Part 4 out of 5
obediently on her pillow.
It was Mrs. Morran's custom of a Sunday to spend the morning in
devout meditation. Some years before she had given up tramping the
five miles to kirk, on the ground that having been a regular attendant
for fifty years she had got all the good out of it that was probable.
Instead she read slowly aloud to herself the sermon printed in a
certain religious weekly which reached her every Saturday, and
concluded with a chapter or two of the Bible. But to-day something
had gone wrong with her mind. She could not follow the thread of the
Reverend Doctor MacMichael's discourse. She could not fix her
attention on the wanderings and misdeeds of Israel as recorded in
the Book of Exodus. She must always be getting up to look at the
pot on the fire, or to open the back door and study the weather.
For a little she fought against her unrest, and then she gave up
the attempt at concentration. She took the big pot off the fire and
allowed it to simmer, and presently she fetched her boots and umbrella,
and kilted her petticoats. "I'll be none the waur o' a breath o'
caller air," she decided.
The wind was blowing great guns but there was only the thinnest
sprinkle of rain. Sitting on the hen-house roof and munching a raw
turnip was a figure which she recognized as the smallest of the Die-
Hards. Between bites he was singing dolefully to the tune of "Annie
Laurie" one of the ditties of his quondam Sunday School:
"The Boorjoys' brays are bonnie,
But the Workers of the World
Wull gar them a' look blue,
And droon them in the sea,
And--for bonnie Annie Laurie
I'll lay me down and dee."
"Losh, laddie," she cried, "that's cauld food for the stomach.
Come indoors about midday and I'll gie ye a plate o' broth!"
The Die-Hard saluted and continued on the turnip.
She took the Auchenlochan road across the Garple bridge, for that
was the best road to the Mains, and by it Dickson and the others
might be returning. Her equanimity at all seasons was like a Turk's,
and she would not have admitted that anything mortal had power to
upset or excite her: nevertheless it was a fast-beating heart
that she now bore beneath her Sunday jacket. Great events,
she felt, were on the eve of happening, and of them she was a part.
Dickson's anxiety was hers, to bring things to a business-like conclusion.
The honour of Huntingtower was at stake and of the old Kennedys.
She was carrying out Mr. Quentin's commands, the dead boy who used
to clamour for her treacle scones. And there was more than duty in it,
for youth was not dead in her old heart, and adventure had still
power to quicken it.
Mrs. Morran walked well, with the steady long paces of the
Scots countrywoman. She left the Auchenlochan road and took
the side path along the tableland to the Mains. But for the
surge of the gale and the far-borne boom of the furious sea there
was little noise; not a bird cried in the uneasy air. With the wind
behind her Mrs. Morran breasted the ascent till she had on her
right the moorland running south to the Lochan valley and on
her left Garple chafing in its deep forested gorges. Her eyes
were quick and she noted with interest a weasel creeping from a
fern-clad cairn. A little way on she passed an old ewe in
difficulties and assisted it to rise. "But for me, my wumman,
ye'd hae been braxy ere nicht," she told it as it departed bleating.
Then she realized that she had come a certain distance. "Losh, I maun
be gettin' back or the hen will be spiled," she cried, and was on
the verge of turning.
But something caught her eye a hundred yards farther on the road.
It was something which moved with the wind like a wounded bird,
fluttering from the roadside to a puddle and then back to the rushes.
She advanced to it, missed it, and caught it.
It was an old dingy green felt hat, and she recognized it as Dickson's.
Mrs. Morran's brain, after a second of confusion, worked fast and clearly.
She examined the road and saw that a little way on the gravel had
been violently agitated. She detected several prints of hobnailed boots.
There were prints, too, on a patch of peat on the south side behind
a tall bank of sods. "That's where they were hidin'," she concluded.
Then she explored on the other side in a thicket of hazels and wild
raspberries, and presently her perseverance was rewarded. The scrub was
all crushed and pressed as if several persons had been forcing a passage.
In a hollow was a gleam of something white. She moved towards it
with a quaking heart, and was relieved to find that it was only a
new and expensive bicycle with the front wheel badly buckled.
Mrs. Morran delayed no longer. If she had walked well on her out journey,
she beat all records on the return. Sometimes she would run till her
breath failed; then she would slow down till anxiety once more quickened
her pace. To her joy, on the Dalquharter side of the Garple bridge she
observed the figure of a Die-Hard. Breathless, flushed, with her bonnet
awry and her umbrella held like a scimitar, she seized on the boy.
"Awfu' doin's! They've grippit Maister McCunn up the Mains road just
afore the second milestone and forenent the auld bucht. I fund his hat,
and a bicycle's lyin' broken in the wud. Haste ye, man, and get the
rest and awa' and seek him. It'll be the tinklers frae the Dean.
I'd gang misel' but my legs are ower auld. Ah, laddie, dinna stop
to speir questions. They'll hae him murdered or awa' to sea. And maybe
the leddy was wi' him and they've got them baith. Wae's me! Wae's me!"
The Die-Hard, who was Wee Jaikie, did not delay. His eyes had
filled with tears at her news, which we know to have been his habit.
When Mrs. Morran, after indulging in a moment of barbaric keening,
looked back the road she had come, she saw a small figure trotting up
the hill like a terrier who has been left behind. As he trotted he
wept bitterly. Jaikie was getting dangerous.
HOW MR. McCUNN COMMITTED AN ASSAULT UPON AN ALLY
Dickson always maintained that his senses did not leave him for more
than a second or two, but he admitted that he did not remember very
clearly the events of the next few hours. He was conscious of a bad
pain above his eyes, and something wet trickling down his cheek.
There was a perpetual sound of water in his ears and of men's voices.
He found himself dropped roughly on the ground and forced to walk,
and was aware that his legs were inclined to wobble. Somebody had a
grip on each arm, so that he could not defend his face from the
brambles, and that worried him, for his whole head seemed one aching
bruise and he dreaded anything touching it. But all the time he
did not open his mouth, for silence was the one duty that his
muddled wits enforced. He felt that he was not the master of his
mind, and he dreaded what he might disclose if he began to babble.
Presently there came a blank space of which he had no recollection at all.
The movement had stopped, and he was allowed to sprawl on the ground.
He thought that his head had got another whack from a bough,
and that the pain put him into a stupor. When he awoke he was alone.
He discovered that he was strapped very tightly to a young Scotch fir.
His arms were bent behind him and his wrists tied together with cords
knotted at the back of the tree; his legs were shackled, and further
cords fastened them to the bole. Also there was a halter round the
trunk and just under his chin, so that while he breathed freely enough,
he could not move his head. Before him was a tangle of bracken and
scrub, and beyond that the gloom of dense pines; but as he could see
only directly in front his prospect was strictly circumscribed.
Very slowly he began to take his bearings. The pain in his head was
now dulled and quite bearable, and the flow of blood had stopped,
for he felt the encrustation of it beginning on his cheeks.
There was a tremendous noise all around him, and he traced
this to the swaying of tree-tops in the gale. But there was
an undercurrent of deeper sound--water surely, water churning
among rocks. It was a stream--the Garple of course--and then he
remembered where he was and what had happened.
I do not wish to portray Dickson as a hero, for nothing would
annoy him more; but I am bound to say that his first clear thought
was not of his own danger. It was intense exasperation at the
miscarriage of his plans. Long ago he should have been with Dougal
arranging operations, giving him news of Sir Archie, finding out how
Heritage was faring, deciding how to use the coming reinforcements.
Instead he was trussed up in a wood, a prisoner of the enemy, and
utterly useless to his side. He tugged at his bonds, and nearly
throttled himself. But they were of good tarry cord and did not give
a fraction of an inch. Tears of bitter rage filled his eyes and made
furrows on his encrusted cheek. Idiot that he had been, he had
wrecked everything! What would Saskia and Dougal and Sir Archie do
without a business man by their side? There would be a muddle, and
the little party would walk into a trap. He saw it all very clearly.
The men from the sea would overpower them, there would be murder done,
and an easy capture of the Princess; and the police would turn up at
long last to find an empty headland.
He had also most comprehensively wrecked himself, and at the thought
genuine panic seized him. There was no earthly chance of escape,
for he was tucked away in this infernal jungle till such time as his
enemies had time to deal with him. As to what that dealing would be like
he had no doubts, for they knew that he had been their chief opponent.
Those desperate ruffians would not scruple to put an end to him.
His mind dwelt with horrible fascination upon throat-cutting,
no doubt because of the presence of the cord below his chin.
He had heard it was not a painful death; at any rate he remembered
a clerk he had once had, a feeble, timid creature, who had twice
attempted suicide that way. Surely it could not be very bad,
and it would soon be over.
But another thought came to him. They would carry him off in the ship
and settle with him at their leisure. No swift merciful death for him.
He had read dreadful tales of the Bolsheviks' skill in torture,
and now they all came back to him--stories of Chinese mercenaries,
and men buried alive, and death by agonizing inches. He felt suddenly
very cold and sick, and hung in his bonds, for he had no strength
in his limbs. Then the pressure on this throat braced him, and also
quickened his numb mind. The liveliest terror ran like quicksilver
through his veins.
He endured some moments of this anguish, till after many despairing
clutches at his wits he managed to attain a measure of self-control.
He certainly wasn't going to allow himself to become mad. Death was
death whatever form it took, and he had to face death as many better
men had done before him. He had often thought about it and wondered
how he should behave if the thing came to him. Respectably, he had hoped;
heroically, he had sworn in his moments of confidence. But he had
never for an instant dreamed of this cold, lonely, dreadful business.
Last Sunday, he remembered, he had basking in the afternoon sun in
his little garden and reading about the end of Fergus MacIvor in
WAVERLEY and thrilling to the romance of it; and Tibby had come out
and summoned him in to tea. Then he had rather wanted to be a
Jacobite in the '45 and in peril of his neck, and now Providence
had taken him most terribly at his word.
A week ago---! He groaned at the remembrance of that sunny garden.
In seven days he had found a new world and tried a new life,
and had come now to the end of it. He did not want to die,
less now than ever with such wide horizons opening before him.
But that was the worst of it, he reflected, for to have a great
life great hazards must be taken, and there was always the risk of
this sudden extinguisher....Had he to choose again, far better the
smooth sheltered bypath than this accursed romantic highway on to
which he had blundered....No, by Heaven, no! Confound it, if
he had to choose he would do it all again. Something stiff and
indomitable in his soul was bracing him to a manlier humour.
There was no one to see the figure strapped to the fir, but had there
been a witness he would have noted that at this stage Dickson shut
his teeth and that his troubled eyes looked very steadily before him.
His business, he felt, was to keep from thinking, for if he thought
at all there would be a flow of memories--of his wife, his home,
his books, his friends--to unman him. So he steeled himself to blankness,
like a sleepless man imagining white sheep in a gate....He noted a robin
below the hazels, strutting impudently. And there was a tit on a bracken
frond, which made the thing sway like one of the see-saws he used to
play with as a boy. There was no wind in that undergrowth, and any
movement must be due to bird or beast. The tit flew off, and the
oscillations of the bracken slowly died away. Then they began again,
but more violently, and Dickson could not see the bird that caused them.
