when I'm leaving."
Dickson sank back on the hard cushions. It had been a near thing,
but so far he had won. He wished his heart did not beat so
fast, and he hoped he did not betray his disorder in his face.
Very deliberately he hunted for his pipe and filled it slowly.
Then he turned to Dobson, "I didn't know you were travelling the day.
What about your oil-cake?"
"I've changed my mind," was the gruff answer.
"Was that you I heard crying on me when we were running for the train?"
"Ay. I thought ye had forgot about your kist."
"No fear," said Dickson. "I'm no' likely to forget my auntie's scones."
He laughed pleasantly and then turned to the bagman. Thereafter the
compartment hummed with the technicalities of the grocery trade.
He exerted himself to draw out his companion, to have him refer to
the great firm of D. McCunn, so that the innkeeper might be ashamed
of his suspicions. What nonsense to imagine that a noted and wealthy
Glasgow merchant--the bagman's tone was almost reverential--would
concern himself with the affairs of a forgotten village and a
Presently the train drew up at Kirkmichael station. The woman
descended, and Dobson, after making sure that no one else meant
to follow her example, also left the carriage. A porter was shouting:
"Fast train to Glasgow--Glasgow next stop." Dickson watched the
innkeeper shoulder his way through the crowd in the direction of the
booking office. "He's off to send a telegram," he decided.
"There'll be trouble waiting for me at the other end."
When the train moved on he found himself disinclined for further talk.
He had suddenly become meditative, and curled up in a corner with his
head hard against the window pane, watching the wet fields and
glistening roads as they slipped past. He had his plans made for his
conduct at Glasgow, but, Lord! how he loathed the whole business!
Last night he had had a kind of gusto in his desire to circumvent
villainy; at Dalquharter station he had enjoyed a momentary sense
of triumph; now he felt very small, lonely, and forlorn. Only one
thought far at the back of his mind cropped up now and then to give
him comfort. He was entering on the last lap. Once get this
detestable errand done and he would be a free man, free to go back
to the kindly humdrum life from which he should never have strayed.
Never again, he vowed, never again. Rather would he spend the rest
of his days in hydropathics than come within the pale of such
horrible adventures. Romance, forsooth! This was not the mild goddess
he had sought, but an awful harpy who battened on the souls of men.
He had some bad minutes as the train passed through the suburbs and
along the grimy embankment by which the southern lines enter the city.
But as it rumbled over the river bridge and slowed down before the
terminus his vitality suddenly revived. He was a business man,
and there was now something for him to do.
After a rapid farewell to the bagman, he found a porter and hustled
his box out of the van in the direction of the left-luggage office.
Spies, summoned by Dobson's telegram, were, he was convinced, watching
his every movement, and he meant to see that they missed nothing.
He received his ticket for the box, and slowly and ostentatiously
stowed it away in his pack. Swinging the said pack on his arm, he
sauntered through the entrance hall to the row of waiting taxi-cabs,
and selected the oldest and most doddering driver. He deposited
the pack inside on the seat, and then stood still as if struck
with a sudden thought.
"I breakfasted terrible early," he told the driver. "I think I'll
have a bite to eat. Will you wait?"
"Ay," said the man, who was reading a grubby sheet of newspaper.
"I'll wait as long as ye like, for it's you that pays."
Dickson left his pack in the cab and, oddly enough for a careful man,
he did not shut the door. He re-entered the station, strolled to the
bookstall, and bought a Glasgow Herald. His steps then tended to the
refreshment-room, where he ordered a cup of coffee and two Bath buns,
and seated himself at a small table. There he was soon immersed
in the financial news, and though he sipped his coffee he left
the buns untasted. He took out a penknife and cut various extracts
from the Herald, bestowing them carefully in his pocket. An observer
would have seen an elderly gentleman absorbed in market quotations.
After a quarter of an hour had been spent in this performance
he happened to glance at the clock and rose with an exclamation.
He bustled out to his taxi and found the driver still intent
upon his reading. "Here I am at last," he said cheerily, and had
a foot on the step, when he stopped suddenly with a cry. It was
a cry of alarm, but also of satisfaction.
"What's become of my pack? I left it on the seat, and now it's gone!
There's been a thief here."
The driver, roused from his lethargy, protested in the name of
his gods that no one had been near it. "Ye took it into the station
wi' ye," he urged.
"I did nothing of the kind. Just you wait here till I see
the inspector. A bonny watch YOU keep on a gentleman's things."
But Dickson did not interview the railway authorities. Instead he
hurried to the left-luggage office. "I deposited a small box here a
short time ago. I mind the number. Is it here still?"
The attendant glanced at the shelf. "A wee deal box with iron bands.
It was took out ten minutes syne. A man brought the ticket and took
it away on his shoulder."
