Part 5 out of 5
and one to the stables. They took the latter and presently came out
on the downs, with the ravine of the Garple on their left, the
stables in front, and on the right the hollow of a formal garden
running along the west side of the House.
The gale was so fierce, now that they had no wind-break between them
and the ocean, that Mrs. Morran could wrestle with it no longer,
and found shelter in the lee of a clump of rhododendrons.
Darkness had all but fallen, and the House was a black shadow
against the dusky sky, while a confused greyness marked the sea.
The old Tower showed a tooth of masonry; there was no glow from it,
so the fire, which Jaikie had reported, must have died down.
A whaup cried loudly, and very eerily: then another.
The birds stirred up Mrs. Morran. "That's the laddies' patrol."
she gasped. "Count the cries, Dickson."
Another bird wailed, this time very near. Then there was perhaps
three minutes' silence till a fainter wheeple came from the direction
of the Tower. "Four," said Dickson, but he waited in vain on the fifth.
He had not the acute hearing of the boys, and could not catch the faint
echo of Peter Paterson's signal beyond the verandah. The next he heard
was a shrill whistle cutting into the wind, and then others in rapid
succession from different quarters, and something which might have been
the hoarse shouting of angry men.
The Gorbals Die-Hards had gone into action.
Dull prose is no medium to tell of that wild adventure. The sober
sequence of the military historian is out of place in recording
deeds that knew not sequence or sobriety. Were I a bard, I would
cast this tale in excited verse, with a lilt which would catch the
speed of the reality. I would sing of Napoleon, not unworthy of
his great namesake, who penetrated to the very window of the
ladies' bedroom, where the framework had been driven in and men
were pouring through; of how there he made such pandemonium with
his whistle that men tumbled back and ran about blindly seeking
for guidance; of how in the long run his pugnacity mastered him,
so that he engaged in combat with an unknown figure and the
two rolled into what had once been a fountain. I would hymn
Peter Paterson, who across tracts of darkness engaged Old Bill
in a conversation which would have done no discredit to a
Gallowgate policeman. He pretended to be making reports and
seeking orders. "We've gotten three o' the deevils, sir.
What'll we dae wi' them?" he shouted; and back would come the
reply in a slightly more genteel voice: "Fall them to the rear.
Tamson has charge of the prisoners." Or it would be: "They've gotten
pistols, sir. What's the orders?" and the answer would be: "Stick to
your batons. The guns are posted on the knowe, so we needn't hurry."
And over all the din there would be a perpetual whistling and a
yelling of "Hands up!"
I would sing, too, of Wee Jaikie, who was having the red-letter
hour of his life. His fragile form moved like a lizard in places
where no mortal could be expected, and he varied his duties with
impish assaults upon the persons of such as came in his way.
His whistle blew in a man's ear one second and the next yards away.
Sometimes he was moved to song, and unearthly fragments of
"Class-conscious we are" or "Proley Tarians, arise!" mingled
with the din, like the cry of seagulls in a storm. He saw a bright
light flare up within the House which warned him not to enter,
but he got as far as the garden-room, in whose dark corners
he made havoc. Indeed he was almost too successful, for he
created panic where he went, and one or two fired blindly at
the quarter where he had last been heard. These shots were followed
by frenzied prohibitions from Spidel and were not repeated.
Presently he felt that aimless surge of men that is the prelude to
flight, and heard Dobson's great voice roaring in the hall.
Convinced that the crisis had come, he made his way outside,
prepared to harrass the rear of any retirement. Tears now flowed
down his face, and he could not have spoken for sobs, but he had
never been so happy.
But chiefly would I celebrate Thomas Yownie, for it was he who
brought fear into the heart of Dobson. He had a voice of singular
compass, and from the verandah he made it echo round the House.
The efforts of Old Bill and Peter Paterson had been skilful indeed,
but those of Thomas Yownie were deadly. To some leader beyond he
shouted news: "Robison's just about finished wi' his lot, and then
he'll get the boats." A furious charge upset him, and for a moment
he thought he had been discovered. But it was only Dobson rushing
to Leon, who was leading the men in the doorway. Thomas fled to
the far end of the verandah, and again lifted up his voice.