It must be something down at the roots of the covert, a rabbit, perhaps,
or a fox, or a weasel.
He watched for the first sign of the beast, and thought he caught
a glimpse of tawny fur. Yes, there it was--pale dirty yellow,
a weasel clearly. Then suddenly the patch grow larger, and to his
amazement he looked at a human face--the face of a pallid small boy.
A head disentangled itself, followed by thin shoulders, and then
by a pair of very dirty bare legs. The figure raised itself and
looked sharply round to make certain that the coast was clear.
Then it stood up and saluted, revealing the well-known lineaments
of Wee Jaikie.
At the sight Dickson knew that he was safe by that certainty of
instinct which is independent of proof, like the man who prays for
a sign and has his prayer answered. He observed that the boy was
quietly sobbing. Jaikie surveyed the position for an instant with
red-rimmed eyes and then unclasped a knife, feeling the edge of the
blade on his thumb. He darted behind the fir, and a second later
Dickson's wrists were free. Then he sawed at the legs, and cut the
shackles which tied them together, and then--most circumspectly--
assaulted the cord which bound Dickson's neck to the trunk.
There now remained only the two bonds which fastened the legs
and the body to the tree.
There was a sound in the wood different from the wind and stream.
Jaikie listened like a startled hind.
"They're comin' back," he gasped. "Just you bide where ye are and
let on ye're still tied up."
He disappeared in the scrub as inconspicuously as a rat, while
two of the tinklers came up the slope from the waterside.
Dickson in a fever of impatience cursed Wee Jaikie for not cutting his
remaining bonds so that he could at least have made a dash for freedom.
And then he realized that the boy had been right. Feeble and cramped
as he was, he would have stood no chance in a race.
One of the tinklers was the man called Ecky. He had been running
hard, and was mopping his brow.
"Hob's seen the brig," he said. "It's droppin' anchor ayont
the Dookits whaur there's a bield frae the wund and deep water.
They'll be landit in half an 'oor. Awa' you up to the Hoose and tell
Dobson, and me and Sim and Hob will meet the boats at the Garplefit."
The other cast a glance towards Dickson.
"What about him?" he asked.
The two scrutinized their prisoner from a distance of a few paces.
Dickson, well aware of his peril, held himself as stiff as if
every bond had been in place. The thought flashed on him that
if he were too immobile they might think he was dying or dead,
and come close to examine him. If they only kept their distance, the
dusk of the wood would prevent them detecting Jaikie's handiwork.
"What'll you take to let me go?" he asked plaintively.
"Naething that you could offer, my mannie," said Ecky.
"I'll give you a five-pound note apiece."
"Produce the siller," said the other.
"It's in my pocket."
"It's no' that. We riped your pooches lang syne."
"I'll take you to Glasgow with me and pay you there. Honour bright."
Ecky spat. "D'ye think we're gowks? Man, there's no siller ye
could pay wad mak' it worth our while to lowse ye. Bide quiet
there and ye'll see some queer things ere nicht. C'way, Davie."
The two set off at a good pace down the stream, while Dickson's
pulsing heart returned to its normal rhythm. As the sound of
their feet died away Wee Jaikie crawled out from cover, dry-eyed now
and very business-like. He slit the last thongs, and Dickson fell
limply on his face.
"Losh, laddie, I'm awful stiff," he groaned. "Now, listen.
Away all your pith to Dougal, and tell him that the brig's in and
the men will be landing inside the hour. Tell him I'm coming as
fast as my legs will let me. The Princess will likely be there
already and Sir Archibald and his men, but if they're no', tell
Dougal they're coming. Haste you, Jaikie. And see here, I'll never
forget what you've done for me the day. You're a fine wee laddie!"
The obedient Die-Hard disappeared, and Dickson painfully and
laboriously set himself to climb the slope. He decided that his
quickest and safest route lay by the highroad, and he had also some
hopes of recovering his bicycle. On examining his body he seemed to
have sustained no very great damage, except a painful cramping of
legs and arms and a certain dizziness in the head. His pockets had
been thoroughly rifled, and he reflected with amusement that he, the
well-to-do Mr. McCunn, did not possess at the moment a single copper.
But his spirits were soaring, for somehow his escape had given him
an assurance of ultimate success. Providence had directly interfered
on his behalf by the hand of Wee Jaikie, and that surely meant
that it would see him through. But his chief emotion was an
ardour of impatience to get to the scene of action. He must be at
Dalquharter before the men from the sea; he must find Dougal and
discover his dispositions. Heritage would be on guard in the Tower,
and in a very little the enemy would be round it. It would be just
like the Princess to try and enter there, but at all costs that
must be hindered. She and Sir Archie must not be cornered in
stone walls, but must keep their communications open and fall
on the enemy's flank. Oh, if the police would only come it time,
what a rounding up of miscreants that day would see!
As the trees thinned on the brow of the slope and he saw the sky,
he realized that the afternoon was far advanced. It must be well on
for five o'clock. The wind still blew furiously, and the oaks on the
fringes of the wood were whipped like saplings. Ruefully he admitted
that the gale would not defeat the enemy. If the brig found a
sheltered anchorage on the south side of the headland beyond the
Garple, it would be easy enough for boats to make the Garple mouth,
though it might be a difficult job to get out again. The thought
quickened his steps, and he came out of cover on to the public
road without a prior reconnaissance. Just in front of him stood
a motor-bicycle. Something had gone wrong with it for its owner
was tinkering at it, on the side farthest from Dickson. A wild hope
seized him that this might be the vanguard of the police, and he went
boldly towards it. The owner, who was kneeling, raised his face at
the sound of footsteps and Dickson looked into his eyes.
He recognized them only too well. They belonged to the man he had
seen in the inn at Kirkmichael, the man whom Heritage had decided to
be an Australian, but whom they now know to be their arch-enemy--the
man called Paul who had persecuted the Princess for years and whom
alone of all beings on earth she feared. He had been expected before,
but had arrived now in the nick of time while the brig was casting anchor.
Saskia had said that he had a devil's brain, and Dickson, as he stared
at him, saw a fiendish cleverness in his straight brows and a
remorseless cruelty in his stiff jaw and his pale eyes.
He achieved the bravest act of his life. Shaky and dizzy as he was,
with freedom newly opened to him and the mental torments of his
captivity still an awful recollection, he did not hesitate.
He saw before him the villain of the drama, the one man that
stood between the Princess and peace of mind. He regarded
no consequences, gave no heed to his own fate, and thought
only how to put his enemy out of action. There was a by spanner
lying on the ground. He seized it and with all his strength
smote at the man's face.
The motor-cyclist, kneeling and working hard at his machine,
had raised his head at Dickson's approach and beheld a wild apparition-
-a short man in ragged tweeds, with a bloody brow and long smears of
blood on his cheeks. The next second he observed the threat of attack,
and ducked his head so that the spanner only grazed his scalp.
The motor-bicycle toppled over, its owner sprang to his feet, and found
the short man, very pale and gasping, about to renew the assault.
In such a crisis there was no time for inquiry, and the cyclist was
well trained in self-defence. He leaped the prostrate bicycle,
and before his assailant could get in a blow brought his left fist
into violent contact with his chin. Dickson tottered a step or two
and then subsided among the bracken.
He did not lose his senses, but he had no more strength in him.
He felt horribly ill, and struggled in vain to get up. The cyclist,
a gigantic figure, towered above him. "Who the devil are you?"
he was asking. "What do you mean by it?"
Dickson had no breath for words, and knew that if he tried to
speak he would be very sick. He could only stare up like a dog
at the angry eyes. Angry beyond question they were, but surely
not malevolent. Indeed, as they looked at the shameful figure on
the ground, amusement filled them. The face relaxed into a smile.
"Who on earth are you?" the voice repeated. And then into it
came recognition. "I've seen you before. I believe you're the
little man I saw last week at the Black Bull. Be so good as to
explain why you want to murder me."
Explanation was beyond Dickson, but his conviction was being
woefully shaken. Saskia had said her enemy was a beautiful as
a devil--he remembered the phrase, for he had thought it ridiculous.
This man was magnificent, but there was nothing devilish in his
lean grave face.
"What's your name?" the voice was asking.
"Tell me yours first," Dickson essayed to stutter between spasms of nausea.
"My name is Alexander Nicholson," was the answer.
"Then you're no' the man." It was a cry of wrath and despair.
"You're a very desperate little chap. For whom had I the honour
to be mistaken?"
Dickson had now wriggled into a sitting position and had clasped
his hands above his aching head.
"I thought you were a Russian, name of Paul," he groaned.
"Paul! Paul who?"
"Just Paul. A Bolshevik and an awful bad lot."
Dickson could not see the change which his words wrought in
the other's face. He found himself picked up in strong arms and
carried to a bog-pool where his battered face was carefully washed,
his throbbing brows laved, and a wet handkerchief bound over them.
Then he was given brandy in the socket of a flask, which eased
his nausea. The cyclist ran his bicycle to the roadside, and
found a seat for Dickson behind the turf-dyke of the old bucht.
"Now you are going to tell me everything," he said. "If the Paul
who is your enemy is the Paul I think him, then we are allies."
But Dickson did not need this assurance. His mind had suddenly
received a revelation. The Princess had expected an enemy,
but also a friend. Might not this be the long-awaited friend,
for whose sake she was rooted to Huntingtower with all its terrors?
"Are you sure your name's no' Alexis?" he asked.
"In my own country I was called Alexis Nicolaevitch, for I am a Russian.
But for some years I have made my home with your folk, and I call myself
Alexander Nicholson, which is the English form. Who told you about Alexis?
"Give me your hand," said Dickson shamefacedly. "Man, she's been
looking for you for weeks. You're terribly behind the fair."
"She!" he cried. "For God's sake, tell me what you mean."
"Ay, she--the Princess. But what are we havering here for?
I tell you at this moment she's somewhere down about the old Tower,
and there's boatloads of blagyirds landing from the sea. Help me up,
man, for I must be off. The story will keep. Losh, it's very near
the darkening. If you're Alexis, you're just about in time for a battle."
But Dickson on his feet was but a frail creature. He was still
deplorably giddy, and his legs showed an unpleasing tendency to crumple.
"I'm fair done," he moaned. "You see, I've been tied up all day to a
tree and had two sore bashes on my head. Get you on that bicycle and
hurry on, and I'll hirple after you the best I can. I'll direct you
the road, and if you're lucky you'll find a Die-Hard about the village.
Away with you, man, and never mind me."
"We go together," said the other quietly. "You can sit behind me
and hang on to my waist. Before you turned up I had pretty well
got the thing in order."
Dickson in a fever of impatience sat by while the Russian put
the finishing touches to the machine, and as well as his anxiety
allowed put him in possession of the main facts of the story.
He told of how he and Heritage had come to Dalquharter, of the first
meeting with Saskia, of the trip to Glasgow with the jewels, of the
exposure of Loudon the factor, of last night's doings in the House,
and of the journey that morning to the Mains of Garple. He sketched the
figures on the scene--Heritage and Sir Archie, Dobson and his gang, the
Gorbals Die-Hards. He told of the enemy's plans so far as he knew them.