"Thank you. There's been a mistake, but the blame's mine. My man
mistook my orders."
Then he returned to the now nervous taxi-driver. "I've taken it
up with the station-master and he's putting the police on.
You'll likely be wanted, so I gave him your number. It's a fair
disgrace that there should be so many thieves about this station.
It's not the first time I've lost things. Drive me to West George
Street and look sharp." And he slammed the door with the violence
of an angry man.
But his reflections were not violent, for he smiled to himself.
"That was pretty neat. They'll take some time to get the kist open,
for I dropped the key out of the train after we left Kirkmichael.
That gives me a fair start. If I hadn't thought of that, they'd have
found some way to grip me and ripe me long before I got to the Bank."
He shuddered as he thought of the dangers he had escaped. "As it is,
they're off the track for half an hour at least, while they're
rummaging among Auntie Phemie's scones." At the thought he laughed
heartily, and when he brought the taxi-cab to a standstill by rapping
on the front window, he left it with a temper apparently restored.
Obviously he had no grudge against the driver, who to his immense
surprise was rewarded with ten shillings.
Three minutes later Mr. McCunn might have been seen entering the
head office of the Strathclyde Bank and inquiring for the manager.
There was no hesitation about him now, for his foot was on his
native heath. The chief cashier received him with deference in
spite of his unorthodox garb, for he was not the least honoured of
the bank's customers. As it chanced he had been talking about him
that very morning to a gentleman from London. "The strength of this
city," he had said, tapping his eyeglasses on his knuckles, "does not
lie in its dozen very rich men, but in the hundred or two homely folk
who make no parade of wealth. Men like Dickson McCunn, for example,
who live all their life in a semi-detached villa and die worth half
a million." And the Londoner had cordially assented.
So Dickson was ushered promptly into an inner room, and was warmly
greeted by Mr. Mackintosh, the patron of the Gorbals Die-Hards.
"I must thank you for your generous donation, McCunn. Those boys will
get a little fresh air and quiet after the smoke and din of Glasgow.
A little country peace to smooth out the creases in their poor
"Maybe," said Dickson, with a vivid recollection of Dougal as he
had last seen him. Somehow he did not think that peace was likely
to be the portion of that devoted band. "But I've not come here to
speak about that."
He took off his waterproof; then his coat and waistcoat; and showed
himself a strange figure with sundry bulges about the middle.
The manager's eyes grew very round. Presently these excrescences
were revealed as linen bags sewn on to his shirt, and fitting into
the hollow between ribs and hip. With some difficulty he slit the
bags and extracted three hide-bound packages.
"See here, Mackintosh," he said solemnly. "I hand you over these
parcels, and you're to put them in the innermost corner of your
strong room. You needn't open them. Just put them away as they are,
and write me a receipt for them. Write it now."
Mr. Mackintosh obediently took pen in hand.
"What'll I call them?" he asked.
"Just the three leather parcels handed to you by Dickson McCunn,
Esq., naming the date."
Mr. Mackintosh wrote. He signed his name with his usual flourish
and handed the slip to his client.
"Now," said Dickson, "you'll put that receipt in the strong box
where you keep my securities and you'll give it up to nobody but
me in person and you'll surrender the parcels only on presentation
of the receipt. D'you understand?"
"Perfectly. May I ask any questions?"
"You'd better not if you don't want to hear lees.'
"What's in the packages?" Mr. Mackintosh weighed them in his hand.
"That's asking," said Dickson. "But I'll tell ye this much. It's jools."
"No, but I'm their trustee."
"I was hearing they were worth more than a million pounds."
"God bless my soul," said the startled manager. "I don't like this
kind of business, McCunn."
"No more do I. But you'll do it to oblige an old friend and a
good customer. If you don't know much about the packages you
know all about me. Now, mind, I trust you."
Mr. Mackintosh forced himself to a joke. "Did you maybe steal them?"
Dickson grinned. "Just what I did. And that being so, I want you
to let me out by the back door."
When he found himself in the street he felt the huge relief of
a boy who had emerged with credit from the dentist's chair.
Remembering that here would be no midday dinner for him at home,
his first step was to feed heavily at a restaurant. He had, so far
as he could see, surmounted all his troubles, his one regret being
that he had lost his pack, which contained among other things his
Izaak Walton and his safety razor. He bought another razor and a new
Walton, and mounted an electric tram car en route for home.
