Part 2 out of 7
coming over here in thousands to tak the jobs of the lads that are
doing their duty. I was speakin' last week to a widow woman that keeps
a wee dairy down the Dalmarnock Road. She has two sons, and both in
the airmy, one in the Cameronians and one a prisoner in Germany. She
was telling me that she could not keep goin' any more, lacking the
help of the boys, though she had worked her fingers to the bone.
"Surely it's a crool job, Mr Amos," she says, "that the Goavernment
should tak baith my laddies, and I'll maybe never see them again, and
let the Irish gang free and tak the bread frae our mouth. At the
gasworks across the road they took on a hundred Irish last week, and
every yin o' them as young and well set up as you would ask to see.
And my wee Davie, him that's in Germany, had aye a weak chest, and
Jimmy was troubled wi' a bowel complaint. That's surely no justice!".
. . .'
He broke off and lit a match by drawing it across the seat of his
trousers. 'It's time I got the gas lichtit. There's some men coming
here at half-ten.'
As the gas squealed and flickered in the lighting, he sketched for me
the coming guests. 'There's Macnab and Niven, two o' my colleagues.
And there's Gilkison of the Boiler-fitters, and a lad Wilkie--he's got
consumption, and writes wee bits in the papers. And there's a queer
chap o' the name o' Tombs--they tell me he comes frae Cambridge, and
is a kind of a professor there--anyway he's more stuffed wi' havers
than an egg wi' meat. He telled me he was here to get at the heart o'
the workingman, and I said to him that he would hae to look a bit
further than the sleeve o' the workin'-man's jaicket. There's no
muckle in his head, poor soul. Then there'll be Tam Norie, him that
edits our weekly paper--_Justice for All_. Tam's a humorist and great
on Robert Burns, but he hasna the balance o' a dwinin' teetotum . . .
Ye'll understand, Mr Brand, that I keep my mouth shut in such company,
and don't express my own views more than is absolutely necessary. I
criticize whiles, and that gives me a name of whunstane common-sense,
but I never let my tongue wag. The feck o' the lads comin' the night
are not the real workingman--they're just the froth on the pot, but
it's the froth that will be useful to you. Remember they've heard tell
o' ye already, and ye've some sort o' reputation to keep up.'
'Will Mr Abel Gresson be here?' I asked.
'No,' he said. 'Not yet. Him and me havena yet got to the point o'
payin' visits. But the men that come will be Gresson's friends and
they'll speak of ye to him. It's the best kind of introduction ye
The knocker sounded, and Mr Amos hastened to admit the first comers.
These were Macnab and Wilkie: the one a decent middle-aged man with a
fresh-washed face and a celluloid collar, the other a round-shouldered
youth, with lank hair and the large eyes and luminous skin which are
the marks of phthisis. 'This is Mr Brand boys, from South Africa,' was
Amos's presentation. Presently came Niven, a bearded giant, and Mr
Norie, the editor, a fat dirty fellow smoking a rank cigar. Gilkison
of the Boiler-fitters, when he arrived, proved to be a pleasant young
man in spectacles who spoke with an educated voice and clearly
belonged to a slightly different social scale. Last came Tombs, the
Cambridge 'professor, a lean youth with a sour mouth and eyes that
reminded me of Launcelot Wake.
'Ye'll no be a mawgnate, Mr Brand, though ye come from South Africa,'
said Mr Norie with a great guffaw.
'Not me. I'm a working engineer,' I said. 'My father was from
Scotland, and this is my first visit to my native country, as my
friend Mr Amos was telling you.'
The consumptive looked at me suspiciously. 'We've got two--three of
the comrades here that the cawpitalist Government expelled from the
Transvaal. If ye're our way of thinking, ye will maybe ken them.'
I said I would be overjoyed to meet them, but that at the time of the
outrage in question I had been working on a mine a thousand miles
Then ensued an hour of extraordinary talk. Tombs in his sing-song
namby-pamby University voice was concerned to get information. He
asked endless questions, chiefly of Gilkison, who was the only one who
really understood his language. I thought I had never seen anyone
quite so fluent and so futile, and yet there was a kind of feeble
violence in him like a demented sheep. He was engaged in venting some
private academic spite against society, and I thought that in a
revolution he would be the class of lad I would personally conduct to
the nearest lamp-post. And all the while Amos and Macnab and Niven
carried on their own conversation about the affairs of their society,
wholly impervious to the tornado raging around them.
It was Mr Norie, the editor, who brought me into the discussion.
'Our South African friend is very blate,' he said in his boisterous
way. 'Andra, if this place of yours wasn't so damned teetotal and we
had a dram apiece, we might get his tongue loosened. I want to hear
what he's got to say about the war. You told me this morning he was
sound in the faith.'
'I said no such thing,' said Mr Amos. 'As ye ken well, Tam Norie, I
don't judge soundness on that matter as you judge it. I'm for the war
myself, subject to certain conditions that I've often stated. I know
nothing of Mr Brand's opinions, except that he's a good democrat,
which is more than I can say of some o' your friends.'