"Looked at from a business point of view," he said, "the situation's
like this. There's Heritage in the Tower, with Dobson, Leon, and
Spidel sitting round him. Somewhere about the place there's the
Princess and Sir Archibald and three men with guns from the Mains.
Dougal and his five laddies are running loose in the policies.
And there's four tinklers and God knows how many foreign ruffians
pushing up from the Garplefoot, and a brig lying waiting to carry
off the ladies. Likewise there's the police, somewhere on the road,
though the dear kens when they'll turn up. It's awful the
incompetence of our Government, and the rates and taxes that high!...
And there's you and me by this roadside, and me no more use
than a tattie-bogle....That's the situation, and the question is
what's our plan to be? We must keep the blagyirds in play till
the police come, and at the same time we must keep the Princess
out of danger. That's why I'm wanting back, for they've sore need
of a business head. Yon Sir Archibald's a fine fellow, but I
doubt he'll be a bit rash, and the Princess is no' to hold or bind.
Our first job is to find Dougal and get a grip of the facts."
"I am going to the Princess," said the Russian.
"Ay, that'll be best. You'll be maybe able to manage her,
for you'll be well acquaint."
"She is my kinswoman. She is also my affianced wife."
"Keep us!" Dickson exclaimed, with a doleful thought of Heritage.
"What ailed you then no' to look after her better?"
"We have been long separated, because it was her will. She had work
to do and disappeared from me, though I searched all Europe for her.
Then she sent me word, when the danger became extreme, and summoned
me to her aid. But she gave me poor directions, for she did not know
her own plans very clearly. She spoke of a place called Darkwater,
and I have been hunting half Scotland for it. It was only last night
that I heard of Dalquharter and guessed that that might be the name.
But I was far down in Galloway, and have ridden fifty miles today."
"It's a queer thing, but I wouldn't take you for a Russian."
Alexis finished his work and put away his tools.
"For the present," he said, "I am an Englishman, till my country
comes again to her senses. Ten years ago I left Russia, for I
was sick of the foolishness of my class and wanted a free life
in a new world. I went to Australia and made good as an engineer.
I am a partner in a firm which is pretty well known even in Britain.
When war broke out I returned to fight for my people, and when Russia
fell out of the war, I joined the Australians in France and fought
with them till the Armistice. And now I have only one duty left,
to save the Princess and take her with me to my new home till Russia
is a nation once more."
Dickson whistled joyfully. "So Mr. Heritage was right. He aye said
you were an Australian....And you're a business man! That's grand
hearing and puts my mind at rest. You must take charge of the party
at the House, for Sir Archibald's a daft young lad and Mr. Heritage
is a poet. I thought I would have to go myself, but I doubt I would
just be a hindrance with my dwaibly legs. I'd be better outside,
watching for the police....Are you ready, sir?"
Dickson not without difficulty perched himself astride the
luggage carrier, firmly grasping the rider round the middle.
The machine started, but it was evidently in a bad way, for it made
poor going till the descent towards the main Auchenlochan road.
On the slope it warmed up and they crossed the Garple bridge at
a fair pace. There was to be no pleasant April twilight, for
the stormy sky had already made dusk, and in a very little
the dark would fall. So sombre was the evening that Dickson
did not notice a figure in the shadow of the roadside pines
till it whistled shrilly on its fingers. He cried on Alexis
to stop, and, this being accomplished with some suddenness,
fell off at Dougal's feet.
"What's the news?" he demanded.
Dougal glanced at Alexis and seemed to approve his looks.
"Napoleon has just reported that three boatloads, making either
twenty-three or twenty-four men--they were gey ill to count--has
landed at Garplefit and is makin' their way to the auld Tower.
The tinklers warned Dobson and soon it'll be a' bye wi' Heritage."
"The Princess is not there?" was Dickson's anxious inquiry.
"Na, na. Heritage is there his lone. They were for joinin' him,
but I wouldn't let them. She came wi' a man they call Sir Erchibald
and three gamekeepers wi' guns. I stoppit their cawr up the road and
tell't them the lie o' the land. Yon Sir Erchibald has poor notions
o' strawtegy. He was for bangin' into the auld Tower straight away
and shootin' Dobson if he tried to stop them. 'Havers,' say I,
'let them break their teeth on the Tower, thinkin' the leddy's
inside, and that'll give us time, for Heritage is no' the lad to
surrender in a hurry.'"
"Where are they now?"
"In the Hoose o' Dalquharter, and a sore job I had gettin' them in.
We've shifted our base again, without the enemy suspectin'."
"Any word of the police?"
"The polis!" and Dougal spat cynically. "It seems they're a dour
crop to shift. Sir Erchibald was sayin' that him and the lassie had
been to the Chief Constable, but the man was terrible auld and slow.
They persuadit him, but he threepit that it would take a long time
to collect his men and that there was no danger o' the brig landin'
before night. He's wrong there onyway, for they're landit."
"Dougal," said Dickson, "you've heard the Princess speak of
a friend she was expecting here called Alexis. This is him.
You can address him as Mr. Nicholson. Just arrived in the
nick of time. You must get him into the House, for he's the
best right to be beside the lady...Jaikie would tell you that I've
been sore mishandled the day, and am no' very fit for a battle.
But Mr. Nicholson's a business man and he'll do as well.
You're keeping the Die-Hards outside, I hope?"
"Ay. Thomas Yownie's in charge, and Jaikie will be in and out with orders.
They've instructions to watch for the polis, and keep an eye on
the Garplefit. It's a mortal long front to hold, but there's no
other way. I must be in the hoose mysel'. Thomas Yownie's
headquarters is the auld wife's hen-hoose."
At that moment in a pause of the gale came the far-borne echo of a shot.
"Pistol," said Alexis.
"Heritage," said Dougal. "Trade will be gettin' brisk with him.
Start your machine and I'll hang on ahint. We'll try the road by
the West Lodge."
Presently the pair disappeared in the dusk, the noise of the engine
was swallowed up in the wild orchestra of the wind, and Dickson
hobbled towards the village in a state of excitement which made him
oblivious of his wounds. That lonely pistol shot was, he felt,
the bell to ring up the curtain on the last act of the play.
THE COMING OF THE DANISH BRIG
Mr. John Heritage, solitary in the old Tower, found much to
occupy his mind. His giddiness was passing, though the dregs
of a headache remained, and his spirits rose with his responsibilities.
At daybreak he breakfasted out of the Mearns Street provision box,
and made tea in one of the Die-Hard's camp kettles. Next he gave
some attention to his toilet, necessary after the rough-and-tumble
of the night. He made shift to bathe in icy water from the Tower well,
shaved, tidied up his clothes and found a clean shirt from his pack.
He carefully brushed his hair, reminding himself that thus had the
Spartans done before Thermopylae. The neat and somewhat pallid young
man that emerged from these rites then ascended to the first floor
to reconnoitre the landscape from the narrow unglazed windows.
If any one had told him a week ago that he would be in so strange
a world he would have quarrelled violently with his informant.
A week ago he was a cynical clear-sighted modern, a contemner of
illusions, a swallower of formulas, a breaker of shams--one who had
seen through the heroical and found it silly. Romance and such-like
toys were playthings for fatted middle-age, not for strenuous and
cold-eyed youth. But the truth was that now he was altogether
spellbound by these toys. To think that he was serving his lady was
rapture-ecstasy, that for her he was single-handed venturing all.
He rejoiced to be alone with his private fancies. His one fear was
that the part he had cast himself for might be needless, that the
men from the sea would not come, or that reinforcements would
arrive before he should be called upon. He hoped alone to make
a stand against thousands. What the upshot might be he did not
trouble to inquire. Of course the Princess would be saved,
but first he must glut his appetite for the heroic.
He made a diary of events that day, just as he used to do at the front.
At twenty minutes past eight he saw the first figure coming from the House.
It was Spidel, who limped round the Tower, tried the door, and came to
a halt below the window. Heritage stuck out his head and wished him
good morning, getting in reply an amazed stare. The man was not disposed
to talk, though Heritage made some interesting observations on the weather,
but departed quicker than he came, in the direction of the West Lodge.
Just before nine o'clock he returned with Dobson and Leon.
They made a very complete reconnaissance of the Tower, and
for a moment Heritage thought that they were about to try to
force an entrance. They tugged and hammered at the great oak door,
which he had further strengthened by erecting behind it a pile of
the heaviest lumber he could find in the place. It was imperative
that they should not get in, and he got Dickson's pistol ready with the
firm intention of shooting them if necessary. But they did nothing,
except to hold a conference in the hazel clump a hundred yards to the
north, when Dobson seemed to be laying down the law, and Leon spoke
rapidly with a great fluttering of hands. They were obviously
puzzled by the sight of Heritage, whom they believed to have
left the neighbourhood. Then Dobson went off, leaving Leon and
Spidel on guard, one at the edge of the shrubberies between the
Tower and the House, the other on the side nearest the Laver glen.
These were their posts, but they did sentry-go around the building,
and passed so close to Heritage's window that he could have tossed a
cigarette on their heads.
It occurred to him that he ought to get busy with camouflage.
They must be convinced that the Princess was in the place,
for he wanted their whole mind to be devoted to the siege.
He rummaged among the ladies' baggage, and extracted a skirt
and a coloured scarf. The latter he managed to flutter so that
it could be seen at the window the next time one of the watchers
came within sight. He also fixed up the skirt so that the fringe of
it could be seen, and, when Leon appeared below, he was in the
shadow talking rapid French in a very fair imitation of the tones
of Cousin Eugenie. The ruse had its effect, for Leon promptly
went off to tell Spidel, and when Dobson appeared he too was
given the news. This seemed to settle their plans, for all three
remained on guard, Dobson nearest to the Tower, seated on an
outcrop of rock with his mackintosh collar turned up, and his
eyes usually on the misty sea.
By this time it was eleven o'clock, and the next three hours passed
slowly with Heritage. He fell to picturing the fortunes of his friends.
Dickson and the Princess should by this time be far inland, out of danger
and in the way of finding succour. He was confident that they would
return, but he trusted not too soon, for he hoped for a run for his
money as Horatius in the Gate. After that he was a little torn in
his mind. He wanted the Princess to come back and to be somewhere
near if there was a fight going, so that she might be a witness of
his devotion. But she must not herself run any risk, and he became
anxious when he remembered her terrible sangfroid. Dickson could no
more restrain her than a child could hold a greyhound....But of course
it would never come to that. The police would turn up long before
the brig appeared--Dougal had thought that would not be till high tide,
between four and five--and the only danger would be to the pirates.
The three watchers would be put in the bag, and the men from the sea
would walk into a neat trap. This reflection seemed to take all the
colour out of Heritage's prospect. Peril and heroism were not to be
his lot--only boredom.
A little after twelve two of the tinklers appeared with some news
which made Dobson laugh and pat them on the shoulder. He seemed to
be giving them directions, pointing seaward and southward. He nodded
to the Tower, where Heritage took the opportunity of again fluttering
Saskia's scarf athwart the window. The tinklers departed at a trot,
and Dobson lit his pipe as if well pleased. He had some trouble with
it in the wind, which had risen to an uncanny violence. Even the solid
Tower rocked with it, and the sea was a waste of spindrift and low
scurrying cloud. Heritage discovered a new anxiety--this time about
the possibility of the brig landing at all. He wanted a complete bag,
and it would be tragic if they got only the three seedy ruffians now
circumambulating his fortress.