Very contented with himself he felt as the car swung across the
Clyde bridge. He had done well--but of that he did not want to think,
for the whole beastly thing was over. He was going to bury that memory,
to be resurrected perhaps on a later day when the unpleasantness had
been forgotten. Heritage had his address, and knew where to come when
it was time to claim the jewels. As for the watchers, they must have
ceased to suspect him, when they discovered the innocent contents of
his knapsack and Mrs. Morran's box. Home for him, and a luxurious tea
by his own fireside; and then an evening with his books, for Heritage's
nonsense had stimulated his literary fervour. He would dip into his
old favourites again to confirm his faith. To-morrow he would go
for a jaunt somewhere--perhaps down the Clyde, or to the South of
England, which he had heard was a pleasant, thickly peopled country.
No more lonely inns and deserted villages for him; henceforth he
would make certain of comfort and peace.
The rain had stopped, and, as the car moved down the dreary vista of
Eglinton street, the sky opened into fields of blue and the April sun
silvered the puddles. It was in such place and under such weather
that Dickson suffered an overwhelming experience.
It is beyond my skill, being all unlearned in the game of psycho-analysis,
to explain how this thing happened. I concern myself only with facts.
Suddenly the pretty veil of self-satisfaction was rent from top to bottom,
and Dickson saw a figure of himself within, a smug leaden little figure
which simpered and preened itself and was hollow as a rotten nut.
And he hated it.
The horrid truth burst on him that Heritage had been right.
He only played with life. That imbecile image was a mere spectator,
content to applaud, but shrinking from the contact of reality.
It had been all right as a provision merchant, but when it
fancied itself capable of higher things it had deceived itself.
Foolish little image with its brave dreams and its swelling words
from Browning! All make-believe of the feeblest. He was a coward,
running away at the first threat of danger. It was as if he were
watching a tall stranger with a wand pointing to the embarrassed
phantom that was himself, and ruthlessly exposing its frailties!
And yet the pitiless showman was himself too--himself as he wanted to be,
cheerful, brave, resourceful, indomitable.
Dickson suffered a spasm of mortal agony. "Oh, I'm surely not so bad
as all that," he groaned. But the hurt was not only in his pride.
He saw himself being forced to new decisions, and each alternative
was of the blackest. He fairly shivered with the horror of it.
The car slipped past a suburban station from which passengers were
emerging--comfortable black-coated men such as he had once been.
He was bitterly angry with Providence for picking him out of the
great crowd of sedentary folk for this sore ordeal. "Why was I
tethered to sich a conscience?" was his moan. But there was that
stern inquisitor with his pointer exploring his soul. "You flatter
yourself you have done your share," he was saying. "You will make
pretty stories about it to yourself, and some day you may tell your
friends, modestly disclaiming any special credit. But you will be
a liar, for you know you are afraid. You are running away when the
work is scarcely begun, and leaving it to a few boys and a poet whom
you had the impudence the other day to despise. I think you are
worse than a coward. I think you are a cad."
His fellow-passengers on the top of the car saw an absorbed middle-aged
gentleman who seemed to have something the matter with his bronchial tubes.
They could not guess at the tortured soul. The decision was coming nearer,
the alternatives loomed up dark and inevitable. On one side was submission
to ignominy, on the other a return to that place which he detested, and yet
loathed himself for detesting. "It seems I'm not likely to have much peace
either way," he reflected dismally.
How the conflict would have ended had it continued on these lines
I cannot say. The soul of Mr. McCunn was being assailed by moral and
metaphysical adversaries with which he had not been trained to deal.
But suddenly it leapt from negatives to positives. He saw the face
of the girl in the shuttered House, so fair and young and yet so haggard.
It seemed to be appealing to him to rescue it from a great loneliness
and fear. Yes, he had been right, it had a strange look of his Janet--
the wide-open eyes, the solemn mouth. What was to become of that child
if he failed her in her need?
Now Dickson was a practical man, and this view of the case brought him
into a world which he understood. "It's fair ridiculous," he reflected.
"Nobody there to take a grip of things. Just a wheen Gorbals keelies
and the lad Heritage. Not a business man among the lot."
The alternatives, which hove before him like two great banks of
cloud, were altering their appearance. One was becoming faint and
tenuous; the other, solid as ever, was just a shade less black.
He lifted his eyes and saw in the near distance the corner of the
road which led to his home. "I must decide before I reach that corner,"
he told himself.
Then his mind became apathetic. He began to whistle dismally through
his teeth, watching the corner as it came nearer. The car stopped
with a jerk. "I'll go back," he said aloud, clambering down the steps.
The truth was he had decided five minutes before when he first saw
He walked briskly to his house, entirely refusing to waste any more
energy on reflection. "This is a business proposition," he told
himself, "and I'm going to handle it as sich." Tibby was surprised
to see him and offered him tea in vain. "I'm just back for
a few minutes. Let's see the letters."
There was one from his wife. She proposed to stay another week at
the Neuk Hydropathic and suggested that he might join her and bring
her home. He sat down and wrote a long affectionate reply,
declining, but expressing his delight that she was soon returning.