"All foreigners," he shouted, "except the man Dobson. Ay. Ay.
Ye've got Loudon? Well done!"
It must have been this last performance which broke Dobson's nerve and
convinced him that the one hope lay in a rapid retreat to the Garplefoot.
There was a tumbling of men in the doorway, a muttering of strange tongues,
and the vision of the innkeeper shouting to Leon and Spidel. For a second
he was seen in the faint reflection that the light in the hall cast as
far as the verandah, a wild figure urging the retreat with a pistol
clapped to the head of those who were too confused by the hurricane
of events to grasp the situation. Some of them dropped over the wall,
but most huddled like sheep through the door on the west side,
a jumble of struggling, blasphemous mortality. Thomas Yownie,
staggered at the success of his tactics, yet kept his head and did
his utmost to confuse the retreat, and the triumphant shouts and
whistles of the other Die-Hards showed that they were not unmindful
of this final duty....
The verandah was empty, and he was just about to enter the House,
when through the west door came a figure, breathing hard and
bent apparently on the same errand. Thomas prepared for battle,
determined that no straggler of the enemy should now wrest from him
victory, but, as the figure came into the faint glow at the doorway,
he recognized it as Heritage. And at the same moment he heard
something which made his tense nerves relax. Away on the right
came sounds, a thud of galloping horses on grass and the jingle of
bridle reins and the voices of men. It was the real thing at last.
It is a sad commentary on his career, but now for the first time
in his brief existence Thomas Yownie felt charitably disposed
towards the police.
The Poet, since we left him blaspheming on the roof of the Tower,
had been having a crowded hour of most inglorious life. He had
started to descend at a furious pace, and his first misadventure was
that he stumbled and dropped Dickson's pistol over the parapet.
He tried to mark where it might have fallen in the gloom below,
and this lost him precious minutes. When he slithered through the
trap into the attic room, where he had tried to hold up the attack,
he discovered that it was full of smoke which sought in vain to
escape by the narrow window. Volumes of it were pouring up the stairs,
and when he attempted to descend he found himself choked and blinded.
He rushed gasping to the window, filled his lungs with fresh air,
and tried again, but he got no farther than the first turn, from which
he could see through the cloud red tongues of flame in the ground room.
This was solemn indeed, so he sought another way out. He got on the
roof, for he remembered a chimney-stack, cloaked with ivy, which was
built straight from the ground, and he thought he might climb down it.
He found the chimney and began the descent confidently, for he
had once borne a good reputation at the Montanvert and Cortina.
At first all went well, for stones stuck out at decent intervals like
the rungs of a ladder, and roots of ivy supplemented their deficiencies.
But presently he came to a place where the masonry had crumbled into a
cave, and left a gap some twenty feet high. Below it he could dimly
see a thick mass of ivy which would enable him to cover the further
forty feet to the ground, but at that cave he stuck most finally.
All around the lime and stone had lapsed into debris, and he could
find no safe foothold. Worse still, the block on which he relied
proved loose, and only by a dangerous traverse did he avert disaster.
There he hung for a minute or two, with a cold void in his stomach.
He had always distrusted the handiwork of man as a place to scramble
on, and now he was planted in the dark on a decomposing wall, with
an excellent chance of breaking his neck, and with the most urgent
need for haste. He could see the windows of the House, and, since
he was sheltered from the gale, he could hear the faint sound of
blows on woodwork. There was clearly the devil to pay there, and yet
here he was helplessly stuck....Setting his teeth, he started to
ascend again. Better the fire than this cold breakneck emptiness.
It took him the better part of half an hour to get back, and he
passed through many moments of acute fear. Footholds which had
seemed secure enough in the descent now proved impossible, and more
than once he had his heart in his mouth when a rotten ivy stump or a
wedge of stone gave in his hands, and dropped dully into the pit of
night, leaving him crazily spread-eagled. When at last he reached
the top he rolled on his back and felt very sick. Then, as he
realized his safety, his impatience revived. At all costs he would
force his way out though he should be grilled like a herring.