About one o'clock he was greatly cheered by the sight of Dougal.
At the moment Dobson was lunching off a hunk of bread and cheese
directly between the Tower and the House, just short of the crest
of the ridge on the other side of which lay the stables and the
shrubberies; Leon was on the north side opposite the Tower door,
and Spidel was at the south end near the edge of the Garple glen.
Heritage, watching the ridge behind Dobson and the upper windows of
the House which appeared over it, saw on the very crest something
like a tuft of rusty bracken which he had not noticed before.
Presently the tuft moved, and a hand shot up from it waving a rag
of some sort. Dobson at the moment was engaged with a bottle of
porter, and Heritage could safely wave a hand in reply. He could now
make out clearly the red head of Dougal.
The Chieftain, having located the three watchers, proceeded to give
an exhibition of his prowess for the benefit of the lonely inmate
of the Tower. Using as cover a drift of bracken, he wormed his way
down till he was not six yards from Dobson, and Heritage had the
privilege of seeing his grinning countenance a very little way
above the innkeeper's head. Then he crawled back and reached the
neighbourhood of Leon, who was sitting on a fallen Scotch fir.
At that moment it occurred to the Belgian to visit Dobson.
Heritage's breath stopped, but Dougal was ready, and froze into
a motionless blur in the shadow of a hazel bush. Then he crawled
very fast into the hollow where Leon had been sitting, seized
something which looked like a bottle, and scrambled back to the ridge.
At the top he waved the object, whatever it was, but Heritage could
not reply, for Dobson happened to be looking towards the window.
That was the last he saw of the Chieftain, but presently he realized
what was the booty he had annexed. It must be Leon's life-preserver,
which the night before had broken Heritage's head.
After that cheering episode boredom again set in. He collected some
food from the Mearns Street box, and indulged himself with a glass
of liqueur brandy. He was beginning to feel miserably cold, so he
carried up some broken wood and made a fire on the immense hearth
in the upper chamber. Anxiety was clouding his mind again, for it
was now two o'clock, and there was no sign of the reinforcements
which Dickson and the Princess had gone to find. The minutes passed,
and soon it was three o'clock, and from the window he saw only the
top of the gaunt shuttered House, now and then hidden by squalls of
sleet, and Dobson squatted like an Eskimo, and trees dancing like a
witch-wood in the gale. All the vigour of the morning seemed to have
gone out of his blood; he felt lonely and apprehensive and puzzled.
He wished he had Dickson beside him, for that little man's cheerful
voice and complacent triviality would be a comfort....Also, he was
abominably cold. He put on his waterproof, and turned his attention
to the fire. It needed re-kindling, and he hunted in his pockets for
paper, finding only the slim volume lettered WHORLS.
I set it down as the most significant commentary on his state of mind.
He regarded the book with intense disfavour, tore it in two, and used
a handful of its fine deckle-edged leaves to get the fire going.
They burned well, and presently the rest followed. Well for Dickson's
peace of soul that he was not a witness of such vandalism.
A little warmer but in no way more cheerful, he resumed his watch near
the window. The day was getting darker, and promised an early dusk.
His watch told him that it was after four, and still nothing had happened.
Where on earth were Dickson and the Princess? Where in the name of
all that was holy were the police? Any minute now the brig might
arrive and land its men, and he would be left there as a burnt-offering
to their wrath. There must have been an infernal muddle somewhere....
Anyhow the Princess was out of the trouble, but where the Lord
alone knew....Perhaps the reinforcements were lying in wait for the
boats at the Garplefoot. That struck him as a likely explanation,
and comforted him. Very soon he might hear the sound of an engagement
to the south, and the next thing would be Dobson and his crew in flight.
He was determined to be in the show somehow and would be very close
on their heels. He felt a peculiar dislike to all three, but
especially to Leon. The Belgian's small baby features had for
four days set him clenching his fists when he thought of them.
The next thing he saw was one of the tinklers running hard towards the
Tower. He cried something to Dobson, which woke the latter to activity.
The innkeeper shouted to Leon and Spidel, and the tinkler was
excitedly questioned. Dobson laughed and slapped his thigh.
He gave orders to the others, and himself joined the tinkler and
hurried off in the direction of the Garplefoot. Something was
happening there, something of ill omen, for the man's face and
manner had been triumphant. Were the boats landing?
As Heritage puzzled over this event, another figure appeared
on the scene. It was a big man in knickerbockers and mackintosh,
who came round the end of the House from the direction of
the South Lodge. At first he thought it was the advance-guard
from his own side, the help which Dickson had gone to find,
and he only restrained himself in time from shouting a welcome.
But surely their supports would not advance so confidently in
enemy country. The man strode over the slopes as if looking for
somebody; then he caught sight of Leon and waved to him to come.
Leon must have known him, for he hastened to obey.
The two were about thirty yards from Heritage's window. Leon was
telling some story volubly, pointing now to the Tower and now
towards the sea. The big man nodded as if satisfied. Heritage noted
that his right arm was tied up, and that the mackintosh sleeve was
empty, and that brought him enlightenment. It was Loudon the factor,
whom Dickson had winged the night before. The two of them passed out
of view in the direction of Spidel.
The sight awoke Heritage to the supreme unpleasantness of his position.
He was utterly alone on the headland, and his allies had vanished into
space, while the enemy plans, moving like clockwork, were approaching
their consummation. For a second he thought of leaving the Tower and
hiding somewhere in the cliffs. He dismissed the notion unwillingly,
for he remembered the task that had been set him. He was there to hold
the fort to the last--to gain time, though he could not for the life of
him see what use time was to be when all the strategy of his own side
seemed to have miscarried. Anyhow, the blackguards would be sold,
for they would not find the Princess. But he felt a horrid void
in the pit of his stomach, and a looseness about his knees.
The moments passed more quickly as he wrestled with his fears.
The next he knew the empty space below his window was filling with figures.
There was a great crowd of them, rough fellows with seamen's coats,
still dripping as if they had had a wet landing. Dobson was with them,
but for the rest they were strange figures.
Now that the expected had come at last Heritage's nerves grew calmer.
He made out that the newcomers were trying the door, and he waited to
hear it fall, for such a mob could soon force it. But instead a
voice called from beneath.
"Will you please open to us?" it called.
He stuck his head out and saw a little group with one man at the
head of it, a young man clad in oilskins whose face was dim in
the murky evening. The voice was that of a gentleman.
"I have orders to open to no one," Heritage replied.
"Then I fear we must force an entrance," said the voice.
"You can go to the devil," said Heritage.
That defiance was the screw which his nerves needed. His temper had
risen, he had forgotten all about the Princess, he did not even
remember his isolation. His job was to make a fight for it.
He ran up the staircase which led to the attics of the Tower, for he
recollected that there was a window there which looked over the space
before the door. The place was ruinous, the floor filled with holes,
and a part of the roof sagged down in a corner. The stones around
the window were loose and crumbling, and he managed to pull several
out so that the slit was enlarged. He found himself looking down
on a crowd of men, who had lifted the fallen tree on which Leon
had perched, and were about to use it as a battering ram.
"The first fellow who comes within six yards of the door I shoot,"
There was a white wave below as every face was turned to him.
He ducked back his head in time as a bullet chipped the side
of the window.
But his position was a good one, for he had a hole in the broken
wall through which he could see, and could shoot with his hand
at the edge of the window while keeping his body in cover.
The battering party resumed their task, and as the tree swung nearer,
he fired at the foremost of them. He missed, but the shot for a
moment suspended operations.
Again they came on, and again he fired. This time he damaged somebody,
for the trunk was dropped.
A voice gave orders, a sharp authoritative voice. The battering squad
dissolved, and there was a general withdrawal out of the line of fire
from the window. Was it possible that he had intimidated them?
He could hear the sound of voices, and then a single figure came
into sight again, holding something in its hand.
He did not fire for he recognized the futility of his efforts.
The baseball swing of the figure below could not be mistaken.
There was a roar beneath, and a flash of fire, as the bomb exploded
on the door. Then came a rush of men, and the Tower had fallen.
Heritage clambered through a hole in the roof and gained the
topmost parapet. He had still a pocketful of cartridges, and
there in a coign of the old battlements he would prove an ugly
customer to the pursuit. Only one at a time could reach that
siege perilous....They would not take long to search the lower rooms,
and then would be hot on the trail of the man who had fooled them.
He had not a scrap of fear left or even of anger--only triumph
at the thought of how properly those ruffians had been sold.
"Like schoolboys they who unaware"--instead of two women they had
found a man with a gun. And the Princess was miles off and forever
beyond their reach. When they had settled with him they would
no doubt burn the House down, but that would serve them little.
From his airy pinnacle he could see the whole sea-front of
Huntingtower, a blur in the dusk but for the ghostly eyes of its
Something was coming from it, running lightly over the lawns,
lost for an instant in the trees, and then appearing clear on
the crest of the ridge where some hours earlier Dougal had lain.
With horror he saw that it was a girl. She stood with the wind
plucking at her skirts and hair, and she cried in a high, clear voice
which pierced even the confusion of the gale. What she cried he
could not tell, for it was in a strange tongue....
But it reached the besiegers. There was a sudden silence in the
din below him and then a confusion of shouting. The men seemed
to be pouring out of the gap which had been the doorway, and as
he peered over the parapet first one and then another entered his
area of vision. The girl on the ridge, as soon as she saw that she
had attracted attention, turned and ran back, and after her up the
slopes went the pursuit bunched like hounds on a good scent.
Mr. John Heritage, swearing terribly, started to retrace his steps.
THE SECOND BATTLE OF THE CRUIVES
The military historian must often make shift to write of battles with
slender data, but he can pad out his deficiencies by learned parallels.
If his were the talented pen describing this, the latest action
fought on British soil against a foreign foe, he would no doubt
be crippled by the absence of written orders and war diaries.
But how eloquently he would descant on the resemblance between
Dougal and Gouraud--how the plan of leaving the enemy to waste his
strength upon a deserted position was that which on the 15th of July
1918 the French general had used with decisive effect in Champagne!
But Dougal had never heard of Gouraud, and I cannot claim that,
like the Happy Warrior, he
"through the heat of conflict kept the law
In calmness made, and saw what he foresaw."
I have had the benefit of discussing the affair with him and his
colleagues, but I should offend against historic truth if I
represented the main action as anything but a scrimmage--a "soldiers'
battle," the historian would say, a Malplaquet, an Albuera.
Just after half-past three that afternoon the Commander-in-Chief
was revealed in a very bad temper. He had intercepted Sir Archie's
car, and, since Leon was known to be fully occupied, had brought
it in by the West Lodge, and hidden it behind a clump of laurels.
There he had held a hoarse council of war. He had cast an appraising
eye over Sime the butler, Carfrae the chauffeur, and McGuffog the
gamekeeper, and his brows had lightened when he beheld Sir Archie
with an armful of guns and two big cartridge-magazines. But they had
darkened again at the first words of the leader of the reinforcements.