"That's very likely the last time Mamma will hear from me,"
he reflected, but--oddly enough--without any great fluttering
of the heart.
Then he proceeded to be furiously busy. He sent out Tibby to buy
another knapsack and to order a cab and to cash a considerable cheque.
In the knapsack he packed a fresh change of clothing and the new
safety razor, but no books, for he was past the need of them.
That done, he drove to his solicitors.
"What like a firm are Glendonan and Speirs in Edinburgh?" he asked
the senior partner.
"Oh, very respectable. Very respectable indeed. Regular Edinburgh
W.S. Lot. Do a lot of factoring."
"I want you to telephone through to them and inquire about a place
in Carrick called Huntingtower, near the village of Dalquharter.
I understand it's to let, and I'm thinking of taking a lease of it."
The senior partner after some delay got through to Edinburgh, and was
presently engaged in the feverish dialectic which the long-distance
telephone involves. "I want to speak to Mr. Glendonan himself....
Yes, yes, Mr. Caw of Paton and Linklater....Good afternoon....
Huntingtower. Yes, in Carrick. Not to let? But I understand it's
been in the market for some months. You say you've an idea it has
just been let. But my client is positive that you're mistaken, unless
the agreement was made this morning.... You'll inquire? Ah, I see.
The actual factoring is done by your local agent, Mr. James Loudon,
in Auchenlochan. You think my client had better get into touch with
him at once. Just wait a minute, please."
He put his hand over the receiver. "Usual Edinburgh way of doing
business," he observed caustically. "What do you want done?"
"I'll run down and see this Loudon. Tell Glendonan and Spiers to
advise him to expect me, for I'll go this very day."
Mr. Caw resumed his conversation. "My client would like a telegram
sent at once to Mr. Loudon introducing him. He's Mr. Dickson McCunn
of Mearns Street--the great provision merchant, you know. Oh, yes!
Good for any rent. Refer if you like to the Strathclyde Bank,
but you can take my word for it. Thank you. Then that's settled.
Dickson's next visit was to a gunmaker who was a fellow-elder with
him in the Guthrie Memorial Kirk.
"I want a pistol and a lot of cartridges," he announced. "I'm not
caring what kind it is, so long as it is a good one and not too big."
"For yourself?" the gunmaker asked. "You must have a license,
I doubt, and there's a lot of new regulations."
"I can't wait on a license. It's for a cousin of mine who's
off to Mexico at once. You've got to find some way of obliging
an old friend, Mr. McNair."
Mr. McNair scratched his head. "I don't see how I can sell you one.
But I'll tell you what I'll do--I'll lend you one. It belongs to my
nephew, Peter Tait, and has been lying in a drawer ever since he
came back from the front. He has no use for it now that he's
a placed minister."
So Dickson bestowed in the pockets of his water-proof a service
revolver and fifty cartridges, and bade his cab take him to the shop
in Mearns Street. For a moment the sight of the familiar place
struck a pang to his breast, but he choked down unavailing regrets.
He ordered a great hamper of foodstuffs--the most delicate kind of
tinned goods, two perfect hams, tongues, Strassburg pies, chocolate,
cakes, biscuits, and, as a last thought, half a dozen bottles of
old liqueur brandy. It was to be carefully packed, addressed to
Mrs. Morran, Dalquharter Station, and delivered in time for him to
take down by the 7.33 train. Then he drove to the terminus and
dined with something like a desperate peace in his heart.
On this occasion he took a first-class ticket, for he wanted to be alone.
As the lights began to be lit in the wayside stations and the clear
April dusk darkened into night, his thoughts were sombre yet resigned.
He opened the window and let the sharp air of the Renfrewshire uplands
fill the carriage. It was fine weather again after the rain, and a
bright constellation--perhaps Dougal's friend O'Brien--hung in the
western sky. How happy he would have been a week ago had he been
starting thus for a country holiday! He could sniff the faint scent
of moor-burn and ploughed earth which had always been his first reminder
of Spring. But he had been pitchforked out of that old happy world and
could never enter it again. Alas! for the roadside fire, the cosy inn,
the Compleat Angler, the Chavender or Chub!
And yet--and yet! He had done the right thing, though the Lord
alone knew how it would end. He began to pluck courage from his
very melancholy, and hope from his reflections upon the transitoriness
of life. He was austerely following Romance as he conceived it, and
if that capricious lady had taken one dream from him she might yet
reward him with a better. Tags of poetry came into his head which
seemed to favour this philosophy--particularly some lines of
Browning on which he used to discourse to his Kirk Literary Society.
Uncommon silly, he considered, these homilies of his must have been,
mere twitterings of the unfledged. But now he saw more in the lines,
a deeper interpretation which he had earned the right to make.