The smoke was less thick in the attic, and with his handkerchief
wet with the rain and bound across his mouth he made a dash for
the ground room. It was as hot as a furnace, for everything
inflammable in it seemed to have caught fire, and the lumber glowed
in piles of hot ashes. But the floor and walls were stone, and only
the blazing jambs of the door stood between him and the outer air.
He had burned himself considerably as he stumbled downwards, and the
pain drove him to a wild leap through the broken arch, where he
miscalculated the distance, charred his shins, and brought down a
red-hot fragment of the lintel on his head. But the thing was done,
and a minute later he was rolling like a dog in the wet bracken to
cool his burns and put out various smouldering patches on his raiment.
Then he started running for the House, but, confused by the darkness,
he bore too much to the north, and came out in the side avenue
from which he and Dickson had reconnoitred on the first evening.
He saw on the right a glow in the verandah, which, as we know,
was the reflection of the flare in the hall, and he heard a
babble of voices. But he heard something more, for away on
his left was the sound which Thomas Yownie was soon to hear--the
trampling of horses. It was the police at last, and his task was to
guide them at once to the critical point of action....Three minutes
later a figure like a scarecrow was admonishing a bewildered
sergeant, while his hands plucked feverishly at a horse's bridle.
It is time to return to Dickson in his clump of rhododendrons.
Tragically aware of his impotence he listened to the tumult of
the Die-Hards, hopeful when it was loud, despairing when there
came a moment's lull, while Mrs. Morran like a Greek chorus
drew loudly upon her store of proverbial philosophy and her
memory of Scripture texts. Twice he tried to reconnoitre towards
the scene of battle, but only blundered into sunken plots and
pits in the Dutch garden. Finally he squatted beside Hrs. Morran,
lit his pipe, and took a firm hold on his patience.
It was not tested for long. Presently he was aware that a change
had come over the scene--that the Die-Hards' whistles and shouts
were being drowned in another sound, the cries of panicky men.
Dobson's bellow was wafted to him. "Auntie Phemie," he shouted,
"the innkeeper's getting rattled. Dod, I believe they're running."
For at that moment twenty paces on his left the van of the retreat
crashed through the creepers on the garden's edge and leaped the
wall that separated it from the cliffs of the Garplefoot.
The old woman was on her feet.
"God be thankit, is't the polis?"
"Maybe. Maybe no'. But they're running."
Another bunch of men raced past, and he heard Dobson's voice.
"I tell you, they're broke. Listen, it's horses. Ay, it's the police,
but it was the Die-Hards that did the job....Here! They mustn't escape.
Have the police had the sense to send men to the Garplefoot?"
Mrs. Morran, a figure like an ancient prophetess, with her tartan
shawl lashing in the gale, clutched him by the shoulder.
"Doun to the waterside and stop them. Ye'll no' be beat by wee laddies!
On wi' ye and I'll follow! There's gaun to be a juidgment on evil-doers
Dickson needed no urging. His heart was hot within him, and the
weariness and stiffness had gone from his limbs. He, too, tumbled
over the wall, and made for what he thought was the route by which
he had originally ascended from the stream. As he ran he made
ridiculous efforts to cry like a whaup in the hope of summoning
the Die-Hards. One, indeed, he found--Napoleon, who had suffered
a grievous pounding in the fountain, and had only escaped by an
eel-like agility which had aforetime served him in good stead with
the law of his native city. Lucky for Dickson was the meeting, for
he had forgotten the road and would certainly have broken his neck.
Led by the Die-Hard he slid forty feet over screes and boiler-plates,
with the gale plucking at him, found a path, lost it, and then tumbled
down a raw bank of earth to the flat ground beside the harbour.
During all this performance, he has told me, he had no thought of
fear, nor any clear notion what he meant to do. He just wanted to
be in at the finish of the job.
Through the narrow entrance the gale blew as through a funnel, and
the usually placid waters of the harbour were a froth of angry waves.
Two boats had been launched and were plunging furiously, and on one
of them a lantern dipped and fell. By its light he could see men
holding a further boat by the shore. There was no sign of the police;
he reflected that probably they had become entangled in the Garple Dean.
The third boat was waiting for some one.
Dickson--a new Ajax by the ships--divined who this someone must be
and realized his duty. It was the leader, the arch-enemy, the man
whose escape must at all costs be stopped. Perhaps he had the
Princess with him, thus snatching victory from apparent defeat.