"Now for the Tower,' Sir Archie had observed cheerfully. "We should be
a match for the three watchers, my lad, and it's time that poor devil
What's-his-name was relieved."
"A bonny-like plan that would be," said Dougal. "Man, ye would be
walkin' into the very trap they want. In an hour, or maybe two, the
rest will turn up from the sea and they'd have ye tight by the neck.
Na, na! It's time we're wantin', and the longer they think we're a'
in the auld Tower the better for us. What news o' the polis?"
He listened to Sir Archie's report with a gloomy face.
"Not afore the darkenin'? They'll be ower late--the polis are
aye ower late. It looks as if we had the job to do oursels.
What's your notion?"
"God knows," said the baronet, whose eyes were on Saskia. "What's yours?"
The deference conciliated Dougal. "There's just the one plan that's
worth a docken. There's five o' us here, and there's plenty weapons.
Besides there's five Die-Hards somewhere about, and though they've
never tried it afore they can be trusted to loose off a gun.
My advice is to hide at the Garplefoot and stop the boats landin'.
We'd have the tinklers on our flank, no doubt, but I'm not muckle
feared o' them. It wouldn't be easy for the boats to get in wi'
this tearin' wind and us firin' volleys from the shore."
Sir Archie stared at him with admiration. "You're a hearty
young fire-eater. But, Great Scott! we can't go pottin' at strangers
before we find out their business. This is a law-abidin' country,
and we're not entitled to start shootin' except in self-defence.
You can wash that plan out, for it ain't feasible."
Dougal spat cynically. "For all that it's the right strawtegy.
Man, we might sink the lot, and then turn and settle wi' Dobson,
and all afore the first polisman showed his neb. It would be
a grand performance. But I was feared ye wouldn't be for it....Well,
there's just the one other thing to do. We must get inside the Hoose
and put it in a state of defence. Heritage has McCunn's pistol, and
he'll keep them busy for a bit. When they've finished wi' him and
find the place is empty, they'll try the Hoose and we'll give them
a warm reception. That should keep us goin' till the polis arrive,
unless they're comin' wi' the blind carrier."
Sir Archie nodded. "But why put ourselves in their power at all?
They're at present barking up the wrong tree. Let them bark up
another wrong 'un. Why shouldn't the House remain empty? I take it
we're here to protect the Princess. Well, we'll have done that if
they go off empty-handed."
Dougal looked up to the heavens. "I wish McCunn was here," he sighed.
"Ay, we've got to protect the Princess, and there's just the one
way to do it, and that's to put an end to this crowd o' blagyirds.
If they gang empty-handed, they'll come again another day, either here
or somewhere else, and it won't be long afore they get the lassie.
But if we finish with them now she can sit down wi' an easy mind.
That's why we've got to hang on to them till the polis comes.
There's no way out o' this business but a battle."
He found an ally. "Dougal is right," said Saskia. "If I am to
have peace, by some way or other the fangs of my enemies must
be drawn for ever."
He swung round and addressed her formally. "Mem, I'm askin' ye
for the last time. Will ye keep out of this business? Will ye gang
back and sit doun aside Mrs. Morran's fire and have your teas and wait
till we come for ye. Ye can do no good, and ye're puttin' yourself
terrible in the enemy's power. If we're beat and ye're no' there,
they get very little satisfaction, but if they get you they get what
they've come seekin'. I tell ye straight--ye're an encumbrance."
She laughed mischievously. "I can shoot better than you," she said.
He ignored the taunt. "Will ye listen to sense and fall to the rear?"
"I will not," she said.
"Then gang your own gait. I'm ower wise to argy-bargy wi' women.
The Hoose be it!"
It was a journey which sorely tried Dougal's temper. The only way in
was by the verandah, but the door at the west end had been locked,
and the ladder had disappeared. Now, of his party three were lame,
one lacked an arm, and one was a girl; besides, there were the guns
and cartridges to transport. Moreover, at more than one point before
the verandah was reached the route was commanded by a point on the
ridge near the old Tower, and that had been Spidel's position when Dougal
made his last reconnaissance. It behoved to pass these points swiftly
and unobtrusively, and his company was neither swift nor unobtrusive.
McGuffog had a genius for tripping over obstacles, and Sir Archie was
for ever proffering his aid to Saskia, who was in a position to give
rather than to receive, being far the most active of the party.
Once Dougal had to take the gamekeeper's head and force it down,
a performance which would have led to an immediate assault but for
Sir Archie's presence. Nor did the latter escape. "Will ye stop
heedin' the lassie, and attend to your own job," the Chieftain growled.
"Ye're makin' as much noise as a roadroller."
Arrived at the foot of the verandah wall there remained the problem
of the escalade. Dougal clambered up like a squirrel by the help of
cracks in the stones, and he could be heard trying the handle of the
door into the House. He was absent for about five minutes, and then his
head peeped over the edge accompanied by the hooks of an iron ladder.
"From the boiler-house," he informed them as they stood clear for the thing
to drop. It proved to be little more than half the height of the wall.
Saskia ascended first, and had no difficulty in pulling herself
over the parapet. Then came the guns and ammunition, and then the
one-armed Sime, who turned out to be an athlete. But it was no easy
matter getting up the last three. Sir Archie anathematized his frailties.
"Nice old crock to go tiger--shootin' with," he told the Princess.
"But set me to something where my confounded leg don't get in the way,
and I'm still pretty useful!" Dougal, mopping his brow with the rag
he called his handkerchief, observed sourly that he objected to going
scouting with a herd of elephants.
Once indoors his spirits rose. The party from the Mains had brought
several electric torches, and the one lamp was presently found and lit.
"We can't count on the polis," Dougal announced, "and when the foreigners
is finished wi' the Tower they'll come on here. If no', we must make them.
What is it the sodgers call it? Forcin' a battle? Now see here!
There's the two roads into this place, the back door and the verandy,
leavin' out the front door which is chained and lockit. They'll try those
two roads first, and we must get them well barricaded in time. But mind,
if there's a good few o' them, it'll be an easy job to batter in the front
door or the windies, so we maun be ready for that."
He told off a fatigue party--the Princess, Sir Archie, and McGuffog-
-to help in moving furniture to the several doors. Sime and Carfrae
attended to the kitchen entrance, while he himself made a tour of
the ground-floor windows. For half an hour the empty house was loud
with strange sounds. McGuffog, who was a giant in strength, filled
the passage at the verandah end with an assortment of furniture
ranging from a grand piano to a vast mahogany sofa, while Saskia and
Sir Archie pillaged the bedrooms and packed up the interstices with
mattresses in lieu of sandbags. Dougal on his turn saw fit to
approve the work.
"That'll fickle the blagyirds. Down at the kitchen door we've
got a mangle, five wash-tubs, and the best part of a ton o' coal.
It's the windies I'm anxious about, for they're ower big to fill up.
But I've gotten tubs of water below them and a lot o' wire-nettin' I
fund in the cellar."
Sir Archie morosely wiped his brow. "I can't say I ever hated a job
more," he told Saskia. "It seems pretty cool to march into somebody
else's house and make free with his furniture. I hope to goodness
our friends from the sea do turn up, or we'll look pretty foolish.
Loudon will have a score against me he won't forget."
"Ye're no' weakenin'?" asked Dougal fiercely.
"Not a bit. Only hopin' somebody hasn't made a mighty big mistake."
"Ye needn't be feared for that. Now you listen to your instructions.
We're terrible few for such a big place, but we maun make up for
shortness o' numbers by extra mobility. The gemkeeper will keep the
windy that looks on the verandy, and fell any man that gets through.
You'll hold the verandy door, and the ither lame man--is't Carfrae ye
call him?--will keep the back door. I've telled the one-armed man,
who has some kind of a head on him, that he maun keep on the move,
watchin' to see if they try the front door or any o' the other windies.
If they do, he takes his station there. D'ye follow?"
Sir Archie nodded gloomily.
"What is my post?" Saskia asked.
"I've appointed ye my Chief of Staff," was the answer. "Ye see
we've no reserves. If this door's the dangerous bit, it maun be
reinforced from elsewhere; and that'll want savage thinkin'.
Ye'll have to be aye on the move, Mem, and keep me informed.
If they break in at two bits, we're beat, and there'll be nothing
for it but to retire to our last position. Ye ken the room ayont
the hall where they keep the coats. That's our last trench, and at
the worst we fall back there and stick it out. It has a strong door
and a wee windy, so they'll no' be able to get in on our rear.
We should be able to put up a good defence there, unless they fire
the place over our heads....Now, we'd better give out the guns."
"We don't want any shootin' if we can avoid it," said Sir Archie,
who found his distaste for Dougal growing, though he was under the
spell of the one being there who knew precisely his own mind.
"Just what I was goin' to say. My instructions is, reserve your
fire, and don't loose off till you have a man up against the
end o' your barrel."
"Good Lord, we'll get into a horrible row. The whole thing may
be a mistake, and we'll be had up for wholesale homicide.
No man shall fire unless I give the word."
The Commander-in-Chief looked at him darkly. Some bitter retort was
on his tongue, but he restrained himself.
"It appears," he said, "that ye think I'm doin' all this for fun.
I'll no' argy wi' ye. There can be just the one general in a battle,
but I'll give ye permission to say the word when to fire....Macgreegor!"
he muttered, a strange expletive only used in moments of deep emotion.
"I'll wager ye'll be for sayin' the word afore I'd say it mysel'."
He turned to the Princess. "I hand over to you, till I am back,
for I maun be off and see to the Die-Hards. I wish I could bring
them in here, but I daren't lose my communications. I'll likely get
in by the boiler-house skylight when I come back, but it might be as
well to keep a road open here unless ye're actually attacked."
Dougal clambered over the mattresses and the grand piano; a flicker of
waning daylight appeared for a second as he squeezed through the door,
and Sir Archie was left staring at the wrathful countenance of McGuffog.
He laughed ruefully.
"I've been in about forty battles, and here's that little devil
rather worried about my pluck and talkin' to me like a corps
commander to a newly joined second-lieutenant. All the same
he's a remarkable child, and we'd better behave as if we were
in for a real shindy. What do you think, Princess?"
"I think we are in for what you call a shindy. I am in command, remember.
I order you to serve out the guns."
This was done, a shot-gun and a hundred cartridges to each,
while McGuffog, who was a marksman, was also given a sporting
Mannlicher, and two other rifles, a .303 and a small-bore Holland,
were kept in reserve in the hall. Sir Archie, free from Dougal's
compelling presence, gave the gamekeeper peremptory orders not to
shoot till he was bidden, and Carfrae at the kitchen door was warned
to the same effect. The shuttered house, where the only light apart
from the garden-room was the feeble spark of the electric torches,
had the most disastrous effect upon his spirits. The gale which
roared in the chimney and eddied among the rafters of the hall
seemed an infernal commotion in a tomb.
"Let's go upstairs," he told Saskia; "there must be a view from
the upper windows."
"You can see the top of the old Tower, and part of the sea," she said.