"Oh world, where all things change and nought abides,
Oh life, the long mutation--is it so?
Is it with life as with the body's change?--
Where, e'en tho' better follow, good must pass."
That was as far as he could get, though he cudgelled his memory
to continue. Moralizing thus, he became drowsy, and was almost
asleep when the train drew up at the station of Kirkmichael.
SUNDRY DOINGS IN THE MIRK
From Kirkmichael on the train stopped at every station, but
no passenger seemed to leave or arrive at the little platforms
white in the moon. At Dalquharter the case of provisions was safely
transferred to the porter with instructions to take charge of it till
it was sent for. During the next few minutes Dickson's mind began to
work upon his problem with a certain briskness. It was all nonsense
that the law of Scotland could not be summoned to the defence.
The jewels had been safely got rid of, and who was to dispute
their possession? Not Dobson and his crew, who had no sort of title,
and were out for naked robbery. The girl had spoken of greater
dangers from new enemies--kidnapping, perhaps. Well, that was
felony, and the police must be brought in. Probably if all were
known the three watchers had criminal records, pages long, filed
at Scotland Yard. The man to deal with that side of the business
was Loudon the factor, and to him he was bound in the first place.
He had made a clear picture in his head of this Loudon--a derelict
old country writer, formal, pedantic, lazy, anxious only to get an
unprofitable business off his hands with the least possible trouble,
never going near the place himself, and ably supported in his lethargy
by conceited Edinburgh Writers to the Signet. "Sich notions of
business!" he murmured. "I wonder that there's a single county family
in Scotland no' in the bankruptcy court!" It was his mission to
wake up Mr. James Loudon.
Arrived at Auchenlochan he went first to the Salutation Hotel,
a pretentious place sacred to golfers. There he engaged a bedroom
for the night and, having certain scruples, paid for it in advance.
He also had some sandwiches prepared which he stowed in his pack,
and filled his flask with whisky. "I'm going home to Glasgow by the
first train in the to-morrow," he told the landlady, "and now I've got
to see a friend. I'll not be back till late." He was assured that
there would be no difficulty about his admittance at any hour,
and directed how to find Mr. Loudon's dwelling.
It was an old house fronting direct on the street, with a
fanlight above the door and a neat brass plate bearing the legend
"Mr. James Loudon, Writer." A lane ran up one side leading
apparently to a garden, for the moonlight showed the dusk of trees.
In front was the main street of Auchenlochan, now deserted save for
a single roysterer, and opposite stood the ancient town house,
with arches where the country folk came at the spring and autumn
hiring fairs. Dickson rang the antiquated bell, and was presently
admitted to a dark hall floored with oilcloth, where a single
gas-jet showed that on one side was the business office and on
the other the living-rooms. Mr. Loudon was at supper, he was told,
and he sent in his card. Almost at once the door at the end
on the left side was flung open and a large figure appeared
flourishing a napkin. "Come in, sir, come in," it cried.
"I've just finished a bite of meat. Very glad to see you.
Here, Maggie, what d'you mean by keeping the gentleman standing
in that outer darkness?"
The room into which Dickson was ushered was small and bright,
with a red paper on the walls, a fire burning, and a big oil lamp
in the centre of a table. Clearly Mr. Loudon had no wife, for it
was a bachelor's den in every line of it. A cloth was laid on
a corner of the table, in which stood the remnants of a meal.
Mr. Loudon seemed to have been about to make a brew of punch,
for a kettle simmered by the fire, and lemons and sugar flanked
a pot-bellied whisky decanter of the type that used to be known as
a "mason's mell."
The sight of the lawyer was a surprise to Dickson and dissipated his
notions of an aged and lethargic incompetent. Mr. Loudon was a
strongly built man who could not be a year over fifty. He had
a ruddy face, clean shaven except for a grizzled moustache;
his grizzled hair was thinning round the temples; but his skin was
unwrinkled and his eyes had all the vigour of youth. His tweed suit
was well cut, and the buff waistcoat with flaps and pockets and
the plain leather watchguard hinted at the sportsman, as did the
half-dozen racing prints on the wall. A pleasant high-coloured
figure he made; his voice had the frank ring due to much use
out of doors; and his expression had the singular candour which
comes from grey eyes with large pupils and a narrow iris.
"Sit down, Mr. McCunn. Take the arm-chair by the fire. I've had
a wire from Glendonan and Speirs about you. I was just going to
have a glass of toddy--a grand thing for these uncertain April nights.
You'll join me? No? Well, you'll smoke anyway. There's cigars at
your elbow. Certainly, a pipe if you like. This is Liberty Hall."
Dickson found some difficulty in the part for which he had cast himself.