In any case he must be tackled, and a fierce anxiety gripped
his heart. "Aye finish a job," he told himself, and peered up
into the darkness of the cliffs, wondering just how he should set
about it, for except in the last few days he had never engaged in
combat with a fellow-creature.
"When he comes, you grip his legs," he told Napoleon, "and get him down.
He'll have a pistol, and we're done if he's on his feet."
There was a cry from the boats, a shout of guidance, and the light on
the water was waved madly. "They must have good eyesight," thought
Dickson, for he could see nothing. And then suddenly he was aware of
steps in front of him, and a shape like a man rising out of the void
at his left hand.
In the darkness Napoleon missed his tackle, and the full shock
came on Dickson. He aimed at what he thought was the enemy's throat,
found only an arm, and was shaken off as a mastiff might shake off
a toy terrier. He made another clutch, fell, and in falling caught
his opponent's leg so that he brought him down. The man was
immensely agile, for he was up in a second and something hot and
bright blew into Dickson's face. The pistol bullet had passed
through the collar of his faithful waterproof, slightly singeing
his neck. But it served its purpose, for Dickson paused, gasping,
to consider where he had been hit, and before he could resume the
chase the last boat had pushed off into deep water.
To be shot at from close quarters is always irritating, and the novelty
of the experience increased Dickson's natural wrath. He fumed on the
shore like a deerhound when the stag has taken to the sea. So hot was
his blood that he would have cheerfully assaulted the whole crew had
they been within his reach. Napoleon, who had been incapacitated for
speed by having his stomach and bare shanks savagely trampled upon,
joined him, and together they watched the bobbing black specks as
they crawled out of the estuary into the grey spindrift which marked
the harbour mouth.
But as he looked the wrath died out of Dickson's soul. For he saw
that the boats had indeed sailed on a desperate venture, and that a
pursuer was on their track more potent than his breathless middle-age.
The tide was on the ebb, and the gale was driving the Atlantic breakers
shoreward, and in the jaws of the entrance the two waters met in an
unearthly turmoil. Above the noise of the wind came the roar of the
flooded Garple and the fret of the harbour, and far beyond all the
crashing thunder of the conflict at the harbour mouth. Even in the
darkness, against the still faintly grey western sky, the spume could
be seen rising like waterspouts. But it was the ear rather than the
eye which made certain presage of disaster. No boat could face the
challenge of that loud portal.
As Dickson struggled against the wind and stared, his heart
melted and a great awe fell upon him. He may have wept; it is
certain that he prayed. "Poor souls, poor souls!" he repeated.
"I doubt the last hour has been a poor preparation for eternity."
The tide the next day brought the dead ashore. Among them was a young
man, different in dress and appearance from the rest--a young man with
a noble head and a finely-cut classic face, which was not marred like
the others from pounding among the Garple rocks. His dark hair was
washed back from his brow, and the mouth, which had been hard in life,
was now relaxed in the strange innocence of death.
Dickson gazed at the body and observed that there was a slight
deformation between the shoulders.
"Poor fellow," he said. "That explains a lot....As my father used to say,
cripples have a right to be cankered."
IN WHICH A PRINCESS LEAVES A DARK TOWER AND A PROVISION MERCHANT
RETURNS TO HIS FAMILY
The three days of storm ended in the night, and with the wild weather
there departed from the Cruives something which had weighed on
Dickson's spirits since he first saw the place. Monday--only a week
from the morning when he had conceived his plan of holiday--saw the
return of the sun and the bland airs of spring. Beyond the blue
of the yet restless waters rose dim mountains tipped with snow,
like some Mediterranean seascape. Nesting birds were busy on
the Laver banks and in the Huntingtower thickets; the village smoked
peacefully to the clear skies; even the House looked cheerful
if dishevelled. The Garple Dean was a garden of swaying larches,
linnets, and wild anemones. Assuredly, thought Dickson, there had
come a mighty change in the countryside, and he meditated a future
discourse to the Literary Society of the Guthrie Memorial Kirk on
"Natural Beauty in Relation to the Mind of Man."