"I know it well, for it was my only amusement to look at it.
On clear days, too, one could see high mountains far in the west."
His depression seemed to have affected her, for she spoke listlessly,
unlike the vivid creature who had led the way in.
In a gaunt west-looking bedroom, the one in which Heritage and
Dickson had camped the night before, they opened a fold of the
shutters and looked out into a world of grey wrack and driving rain.
The Tower roof showed mistily beyond the ridge of down, but its
environs were not in their prospect. The lower regions of the House
had been gloomy enough, but this bleak place with its drab outlook
struck a chill to Sir Archie's soul. He dolefully lit a cigarette.
"This is a pretty rotten show for you," he told her. "It strikes me
as a rather unpleasant brand of nightmare."
"I have been living with nightmares for three years," she said wearily.
He cast his eyes round the room. "I think the Kennedys were mad to
build this confounded barrack. I've always disliked it, and old Quentin
hadn't any use for it either. Cold, cheerless, raw monstrosity!
It hasn't been a very giddy place for you, Princess."
"It has been my prison, when I hoped it would be a sanctuary. But it
may yet be my salvation."
"I'm sure I hope so. I say, you must be jolly hungry. I don't suppose
there's any chance of tea for you."
She shook her head. She was looking fixedly at the Tower, as if she
expected something to appear there, and he followed her eyes.
"Rum old shell, that. Quentin used to keep all kinds of live
stock there, and when we were boys it was our castle where we
played at bein' robber chiefs. It'll be dashed queer if the real
thing should turn up this time. I suppose McCunn's Poet is roostin'
there all by his lone. Can't say I envy him his job."
Suddenly she caught his arm. "I see a man," she whispered.
"There! He is behind those far bushes. There is his head again!"
It was clearly a man, but he presently disappeared, for he had come
round by the south end of the House, past the stables, and had now
gone over the ridge.
"The cut of his jib us uncommonly like Loudon, the factor.
I thought McCunn had stretched him on a bed of pain. Lord, if this
thing should turn out a farce, I simply can't face Loudon....I say,
Princess, you don't suppose by any chance that McCunn's a little bit
wrong in the head?"
She turned her candid eyes on him. "You are in a very doubting mood."
"My feet are cold and I don't mind admittin' it. Hanged if I
know what it is, but I don't feel this show a bit real. If it isn't,
we're in a fair way to make howlin' idiots of ourselves, and get
pretty well embroiled with the law. It's all right for the red-haired
boy, for he can take everything seriously, even play. I could do the
same thing myself when I was a kid. I don't mind runnin' some kind of
risk--I've had a few in my time--but this is so infernally outlandish,
and I--I don't quite believe in it. That is to say, I believe in it
right enough when I look at you or listen to McCunn, but as soon as my
eyes are off you I begin to doubt again. I'm gettin' old and I've a
stake in the country, and I daresay I'm gettin' a bit of a prig--anyway
I don't want to make a jackass of myself. Besides, there's this foul
weather and this beastly house to ice my feet."
He broke off with an exclamation, for on the grey cloud-bounded
stage in which the roof of the Tower was the central feature,
actors had appeared. Dim hurrying shapes showed through the mist,
dipping over the ridge, as if coming from the Garplefoot.
She seized his arm and he saw that her listlessness was gone.
Her eyes were shining.
"It is they," she cried. "The nightmare is real at last.
Do you doubt now?"
He could only stare, for these shapes arriving and vanishing like
wisps of fog still seemed to him phantasmal. The girl held his arm
tightly clutched, and craned towards the window space. He tried to
open the frame, and succeeded in smashing the glass. A swirl of wind
drove inwards and blew a loose lock of Saskia's hair across his brow.
"I wish Dougal were back," he muttered, and then came the crack of a shot.
The pressure on his arm slackened, and a pale face was turned to him.
"He is alone--Mr. Heritage. He has no chance. They will kill him
like a dog."
"They'll never get in," he assured her. "Dougal said the place could
hold out for hours."
Another shot followed and presently a third. She twined her hands
and her eyes were wild.
"We can't leave him to be killed," she gasped.
"It's the only game. We're playin' for time, remember. Besides, he won't
be killed. Great Scott!"
As he spoke, a sudden explosion cleft the drone of the wind and a
patch of gloom flashed into yellow light.
"Bomb!" he cried. "Lord, I might have thought of that."
The girl had sprung back from the window. "I cannot bear it.
I will not see him murdered in sight of his friends. I am going to
show myself, and when they see me they will leave him....No, you
must stay here. Presently they will be round this house.
Don't be afraid for me--I am very quick of foot."
"For God's sake, don't! Here, Princess, stop," and he clutched
at her skirt. "Look here, I'll go."
"You can't. You have been wounded. I am in command, you know.
Keep the door open till I come back."
He hobbled after her, but she easily eluded him. She was smiling
now, and blew a kiss to him. "La, la, la," she trilled, as she ran
down the stairs. He heard her voice below, admonishing McGuffog.
Then he pulled himself together and went back to the window.
He had brought the little Holland with him, and he poked its
barrel through the hole in the glass.
"Curse my game leg," he said, almost cheerfully, for the situation
was now becoming one with which he could cope. "I ought to be able
to hold up the pursuit a bit. My aunt! What a girl!"
With the rifle cuddled to his shoulder he watched a slim figure come
into sight on the lawn, running towards the ridge. He reflected that
she must have dropped from the high verandah wall. That reminded him
that something must be done to make the wall climbable for her return,
so he went down to McGuffog, and the two squeezed through the barricaded
door to the verandah. The boilerhouse ladder was still in position,
but it did not reach half the height, so McGuffog was adjured to
stand by to help, and in the meantime to wait on duty by the wall.
Then he hurried upstairs to his watch-tower.
The girl was in sight, almost on the crest of the high ground.
There she stood for a moment, one hand clutching at her errant hair,
the other shielding her eyes from the sting of the rain. He heard
her cry, as Heritage had heard her, but since the wind was blowing
towards him the sound came louder and fuller. Again she cried, and
then stood motionless with her hands above her head. It was only for
an instant, for the next he saw she had turned and was racing down
the slope, jumping the little scrogs of hazel like a deer. On the
ridge appeared faces, and then over it swept a mob of men.
She had a start of some fifty yards, and laboured to increase it,
having doubtless the verandah wall in mind. Sir Archie, sick with anxiety,
nevertheless spared time to admire her prowess. "Gad! she's a miler,"
he ejaculated. "She'll do it. I'm hanged if she don't do it."
Against men in seamen's boots and heavy clothing she had a clear advantage.
But two shook themselves loose from the pack and began to gain on her.
At the main shrubbery they were not thirty yards behind, and in her
passage through it her skirts must have delayed her, for when she
emerged the pursuit had halved the distance. He got the sights of the
rifle on the first man, but the lawns sloped up towards the house, and
to his consternation he found that the girl was in the line of fire.
Madly he ran to the other window of the room, tore back the shutters,
shivered the glass, and flung his rifle to his shoulder. The fellow was
within three yards of her, but, thank God! he had now a clear field.
He fired low and just ahead of him, and had the satisfaction to see him
drop like a rabbit, shot in the leg. His companion stumbled over him,
and for a moment the girl was safe.
But her speed was failing. She passed out of sight on the verandah
side of the house, and the rest of the pack had gained ominously over
the easier ground of the lawn. He thought for a moment of trying to
stop them by his fire, but realized that if every shot told there
would still be enough of them left to make sure of her capture.
The only chance was at the verandah, and he went downstairs at a
pace undreamed of since the days when he had two whole legs.
McGuffog, Mannlicher in hand, was poking his neck over the wall.
The pursuit had turned the corner and were about twenty yards off;
the girl was at the foot of the ladder, breathless, drooping with fatigue.
She tried to climb, limply and feebly, and very slowly, as if she
were too giddy to see clear. Above were two cripples, and at
her back the van of the now triumphant pack.
Sir Archie, game leg or no, was on the parapet preparing to
drop down and hold off the pursuit were it only for seconds.
But at that moment he was aware that the situation had changed.
At the foot of the ladder a tall man seemed to have sprung out
of the ground. He caught the girl in his arms, climbed the ladder,
and McGuffog's great hands reached down and seized her and swung
her into safety. Up the wall, by means of cracks and tufts, was
shinning a small boy.
The stranger coolly faced the pursuers, and at the sight of him
they checked, those behind stumbling against those in front.
He was speaking to them in a foreign tongue, and to Sir Archie's
ear the words were like the crack of a lash. The hesitation was
only for a moment, for a voice among them cried out, and the whole
pack gave tongue shrilly and surged on again. But that instant
of check had given the stranger his chance. He was up the ladder,
and, gripping the parapet, found rest for his feet in a fissure.
Then he bent down, drew up the ladder, handed it to McGuffog,
and with a mighty heave pulled himself over the top.
He seemed to hope to defend the verandah, but the door at the west
end was being assailed by a contingent of the enemy, and he saw that
its thin woodwork was yielding.
"Into the House," he cried, as he picked up the ladder and tossed it
over the wall on the pack surging below. He was only just in time,
for the west door yielded. In two steps he had followed McGuffog
through the chink into the passage, and the concussion of the grand
piano pushed hard against the verandah door from within coincided
with the first battering on the said door from without.
In the garden-room the feeble lamp showed a strange grouping.
Saskia had sunk into a chair to get her breath, and seemed too
dazed to be aware of her surroundings. Dougal was manfully
striving to appear at his ease, but his lip was quivering.
"A near thing that time," he observed. "It was the blame of
that man's auld motor-bicycle."
The stranger cast sharp eyes around the place and company.
"An awkward corner, gentlemen," he said. "How many are there of you?
Four men and a boy? And you have placed guards at all the entrances?"
"They have bombs," Sir Archie reminded him.
"No doubt. But I do not think they will use them here--or their guns,
unless there is no other way. Their purpose is kidnapping, and
they hope to do it secretly and slip off without leaving a trace.
If they slaughter us, as they easily can, the cry will be out
against them, and their vessel will be unpleasantly hunted.
Half their purpose is already spoiled, for it's no longer secret....
They may break us by sheer weight, and I fancy the first shooting
will be done by us. It's the windows I'm afraid of."
Some tone in his quiet voice reached the girl in the wicker chair.
She looked up wildly, saw him, and with a cry of "Alesha" ran to his arms.
There she hung, while his hand fondled her hair, like a mother with
a scared child. Sir Archie, watching the whole thing in some stupefaction,
thought he had never in his days seen more nobly matched human creatures.
"It is my friend," she cried triumphantly, "the friend whom
I appointed to meet me here. Oh, I did well to trust him.
Now we need not fear anything."
As if in ironical answer came a great crashing at the verandah door,
and the twanging of chords cruelly mishandled. The grand piano was
suffering internally from the assaults of the boiler-house ladder.
"Wull I gie them a shot?" was McGuffog's hoarse inquiry.
"Action stations," Alexis ordered, for the command seemed to
have shifted to him from Dougal. "The windows are the danger.
The boy will patrol the ground floor, and give us warning, and I and
this man," pointing to Sime, "will be ready at the threatened point.