He had expected to condescend upon an elderly inept and give him
sharp instructions; instead he found himself faced with a jovial,
virile figure which certainly did not suggest incompetence. It has
been mentioned already that he had always great difficulty in looking
any one in the face, and this difficulty was intensified when he
found himself confronted with bold and candid eyes. He felt abashed
and a little nervous.
"I've come to see you about Huntingtower House," he began.
"I know, so Glendonans informed me. Well, I'm very glad to hear it.
The place has been standing empty far too long, and that is worse for
a new house than an old house. There's not much money to spend on it
either, unless we can make sure of a good tenant. How did you hear
"I was taking a bit holiday and I spent a night at Dalquharter with
an old auntie of mine. You must understand I've just retired from
business, and I'm thinking of finding a country place. I used to
have the provision shop in Mearns Street--now the United Supply Stores,
Limited. You've maybe heard of it?"
The other bowed and smiled. "Who hasn't? The name of Dickson McCunn
is known far beyond the city of Glasgow."
Dickson was not insensible of the flattery, and he continued with
more freedom. "I took a walk and got a glisk of the House, and I liked
the look of it. You see, I want a quiet bit a good long way from a town,
and at the same time a house with all modern conveniences. I suppose
Huntingtower has that?"
"When it was built fifteen years ago it was considered a model--six
bathrooms, its own electric light plant, steam heating, and independent
boiler for hot water, the whole bag of tricks. I won't say but what
some of these contrivances will want looking to, for the place has been
some time empty, but there can be nothing very far wrong, and I can
guarantee that the bones of the house are good."
"Well, that's all right," said Dickson. "I don't mind spending a
little money myself if the place suits me. But of that, of course,
I'm not yet certain, for I've only had a glimpse of the outside.
I wanted to get into the policies, but a man at the lodge
wouldn't let me. They're a mighty uncivil lot down there."
"I'm very sorry to hear that," said Mr. Loudon in a tone of concern.
"Ay, and if I take the place I'll stipulate that you get rid
of the lodgekeepers."
"There won't be the slightest difficulty about that, for they are
only weekly tenants. But I'm vexed to hear they were uncivil.
I was glad to get any tenant that offered, and they were well
recommended to me."
"One of them is--a Belgian refugee that Lady Morewood took
an interest in. But the other--Spittal, they call him--I thought
he was Scotch."
"He's not that. And I don't like the innkeeper either. I would
want him shifted."
Dr. Loudon laughed. "I dare say Dobson is a rough diamond.
There's worse folk in the world all the same, but I don't think
he will want to stay. He only went there to pass the time till
he heard from his brother in Vancouver. He's a roving spirit,
and will be off overseas again."
"That's all right!" said Dickson, who was beginning to have horrid
suspicions that he might be on a wild-goose chase after all.
"Well, the next thing is for me to see over the House."
"Certainly. I'd like to go with you myself. What day would
suit you? Let me see. This is Friday. What about this day week?"
"I was thinking of to-morrow. Since I'm down in these parts I may as
well get the job done."
Mr. Loudon looked puzzled. "I quite see that. But I don't think
it's possible. You see, I have to consult the owners and get their
consent to a lease. Of course they have the general purpose of
letting, but--well, they're queer folk the Kennedys," and his
face wore the half-embarrassed smile of an honest man preparing
to make confidences. "When poor Mr. Quentin died, the place went
to his two sisters in joint ownership. A very bad arrangement,
as you can imagine. It isn't entailed, and I've always been pressing
them to sell, but so far they won't hear of it. They both married
Englishmen, so it will take a day or two to get in touch with them.
One, Mrs. Stukely, lives in Devonshire. The other--Miss Katie that
was--married Sir Frances Morewood, the general, and I hear that she's
expected back in London next Monday from the Riviera. I'll wire
and write first thing to-morrow morning. But you must give me
a day or two."
Dickson felt himself waking up. His doubts about his own sanity
were dissolving, for, as his mind reasoned, the factor was prepared
to do anything he asked--but only after a week had gone. What he was
concerned with was the next few days.
"All the same I would like to have a look at the place to-morrow,
even if nothing comes of it."
Mr. Loudon looked seriously perplexed. "You will think me absurdly
fussy, Mr. McCunn, but I must really beg of you to give up the idea.
The Kennedys, as I have said, are--well, not exactly like other
people, and I have the strictest orders not to let any one visit the
house without their express leave. It sounds a ridiculous rule,
but I assure you it's as much as my job is worth to disregard it."
"D'you mean to say not a soul is allowed inside the House?"
"Not a soul."
"Well, Mr. Loudon, I'm going to tell you a queer thing, which I
think you ought to know. When I was taking a walk the other night--
your Belgian wouldn't let me into the policies, but I went down
the glen--what's that they call it? the Garple Dean--I got round the
back where the old ruin stands and I had a good look at the House.