It remains for the chronicler to gather up the loose ends of his tale.
There was no newspaper story with bold headlines of this the most recent
assault on the shores of Britain. Alexis Nicholaevitch, once
a Prince of Muscovy and now Mr. Alexander Nicholson of the rising firm
of Sprot and Nicholson of Melbourne, had interest enough to prevent it.
For it was clear that if Saskia was to be saved from persecution,
her enemies must disappear without trace from the world, and no story
be told of the wild venture which was their undoing. The constabulary
of Carrick and Scotland Yard were indisposed to ask questions,
under a hint from their superiors, the more so as no serious damage
had been done to the persons of His Majesty's lieges, and no lives
had been lost except by the violence of Nature. The Procurator-Fiscal
investigated the case of the drowned men, and reported that so many
foreign sailors, names and origins unknown, had perished in attempting
to return to their ship at the Garplefoot. The Danish brig had
vanished into the mist of the northern seas. But one signal calamity
the Procurator-Fiscal had to record. The body of Loudon the factor was
found on the Monday morning below the cliffs, his neck broken by a fall.
In the darkness and confusion he must have tried to escape in that
direction, and he had chosen an impracticable road or had slipped
on the edge. It was returned as "death by misadventure," and the
CARRICK HERALD and the AUCHENLOCHAN ADVERTISER excelled themselves
in eulogy. Mr. Loudon, they said, had been widely known in the
south-west of Scotland as an able and trusted lawyer, an assiduous
public servant, and not least as a good sportsman. It was the last
trait which had led to his death, for, in his enthusiasm for wild
nature, he had been studying bird life on the cliffs of the Cruives
during the storm, and had made that fatal slip which had deprived
the shire of a wise counsellor and the best of good fellows.
The tinklers of the Garplefoot took themselves off, and where they may
now be pursuing their devious courses is unknown to the chronicler.
Dobson, too, disappeared, for he was not among the dead from the boats.
He knew the neighbourhood, and probably made his way to some port
from which he took passage to one or other of those foreign lands
which had formerly been honoured by his patronage. Nor did all the
Russians perish. Three were found skulking next morning in the
woods, starving and ignorant of any tongue but their own, and five
more came ashore much battered but alive. Alexis took charge
of the eight survivors, and arranged to pay their passage to one
of the British Dominions and to give them a start in a new life.
They were broken creatures, with the dazed look of lost animals,
and four of them had been peasants in Saskia's estates. Alexis spoke
to them in their own language. "In my grandfather's time," he said,
"you were serfs. Then there came a change, and for some time
you were free men. Now you have slipped back into being slaves
again--the worst of slaveries, for you have been the serfs of fools
and scoundrels and the black passion of your own hearts. I give you
a chance of becoming free men once more. You have the task before
you of working out your own salvation. Go, and God be with you."
Before we take leave of these companions of a single week I would
present them to you again as they appeared on a certain sunny
afternoon when the episode of Huntingtower was on the eve of closing.
First we see Saskia and Alexis walking on the thymy sward of
the cliff-top, looking out to the fretted blue of the sea.
It is a fitting place for lovers--above all for lovers who have
turned the page on a dark preface, and have before them still
the long bright volume of life. The girl has her arm linked
in the man's, but as they walk she breaks often away from him,
to dart into copses, to gather flowers, or to peer over the brink
where the gulls wheel and oyster-catchers pipe among the shingle.
She is no more the tragic muse of the past week, but a laughing child
again, full of snatches of song, her eyes bright with expectation.
They talk of the new world which lies before them, and her voice is happy.
Then her brows contract, and, as she flings herself down on
a patch of young heather, her air is thoughtful.
"I have been back among fairy tales," she says. "I do not quite
understand, Alesha. Those gallant little boys! They are youth,
and youth is always full of strangeness. Mr. Heritage! He is youth,
too, and poetry, perhaps, and a soldier's tradition. I think I know
him....But what about Dickson? He is the PETIT BOURGEOIS,
the EPICIER, the class which the world ridicules. He is unbelievable.
The others with good fortune I might find elsewhere--in Russia perhaps.
But not Dickson."
"No," is the answer. "You will not find him in Russia. He is what
they call the middle-class, which we who were foolish used to laugh at.