And, for God's sake, no shooting, unless I give the word. If we take
them on at that game we haven't a chance."
He said something to Saskia in Russian and she smiled assent and went
to Sir Archie's side. "You and I must keep this door," she said.
Sir Archie was never very clear afterwards about the events of
the next hour. The Princess was in the maddest spirits, as if the
burden of three years had slipped from her and she was back in her
first girlhood. She sang as she carried more lumber to the pile--
perhaps the song which had once entranced Heritage, but Sir Archie
had no ear for music. She mocked at the furious blows which rained
at the other end, for the door had gone now, and in the windy gap
could be seen a blur of dark faces. Oddly enough, he found his own
spirits mounting to meet hers. It was real business at last, the
qualms of the civilian had been forgotten, and there was rising in
him that joy in a scrap which had once made him one of the most
daring airmen on the Western Front. The only thing that worried him
now was the coyness about shooting. What on earth were his rifles
and shot-guns for unless to be used? He had seen the enemy from the
verandah wall, and a more ruffianly crew he had never dreamed of.
They meant the uttermost business, and against such it was surely
the duty of good citizens to wage whole-hearted war.
The Princess was humming to herself a nursery rhyme. "THE KING
OF SPAIN'S DAUGHTER," she crooned, "CAME TO VISIT ME, AND ALL
FOR THE SAKE----Oh, that poor piano!" In her clear voice she cried
something in Russian, and the wind carried a laugh from the verandah.
At the sound of it she stopped. "I had forgotten," she said.
"Paul is there. I had forgotten." After that she was very quiet,
but she redoubled her labours at the barricade.
To the man it seemed that the pressure from without was slackening.
He called to McGuffog to ask about the garden-room window, and the
reply was reassuring. The gamekeeper was gloomily contemplating
Dougal's tubs of water and wire-netting, as he might have
contemplated a vermin trap.
Sir Archie was growing acutely anxious--the anxiety of the defender
of a straggling fortress which is vulnerable at a dozen points.
It seemed to him that strange noises were coming from the rooms
beyond the hall. Did the back door lie that way? And was not there
a smell of smoke in the air? If they tried fire in such a gale the
place would burn like matchwood.
He left his post and in the hall found Dougal.
"All quiet," the Chieftain reported. "Far ower quiet. I don't like it.
The enemy's no' puttin' out his strength yet. The Russian says a' the
west windies are terrible dangerous. Him and the chauffeur's doin'
their best, but ye can't block thae muckle glass panes."
He returned to the Princess, and found that the attack had indeed
languished on that particular barricade. The withers of the grand
piano were left unwrung, and only a faint scuffling informed him that
the verandah was not empty. "They're gathering for an attack elsewhere,"
he told himself. But what if that attack were a feint? He and McGuffog
must stick to their post, for in his belief the verandah door and
the garden-room window were the easiest places where an entry in
mass could be forced. Suddenly Dougal's whistle blew, and with
it came a most almighty crash somewhere towards the west side.
With a shout of "Hold Tight, McGuffog," Sir Archie bolted into the hall,
and, led by the sound, reached what had once been the ladies' bedroom.
A strange sight met his eyes, for the whole framework of one window seemed
to have been thrust inward, and in the gap Alexis was swinging a fender.
Three of the enemy were in the room--one senseless on the floor, one
in the grip of Sime, whose single hand was tightly clenched on his throat,
and one engaged with Dougal in a corner. The Die-Hard leader was sore
pressed, and to his help Sir Archie went. The fresh assault made the
seaman duck his head, and Dougal seized the occasion to smite him
hard with something which caused him to roll over. It was Leon's
life-preserver which he had annexed that afternoon.
Alexis at the window seemed to have for a moment daunted the attack.
"Bring that table," he cried, and the thing was jammed into the gap.
"Now you"--this to Sime--"get the man from the back door to hold this
place with his gun. There's no attack there. It's about time for
shooting now, or we'll have them in our rear. What in heaven is that?"
It was McGuffog whose great bellow resounded down the corridor.
Sir Archie turned and shuffled back, to be met by a distressing spectacle.
The lamp, burning as peacefully as it might have burned on an old lady's
tea-table, revealed the window of the garden-room driven bodily inward,
shutters and all, and now forming an inclined bridge over Dougal's
ineffectual tubs. In front of it stood McGuffog, swinging his gun by the
barrel and yelling curses, which, being mainly couched in the vernacular,
were happily meaningless to Saskia. She herself stood at the hall door,
plucking at something hidden in her breast. He saw that it was a
little ivory-handled pistol.
The enemy's feint had succeeded, for even as Sir Archie looked three
men leaped into the room. On the neck of one the butt of McGuffog's
gun crashed, but two scrambled to their feet and made for the girl.
Sir Archie met the first with his fist, a clean drive on the jaw,
followed by a damaging hook with his left that put him out of action.
The other hesitated for an instant and was lost, for McGuffog caught
him by the waist from behind and sent him through the broken frame to
join his comrades without.
"Up the stairs," Dougal was shouting, for the little room beyond the
hall was clearly impossible. "Our flank's turned. They're pourin'
through the other windy." Out of a corner of his eye Sir Archie
caught sight of Alexis, with Sime and Carfrae in support, being slowly
forced towards them along the corridor. "Upstairs," he shouted.
"Come on, McGuffog. Lead on, Princess." He dashed out the lamp,
and the place was in darkness.
With this retreat from the forward trench line ended the opening
phase of the battle. It was achieved in good order, and position
was taken up on the first floor landing, dominating the main staircase
and the passage that led to the back stairs. At their back was a short
corridor ending in a window which gave on the north side of the House
above the verandah, and from which an active man might descend to
the verandah roof. It had been carefully reconnoitred beforehand
by Dougal, and his were the dispositions.
The odd thing was that the retreating force were in good heart.
The three men from the Mains were warming to their work, and McGuffog
wore an air of genial ferocity. "Dashed fine position I call this,"
said Sir Archie. Only Alexis was silent and preoccupied. "We are still
at their mercy," he said. "Pray God your police come soon." He forbade
shooting yet awhile. "The lady is our strong card," he said.
"They won't use their guns while she is with us, but if it ever
comes to shooting they can wipe us out in a couple of minutes.
One of you watch that window, for Paul Abreskov is no fool."
Their exhilaration was short-lived. Below in the hall it was black
darkness save for a greyness at the entrance of the verandah passage;
but the defence was soon aware that the place was thick with men.
Presently there came a scuffling from Carfrae's post towards the back
stairs, and a cry as of some one choking. And at the same moment a
flare was lit below which brought the whole hall from floor to
rafters into blinding light.
It revealed a crowd of figures, some still in the hall and some
half-way up the stairs, and it revealed, too, more figures at
the end of the upper landing where Carfrae had been stationed.
The shapes were motionless like mannequins in a shop window.
"They've got us treed all right," Sir Archie groaned. "What the
devil are they waiting for?"
"They wait for their leader," said Alexis.
No one of the party will ever forget the ensuing minutes.
After the hubbub of the barricades the ominous silence was like
icy water, chilling and petrifying with an indefinable fear.
There was no sound but the wind, but presently mingled with
it came odd wild voices.
"Hear to the whaups," McGuffog whispered.
Sir Archie, who found the tension unbearable, sought relief
in contradiction. "You're an unscientific brute, McGuffog,"
he told his henchman. "It's a disgrace that a gamekeeper should
be such a rotten naturalist. What would whaups be doin' on the
shore at this time of year?"
"A' the same, I could swear it's whaups, Sir Erchibald."
Then Dougal broke in and his voice was excited. It's no' whaups.
That's our patrol signal. Man, there's hope for us yet. I believe
it's the polis.' His words were unheeded, for the figures below drew
apart and a young man came through them. His beautifully-shaped dark
head was bare, and as he moved he unbuttoned his oilskins and showed
the trim dark-blue garb of the yachtsman. He walked confidently up
the stairs, an odd elegant figure among his heavy companions.
"Good afternoon, Alexis," he said in English. "I think we may now
regard this interesting episode as closed. I take it that you surrender.
Saskia, dear, you are coming with me on a little journey. Will you tell
my men where to find your baggage?"
The reply was in Russian. Alexis' voice was as cool as the other's,
and it seemed to wake him to anger. He replied in a rapid torrent
of words, and appealed to the men below, who shouted back.
The flare was dying down, and shadows again hid most of the hall.
Dougal crept up behind Sir Archie. "Here, I think it's the polis.
They're whistlin' outbye, and I hear folk cryin' to each other--no'
Again Alexis spoke, and then Saskia joined in. What she said rang
sharp with contempt, and her fingers played with her little pistol.
Suddenly before the young man could answer Dobson bustled toward him.
The innkeeper was labouring under some strong emotion, for he seemed
to be pleading and pointing urgently towards the door.
"I tell ye it's the polis," whispered Dougal. "They're nickit."
There was a swaying in the crowd and anxious faces. Men surged in,
whispered, and went out, and a clamour arose which the leader
stilled with a fierce gesture.
"You there," he cried, looking up, "you English. We mean you no ill,
but I require you to hand over to me the lady and the Russian who is
with her. I give you a minute by my watch to decide. If you refuse,
my men are behind you and around you, and you go with me to be punished
at my leisure."
"I warn you," cried Sir Archie. "We are armed, and will shoot down
any one who dares to lay a hand on us."
"You fool," came the answer. "I can send you all to eternity before
you touch a trigger."
Leon was by his side now--Leon and Spidel, imploring him to do
something which he angrily refused. Outside there was a new clamour,
faces showing at the door and then vanishing, and an anxious hum
filled the hall....Dobson appeared again and this time he was a
figure of fury.
"Are ye daft, man?" he cried. "I tell ye the polis are closin' round
us, and there's no' a moment to lose if we would get back to the boats.
If ye'll no' think o' your own neck, I'm thinkin' o' mine.
The whole things a bloody misfire. Come on, lads, if ye're no
besotted on destruction."
Leon laid a hand on the leader's arm and was roughly shaken off.
Spidel fared no better, and the little group on the upper landing saw
the two shrug their shoulders and make for the door. The hall was
emptying fast and the watchers had gone from the back stairs.
The young man's voice rose to a scream; he commanded, threatened,
cursed; but panic was in the air and he had lost his mastery.
"Quick," croaked Dougal, "now's the time for the counter-attack."
But the figure on the stairs held them motionless. They could not
see his face, but by instinct they knew that it was distraught with
fury and defeat. The flare blazed up again as the flame caught a
knot of fresh powder, and once more the place was bright with the
uncanny light....The hall was empty save for the pale man who was in
the act of turning.
He looked back. "If I go now, I will return. The world is not wide
enough to hide you from me, Saskia."
"You will never get her," said Alexis.
A sudden devil flamed into his eyes, the devil of some ancestral
savagery, which would destroy what is desired but unattainable.
He swung round, his hand went to his pocket, something clacked,
and his arm shot out like a baseball pitcher's.
So intent was the gaze of the others on him, that they did not
see a second figure ascending the stairs. Just as Alexis
flung himself before the Princess, the new-comer caught the young
man's outstretched arm and wrenched something from his hand.