I tell you there was somebody in it."
"It would be Spittal, who acts as caretaker."
"It was not. It was a woman. I saw her on the verandah."
The candid grey eyes were looking straight at Dickson, who managed to
bring his own shy orbs to meet them. He thought that he detected a
shade of hesitation. Then Mr. Loudon got up from his chair and stood
on the hearthrug looking down at his visitor. He laughed, with some
embarrassment, but ever so pleasantly.
"I really don't know what you will think of me, Mr. McCunn.
Here are you, coming to do us all a kindness, and lease that
infernal white elephant, and here have I been steadily hoaxing you
for the last five minutes. I humbly ask your pardon. Set it down to
the loyalty of an old family lawyer. Now, I am going to tell you
the truth and take you into our confidence, for I know we are
safe with you. The Kennedys are--always have been--just a wee
bit queer. Old inbred stock, you know. They will produce somebody
like poor Mr. Quentin, who was as sane as you or me, but as a
rule in every generation there is one member of the family--
or more--who is just a little bit---" and he tapped his forehead.
"Nothing violent, you understand, but just not quite 'wise and
world-like,' as the old folk say. Well, there's a certain old lady,
an aunt of Mr. Quentin and his sisters, who has always been about
tenpence in the shilling. Usually she lives at Bournemouth, but one
of her crazes is a passion for Huntingtower, and the Kennedys have
always humoured her and had her to stay every spring. When the House
was shut up that became impossible, but this year she took such a
craving to come back, that Lady Morewood asked me to arrange it.
It had to be kept very quiet, but the poor old thing is perfectly
harmless, and just sits and knits with her maid and looks out of the
seaward windows. Now you see why I can't take you there to-morrow.
I have to get rid of the old lady, who in any case was travelling
south early next week. Do you understand?"
"Perfectly," said Dickson with some fervour. He had learned exactly
what he wanted. The factor was telling him lies. Now he knew
where to place Mr. Loudon.
He always looked back upon what followed as a very creditable piece
of play-acting for a man who had small experience in that line.
"Is the old lady a wee wizened body, with a black cap and something
like a white cashmere shawl round her shoulders?"
"You describe her exactly," Mr. Loudon replied eagerly.
"That would explain the foreigners."
"Of course. We couldn't have natives who would make the thing
the clash of the countryside."
"Of course not. But it must be a difficult job to keep a business
like that quiet. Any wandering policeman might start inquiries.
And supposing the lady became violent?"
"Oh, there's no fear of that. Besides, I've a position in this
country--Deputy Fiscal and so forth--and a friend of the Chief Constable.
I think I may be trusted to do a little private explaining if
the need arose."
"I see," said Dickson. He saw, indeed, a great deal which would
give him food for furious thought. "Well, I must possess my soul
in patience. Here's my Glasgow address, and I look to you to send me
a telegram whenever you're ready for me. I'm at the Salutation to-night,
and go home to-morrow with the first train. Wait a minute"--and he
pulled out his watch--"there's a train stops at Auchenlochan at 10.17.
I think I'll catch that....Well Mr. Loudon, I'm very much obliged to you,
and I'm glad to think that it'll no' be long till we renew
The factor accompanied him to the door, diffusing geniality.
"Very pleased indeed to have met you. A pleasant journey and
a quick return."
The street was still empty. Into a corner of the arches opposite
the moon was shining, and Dickson retired thither to consult his
map of the neighbourhood. He found what he wanted, and, as he
lifted his eyes, caught sight of a man coming down the causeway.
Promptly he retired into the shadow and watched the new-comer.
There could be no mistake about the figure; the bulk, the walk,
the carriage of the head marked it for Dobson. The innkeeper went
slowly past the factor's house; then halted and retraced his steps;
then, making sure that the street was empty, turned into the side
lane which led to the garden.
This was what sailors call a cross-bearing, and strengthened
Dickson's conviction. He delayed no longer, but hurried down
the side street by which the north road leaves the town.
He had crossed the bridge of Lochan and was climbing the steep
ascent which led to the heathy plateau separating that stream
from the Garple before he had got his mind quite clear on the case.
FIRST, Loudon was in the plot, whatever it was; responsible for
the details of the girl's imprisonment, but not the main author.
That must be the Unknown who was still to come, from whom Spidel took his
orders. Dobson was probably Loudon's special henchman, working directly
under him. SECONDLY, the immediate object had been the jewels, and they
were happily safe in the vaults of the incorruptible Mackintosh.
But, THIRD--and this only on Saskia's evidences--the worst danger to
her began with the arrival of the Unknown. What could that be?
Probably, kidnapping. He was prepared to believe anything of people
like Bolsheviks. And, FOURTH, this danger was due within the next
day or two. Loudon had been quite willing to let him into the
house and to sack all the watchers within a week from that date.