But he is the stuff which above all others makes a great people.
He will endure when aristocracies crack and proletariats crumble.
In our own land we have never known him, but till we create him
our land will not be a nation."
Half a mile away on the edge of the Laver glen Dickson and Heritage
are together, Dickson placidly smoking on a tree-stump and Heritage
walking excitedly about and cutting with his stick at the bracken.
Sundry bandages and strips of sticking plaster still adorn the Poet,
but his clothes have been tidied up by Mrs. Morran, and he has
recovered something of his old precision of garb. The eyes of both are
fixed on the two figures on the cliff-top. Dickson feels acutely uneasy.
It is the first time that he has been alone with Heritage since the
arrival of Alexis shivered the Poet's dream. He looks to see a
tragic grief; to his amazement he beholds something very like exultation.
"The trouble with you, Dogson," says Heritage, "is that you're a bit
of an anarchist. All you false romantics are. You don't see the
extraordinary beauty of the conventions which time has consecrated.
You always want novelty, you know, and the novel is usually the ugly and
rarely the true. I am for romance, but upon the old, noble classic line."
Dickson is scarcely listening. His eyes are on the distant lovers,
and he longs to say something which will gently and graciously
express his sympathy with his friend.
"I'm afraid," he begins hesitatingly, "I'm afraid you've had a bad blow,
Mr. Heritage. You're taking it awful well, and I honour you for it."
The Poet flings back his head. "I am reconciled," he says.
"After all 'tis better to have loved and lost,' you know.
It has been a great experience and has shown me my own heart.
I love her, I shall always love her, but I realize that she was
never meant for me. Thank God I've been able to serve her--that is all
a moth can ask of a star. I'm a better man for it, Dogson.
She will be a glorious memory, and Lord! what poetry I shall write!
I give her up joyfully, for she has found her mate. 'Let us not
to the marriage of true minds admit impediments!' The thing's too
perfect to grieve about....Look! There is romance incarnate."
He points to the figures now silhouetted against the further sea.
"How does it go, Dogson?" he cries. "'And on her lover's arm she leant'
--what next? You know the thing."
Dickson assists and Heritage declaims:
"And on her lover's arm she leant,
And round her waist she felt it fold,
And far across the hills they went
In that new world which is the old:
Across the hills, and far away
Beyond their utmost purple rim,
And deep into the dying day
The happy princess followed him."
He repeats the last two lines twice and draws a deep breath.
"How right!" he cries. "How absolutely right! Lord! It's astonishing
how that old bird Tennyson got the goods!"
After that Dickson leaves him and wanders among the thickets
on the edge of the Huntingtower policies above the Laver glen.
He feels childishly happy, wonderfully young, and at the same
time supernaturally wise. Sometimes he thinks the past week has
been a dream, till he touches the sticking-plaster on his brow,
and finds that his left thigh is still a mass of bruises and that
his right leg is woefully stiff. With that the past becomes very
real again, and he sees the Garple Dean in that stormy afternoon,
he wrestles again at midnight in the dark House, he stands with
quaking heart by the boats to cut off the retreat. He sees it all,
but without terror in the recollection, rather with gusto and a
modest pride. "I've surely had a remarkable time," he tells himself,
and then Romance, the goddess whom he has worshipped so long,
marries that furious week with the idyllic. He is supremely content,
for he knows that in his humble way he has not been found wanting.
Once more for him the Chavender or Chub, and long dreams among
summer hills. His mind flies to the days ahead of him, when
he will go wandering with his pack in many green places. Happy days
they will be, the prospect with which he has always charmed his mind.
Yes, but they will be different from what he had fancied, for he is
another man than the complacent little fellow who set out a week ago
on his travels. He has now assurance of himself, assurance of his faith.
Romance, he sees, is one and indivisible....
Below him by the edge of the stream he sees the encampment of the
Gorbals Die-Hards. He calls and waves a hand, and his signal is answered.
It seems to be washing day, for some scanty and tattered raiment
is drying on the sward. The band is evidently in session, for it is
sitting in a circle, deep in talk.