The next second he had hurled it into a far corner where stood the
great fireplace. There was a blinding sheet of flame, a dull roar,
and then billow upon billow of acrid smoke. As it cleared they
saw that the fine Italian chimneypiece, the pride of the builder
of the House, was a mass of splinters, and that a great hole
had been blown through the wall into what had been the dining-
room....A figure was sitting on the bottom step feeling its bruises.
The last enemy had gone.
When Mr. John Heritage raised his eyes he saw the Princess with a very
pale face in the arms of a tall man whom he had never seen before.
If he was surprised at the sight, he did not show it. "Nasty little
bomb that. I remember we struck the brand first in July '18."
"Are they rounded up?" Sir Archie asked.
"They've bolted. Whether they'll get away is another matter.
I left half the mounted police a minute ago at the top of the
West Lodge avenue. The other lot went to the Garplefoot to
cut off the boats."
"Good Lord, man," Sir Archie cried, "the police have been here
for the last ten minutes."
"You're wrong. They came with me."
"Then what on earth---" began the astonished baronet. He stopped short,
for he suddenly got his answer. Into the hall limped a boy. Never was
there seen so ruinous a child. He was dripping wet, his shirt was
all but torn off his back, his bleeding nose was poorly staunched
by a wisp of handkerchief, his breeches were in ribbons, and his
poor bare legs looked as if they had been comprehensively kicked
and scratched. Limpingly he entered, yet with a kind of pride,
like some small cock-sparrow who has lost most of his plumage but
has vanquished his adversary.
With a yell Dougal went down the stairs. The boy saluted him, and
they gravely shook hands. It was the meeting of Wellington and Blucher.
The Chieftain's voice shrilled in triumph, but there was a break in it.
The glory was almost too great to be borne.
"I kenned it," he cried. "It was the Gorbals Die-Hards.
There stands the man that done it....Ye'll no' fickle Thomas Yownie."
THE GORBALS DIE-HARDS GO INTO ACTION
We left Mr. McCunn, full of aches but desperately resolute in spirit,
hobbling by the Auchenlochan road into the village of Dalquharter.
His goal was Mrs. Morran's hen-house, which was Thomas Yownie's
POSTE DE COMMANDEMENT. The rain had come on again, and, though in
other weather there would have been a slow twilight, already the
shadow of night had the world in its grip. The sea even from the
high ground was invisible, and all to westward and windward was a
ragged screen of dark cloud. It was foul weather for foul deeds.
Thomas Yownie was not in the hen-house, but in Mrs. Morran's kitchen,
and with him were the pug-faced boy know as Old Bill, and the sturdy
figure of Peter Paterson. But the floor was held by the hostess.
She still wore her big boots, her petticoats were still kilted, and
round her venerable head in lieu of a bonnet was drawn a tartan shawl.
"Eh, Dickson, but I'm blithe to see ye. And puir man, ye've been
sair mishandled. This is the awfu'est Sabbath day that ever you and
me pit in. I hope it'll be forgiven us....Whaur's the young leddy?"
"Dougal was saying she was in the House with Sir Archibald and
the men from the Mains."
"Wae's me!" Mrs. Morran keened. "And what kind o' place is yon for her?
Thae laddies tell me there's boatfu's o' scoondrels landit at
the Garplefit. They'll try the auld Tower, but they'll no' wait
there when they find it toom, and they'll be inside the Hoose in a
jiffy and awa' wi' the puir lassie. Sirs, it maunna be. Ye're lippenin'
to the polis, but in a' my days I never kenned the polis in time.
We maun be up and daein' oorsels. Oh, if I could get a haud o'
that red-heided Dougal..."
As she spoke there came on the wind the dull reverberation of an explosion.
"Keep us, what's that?" she cried.
"It's dinnymite," said Peter Paterson.
"That's the end o' the auld Tower," observed Thomas Yownie in his
quiet, even voice. "And it's likely the end o' the man Heritage."
"Lord peety us!" the old woman wailed. "And us standin' here like
stookies and no' liftin' a hand. Awa' wi ye, laddies, and dae something.
Awa' you too, Dickson, or I'll tak' the road mysel'."
"I've got orders," said the Chief of Staff, "no' to move till
the sityation's clear. Napoleon's up at the Tower and Jaikie's
in the policies. I maun wait on their reports."
For a moment Mrs. Morran's attention was distracted by Dickson,
who suddenly felt very faint and sat down heavily on a kitchen chair.
"Man, ye're as white as a dish-clout," she exclaimed with compunction.
"Ye're fair wore out, and ye'll have had nae meat sin' your breakfast.
See, and I'll get ye a cup o' tea."
She proved to be in the right, for as soon as Dickson had swallowed
some mouthfuls of her strong scalding brew the colour came back to
his cheeks, and he announced that he felt better. "Ye'll fortify it
wi' a dram," she told him, and produced a black bottle from her cupboard.
"My father aye said that guid whisky and het tea keepit the doctor's
gig oot o' the close."
The back door opened and Napoleon entered, his thin shanks blue with cold.
He saluted and made his report in a voice shrill with excitement.
"The Tower has fallen. They've blown in the big door, and the feck
o' them's inside."
"And Mr. Heritage?" was Dickson's anxious inquiry.
"When I last saw him he was up at a windy, shootin'. I think he's
gotten on to the roof. I wouldna wonder but the place is on fire."
"Here, this is awful," Dickson groaned. "We can't let Mr. Heritage
be killed that way. What strength is the enemy?"
"I counted twenty-seven, and there's stragglers comin' up from the boats."
"And there's me and you five laddies here, and Dougal and the others
shut up in the House."
He stopped in sheer despair. It was a fix from which the most
enlightened business mind showed no escape. Prudence, inventiveness,
were no longer in question; only some desperate course of violence.
"We must create a diversion," he said. "I'm for the Tower, and you
laddies must come with me. We'll maybe see a chance. Oh, but I wish
I had my wee pistol."
"If ye're gaun there, Dickson, I'm comin' wi' ye," Mrs Morran announced.
Her words revealed to Dickson the preposterousness of the whole situation,
and for all his anxiety he laughed. "Five laddies, a middle-aged man,
and an auld wife," he cried. "Dod, it's pretty hopeless. It's like
the thing in the Bible about the weak things of the world trying to
confound the strong."
"The Bible's whiles richt," Mrs. Morran answered drily. "Come on,
for there's no time to lose."
The door opened again to admit the figure of Wee Jaikie. There were
no tears in his eyes, and his face was very white.
"They're a' round the Hoose," he croaked. "I was up a tree forenent
the verandy and seen them. The lassie ran oot and cried on them
from the top o' the brae, and they a' turned and hunted her back.
Gosh, but it was a near thing. I seen the Captain sklimmin' the
wall, and a muckle man took the lassie and flung her up the ladder.
They got inside just in time and steekit the door, and now the whole
pack is roarin' round the Hoose seekin' a road in. They'll no' be
long over the job, neither."
"What about Mr. Heritage?"
"They're no' heedin' about him any more. The auld Tower's bleezin'."
"Worse and worse," said Dickson. "If the police don't come in the
next ten minutes, they'll be away with the Princess. They've beaten
all Dougal's plans, and it's a straight fight with odds of six to one.
It's not possible."
Mrs. Morran for the first time seemed to lose hope. "Eh, the puir lassie!"
she wailed, and sinking on a chair covered her face with her shawl.
"Laddies, can you no' think of a plan?" asked Dickson, his voice flat
Then Thomas Yownie spoke. So far he had been silent, but under his
tangled thatch of hair his mind had been busy. Jaikie's report seemed
to bring him to a decision.
"It's gey dark," he said, "and it's gettin' darker."
There was that in his voice which promised something, and Dickson listened.
"The enemy's mostly foreigners, but Dobson's there and I think
he's a kind of guide to them. Dobson's feared of the polis,
and if we can terrify Dobson he'll terrify the rest."
"Ay, but where are the police?"
"They're no' here yet, but they're comin'. The fear o' them is aye
in Dobson's mind. If he thinks the polis has arrived, he'll put the
wind up the lot....WE maun be the polis."
Dickson could only stare while the Chief of Staff unfolded his scheme.
I do not know to whom the Muse of History will give the credit
of the tactics of "Infiltration," whether to Ludendorff or von Hutier
or some other proud captain of Germany, or to Foch, who revised and
perfected them. But I know that the same notion was at this moment of
crisis conceived by Thomas Yownie, whom no parents acknowledged, who
slept usually in a coal cellar, and who had picked up his education
among Gorbals closes and along the wharves of Clyde.
"It's gettin' dark," he said, "and the enemy are that busy tryin'
to break into the Hoose that they'll no' be thinkin' o' their rear.
The five o' us Die-Hards is grand at dodgin' and keepin' out of
sight, and what hinders us to get in among them, so that they'll hear
us but never see us. We're used to the ways o' the polis, and can
imitate them fine. Forbye we've all got our whistles, which are the
same as a bobbie's birl, and Old Bill and Peter are grand at copyin'
a man's voice. Since the Captain is shut up in the Hoose, the
command falls to me, and that's my plan."
With a piece of chalk he drew on the kitchen floor a rough sketch
of the environs of Huntingtower. Peter Paterson was to move from
the shrubberies beyond the verandah, Napoleon from the stables,
Old Bill from the Tower, while Wee Jaikie and Thomas himself
were to advance as if from the Garplefoot, so that the enemy might
fear for his communications. "As soon as one o' ye gets into position
he's to gie the patrol cry, and when each o' ye has heard five cries,
he's to advance. Begin birlin' and roarin' afore ye get among them,
and keep it up till ye're at the Hoose wall. If they've gotten inside,
in ye go after them. I trust each Die-Hard to use his judgment,
and above all to keep out o' sight and no' let himsel' be grippit."
The plan, like all great tactics, was simple, and no sooner was it
expounded than it was put into action. The Die-Hards faded out of
the kitchen like fog-wreaths, and Dickson and Mrs. Morran were left
looking at each other. They did not look long. The bare feet of
Wee Jaikie had not crossed the threshold fifty seconds, before
they were followed by Mrs. Morran's out-of-doors boots and
Dickson's tackets. Arm in arm the two hobbled down the back path
behind the village which led to the South Lodge. The gate was unlocked,
for the warder was busy elsewhere, and they hastened up the avenue.
Far off Dickson thought he saw shapes fleeting across the park, which he
took to be the shock-troops of his own side, and he seemed to hear
snatches of song. Jaikie was giving tongue, and this was what he sang:
"Proley Tarians, arise!
Wave the Red Flag to the skies,
Heed no more the Fat Man's lees,
Stap them doun his throat!
Nocht to lose except our chains----"
But he tripped over a rabbit wire and thereafter conserved his breath.
The wind was so loud that no sound reached them from the House,
which, blank and immense, now loomed before them. Dickson's ears
were alert for the noise of shots or the dull crash of bombs; hearing
nothing, he feared the worst, and hurried Mrs. Morran at a pace which
endangered her life. He had no fear for himself, arguing that his
foes were seeking higher game, and judging, too, that the main battle
must be round the verandah at the other end. The two passed the
shrubbery where the road forked, one path running to the back door