The natural and right thing was to summon the aid of the law, but,
FIFTH, that would be a slow business with Loudon able to put spokes
in the wheels and befog the authorities, and the mischief would be
done before a single policeman showed his face in Dalquharter.
Therefore, SIXTH, he and Heritage must hold the fort in the meantime,
and he would send a wire to his lawyer, Mr. Caw, to get to work
with the constabulary. SEVENTH, he himself was probably free from
suspicion in both Loudon's and Dobson's minds as a harmless fool.
But that freedom would not survive his reappearance in Dalquharter.
He could say, to be sure, that he had come back to see his auntie,
but that would not satisfy the watchers, since, so far as they knew,
he was the only man outside the gang who was aware that people
were dwelling in the House. They would not tolerate his presence
in the neighbourhood.
He formulated his conclusions as if it were an ordinary business deal,
and rather to his surprise was not conscious of any fear. As he pulled
together the belt of his waterproof he felt the reassuring bulges in
its pockets which were his pistol and cartridges. He reflected that
it must be very difficult to miss with a pistol if you fired it at, say,
three yards, and if there was to be shooting that would be his range.
Mr. McCunn had stumbled on the precious truth that the best way to be
rid of quaking knees is to keep a busy mind.
He crossed the ridge of the plateau and looked down on the Garple glen.
There were the lights of Dalquharter--or rather a single light, for
the inhabitants went early to bed. His intention was to seek quarters
with Mrs. Morran, when his eye caught a gleam in a hollow of the moor
a little to the east. He knew it for the camp-fire around which
Dougal's warriors bivouacked. The notion came to him to go there
instead, and hear the news of the day before entering the cottage.
So he crossed the bridge, skirted a plantation of firs, and scrambled
through the broom and heather in what he took to be the right direction.
The moon had gone down, and the quest was not easy. Dickson had come
to the conclusion that he was on the wrong road, when he was summoned
by a voice which seemed to arise out of the ground.
"Who goes there?"
"What's that you say?"
"Who goes there?" The point of a pole was held firmly against his chest.
"I'm Mr. McCunn, a friend of Dougal's."
"Stand, friend." The shadow before him whistled and another
shadow appeared. "Report to the Chief that there's a man here,
name o' McCunn, seekin' for him."
Presently the messenger returned with Dougal and a cheap lantern
which he flashed in Dickson's face.
"Oh, it's you," said that leader, who had his jaw bound up as if he
had the toothache. "What are ye doing back here?"
"To tell the truth, Dougal," was the answer, "I couldn't stay away.
I was fair miserable when I thought of Mr. Heritage and you laddies
left to yourselves. My conscience simply wouldn't let me stop at home,
so here I am."
Dougal grunted, but clearly he approved, for from that moment he
treated Dickson with a new respect. Formerly when he had referred to
him at all it had been as "auld McCunn." Now it was "Mister McCunn."
He was given rank as a worthy civilian ally. The bivouac was a
cheerful place in the wet night. A great fire of pine roots and old
paling posts hissed in the fine rain, and around it crouched several
urchins busy making oatmeal cakes in the embers. On one side a
respectable lean-to had been constructed by nailing a plank to two
fir-trees, running sloping poles thence to the ground, and thatching
the whole with spruce branches and heather. On the other side two
small dilapidated home-made tents were pitched. Dougal motioned his
companion into the lean-to, where they had some privacy from the
rest of the band.
"Well, what's your news?" Dickson asked. He noticed that the
Chieftain seemed to have been comprehensively in the wars, for apart
from the bandage on his jaw, he had numerous small cuts on his brow,
and a great rent in one of his shirt sleeves. Also he appeared
to be going lame, and when he spoke a new gap was revealed in
his large teeth.
"Things," said Dougal solemnly, "has come to a bonny cripus.
This very night we've been in a battle."
He spat fiercely, and the light of war burned in his eyes.
"It was the tinklers from the Garple Dean. They yokit on us about
seven o'clock, just at the darkenin'. First they tried to bounce us.
We weren't wanted here, they said, so we'd better clear. I telled
them that it was them that wasn't wanted. 'Awa' to Finnick,' says I.
'D'ye think we take our orders from dirty ne'er-do-weels like you?'
'By God,' says they, 'we'll cut your lights out,' and then the
"What happened?' Dickson asked excitedly.
"They were four muckle men against six laddies, and they thought
they had an easy job! Little they kenned the Gorbals Die-Hards!
I had been expectin' something of the kind, and had made my plans.
They first tried to pu' down our tents and burn them. I let them get
within five yards, reservin' my fire. The first volley--stones from
our hands and our catties--halted them, and before they could recover
three of us had got hold o' burnin' sticks frae the fire and were