As he looks at the ancient tents, the humble equipment, the ring of
small shockheads, a great tenderness comes over him. The Die-Hards
are so tiny, so poor, so pitifully handicapped, and yet so bold
in their meagreness. Not one of them has had anything that might
be called a chance. Their few years have been spent in kennels
and closes, always hungry and hunted, with none to care for them;
their childish ears have been habituated to every coarseness,
their small minds filled with the desperate shifts of living..
..And yet, what a heavenly spark was in them! He had always
thought nobly of the soul; now he wants to get on his knees
before the queer greatness of humanity.
A figure disengages itself from the group, and Dougal makes his way
up the hill towards him. The Chieftain is not more reputable in garb
than when we first saw him, nor is he more cheerful of countenance.
He has one arm in a sling made out of his neckerchief, and his
scraggy little throat rises bare from his voluminous shirt.
All that can be said for him is that he is appreciably cleaner.
He comes to a standstill and salutes with a special formality.
"Dougal," says Dickson, "I've been thinking. You're the grandest lot of
wee laddies I ever heard tell of, and, forbye, you've saved my life.
Now, I'm getting on in years, though you'll admit that I'm not that dead
old, and I'm not a poor man, and I haven't chick or child to look after.
None of you has ever had a proper chance or been right fed or educated
or taken care of. I've just the one thing to say to you. From now on
you're my bairns, every one of you. You're fine laddies, and I'm
going to see that you turn into fine men. There's the stuff in you
to make Generals and Provosts--ay, and Prime Ministers, and Dod! it'll
not be my blame if it doesn't get out."
Dougal listens gravely and again salutes.
"I've brought ye a message," he says. "We've just had a meetin' and
I've to report that ye've been unanimously eleckit Chief Die-Hard.
We're a' hopin' ye'll accept."
"I accept," Dickson replies. "Proudly and gratefully I accept."
The last scene is some days later, in a certain southern suburb of Glasgow.
Ulysses has come back to Ithaca, and is sitting by his fireside,
waiting for the return of Penelope from the Neuk Hydropathic.
There is a chill in the air, so a fire is burning in the grate,
but the laden tea-table is bright with the first blooms of lilac.
Dickson, in a new suit with a flower in his buttonhole, looks none
the worse for his travels, save that there is still sticking-plaster
on his deeply sunburnt brow. He waits impatiently with his eye
on the black marble timepiece, and he fingers something in his pocket.
Presently the sound of wheels is heard, and the pea-hen voice of
Tibby announces the arrival of Penelope. Dickson rushes to the door,
and at the threshold welcomes his wife with a resounding kiss.
He leads her into the parlour and settles her in her own chair.
"My! but it's nice to be home again!" she says. "And everything
that comfortable. I've had a fine time, but there's no place
like your own fireside. You're looking awful well, Dickson.
But losh! What have you been doing to your head?"
"Just a small tumble. It's very near mended already. Ay, I've had
a grand walking tour, but the weather was a wee bit thrawn.
It's nice to see you back again, Mamma. Now that I'm an idle man
you and me must take a lot of jaunts together."
She beams on him as she stays herself with Tibby's scones, and when
the meal is ended, Dickson draws from his pocket a slim case.
The jewels have been restored to Saskia, but this is one of her
own which she has bestowed upon Dickson as a parting memento.
He opens the case and reveals a necklet of emeralds, any one
of which is worth half the street.
"This is a present for you," he says bashfully.
Mrs. McCunn's eyes open wide. "You're far too kind," she gasps.
"It must have cost an awful lot of money."
"It didn't cost me that much," is the truthful answer.
She fingers the trinket and then clasps it round her neck, where the
green depths of the stones glow against the black satin of her bodice.
Her eyes are moist as she looks at him. "You've been a kind man to me,"
she says, and she kisses him as she has not done since Janet's death.
She stands up and admires the necklet in the mirror. Romance once more,
thinks Dickson. That which has graced the slim throats of princesses in
far-away Courts now adorns an elderly matron in a semi-detached villa;
the jewels of the wild Nausicaa have fallen to the housewife Penelope.
Mrs. McCunn preens herself before the glass. "I call it very genteel,"
she says. "Real stylish. It might be worn by a queen."
"I wouldn't say but it has," says Dickson.