'Hear to Andra,' laughed Mr Norie. 'He's thinkin' the inspector in the
Socialist State would be a waur kind of awristocrat then the Duke of
Buccleuch. Weel, there's maybe something in that. But about the war
he's wrong. Ye ken my views, boys. This war was made by the
cawpitalists, and it has been fought by the workers, and it's the
workers that maun have the ending of it. That day's comin' very near.
There are those that want to spin it out till Labour is that weak it
can be pit in chains for the rest o' time. That's the manoeuvre we're
out to prevent. We've got to beat the Germans, but it's the workers
that has the right to judge when the enemy's beaten and not the
cawpitalists. What do you say, Mr Brand?'
Mr Norie had obviously pinned his colours to the fence, but he gave me
the chance I had been looking for. I let them have my views with a
vengeance, and these views were that for the sake of democracy the war
must be ended. I flatter myself I put my case well, for I had got up
every rotten argument and I borrowed largely from Launcelot Wake's
armoury. But I didn't put it too well, for I had a very exact notion
of the impression I wanted to produce. I must seem to be honest and in
earnest, just a bit of a fanatic, but principally a hard-headed
businessman who knew when the time had come to make a deal. Tombs kept
interrupting me with imbecile questions, and I had to sit on him. At
the end Mr Norie hammered with his pipe on the table.
'That'll sort ye, Andra. Ye're entertain' an angel unawares. What do
ye say to that, my man?'
Mr Amos shook his head. 'I'll no deny there's something in it, but I'm
not convinced that the Germans have got enough of a wheepin'.' Macnab
agreed with him; the others were with me. Norie was for getting me to
write an article for his paper, and the consumptive wanted me to
address a meeting.
'Wull ye say a' that over again the morn's night down at our hall in
Newmilns Street? We've got a lodge meeting o' the I.W.B., and I'll
make them pit ye in the programme.' He kept his luminous eyes, like a
sick dog's, fixed on me, and I saw that I had made one ally. I told
him I had come to Glasgow to learn and not to teach, but I would miss
no chance of testifying to my faith.
'Now, boys, I'm for my bed,' said Amos, shaking the dottle from his
pipe. 'Mr Tombs, I'll conduct ye the morn over the Brigend works, but
I've had enough clavers for one evening. I'm a man that wants his
eight hours' sleep.'
The old fellow saw them to the door, and came back to me with the
ghost of a grin in his face.
'A queer crowd, Mr Brand! Macnab didna like what ye said. He had a
laddie killed in Gallypoly, and he's no lookin' for peace this side
the grave. He's my best friend in Glasgow. He's an elder in the Gaelic
kirk in the Cowcaddens, and I'm what ye call a free-thinker, but we're
wonderful agreed on the fundamentals. Ye spoke your bit verra well, I
must admit. Gresson will hear tell of ye as a promising recruit.'
'It's a rotten job,' I said.
'Ay, it's a rotten job. I often feel like vomiting over it mysel'. But
it's no for us to complain. There's waur jobs oot in France for better
men . . . A word in your ear, Mr Brand. Could ye not look a bit more
sheepish? Ye stare folk ower straight in the een, like a Hieland
sergeant-major up at Maryhill Barracks.' And he winked slowly and
grotesquely with his left eye.
He marched to a cupboard and produced a black bottle and glass. 'I'm
blue-ribbon myself, but ye'll be the better of something to tak the
taste out of your mouth. There's Loch Katrine water at the pipe there
. . . As I was saying, there's not much ill in that lot. Tombs is a
black offence, but a dominie's a dominie all the world over. They may
crack about their Industrial Workers and the braw things they're going
to do, but there's a wholesome dampness about the tinder on Clydeside.
They should try Ireland.'
Supposing,' I said, 'there was a really clever man who wanted to help
the enemy. You think he could do little good by stirring up trouble in
the shops here?'
'And if he were a shrewd fellow, he'd soon tumble to that?'
'Then if he still stayed on here he would be after bigger game--
something really dangerous and damnable?'
Amos drew down his brows and looked me in the face. 'I see what ye're
ettlin' at. Ay! That would be my conclusion. I came to it weeks syne
about the man ye'll maybe meet the morn's night.'
Then from below the bed he pulled a box from which he drew a handsome
flute. 'Ye'll forgive me, Mr Brand, but I aye like a tune before I go
to my bed. Macnab says his prayers, and I have a tune on the flute,
and the principle is just the same.'
So that singular evening closed with music--very sweet and true
renderings of old Border melodies like 'My Peggy is a young thing',
and 'When the kye come hame'. I fell asleep with a vision of Amos, his
face all puckered up at the mouth and a wandering sentiment in his
eye, recapturing in his dingy world the emotions of a boy.
* * * * *
The widow-woman from next door, who acted as house-keeper, cook, and
general factotum to the establishment, brought me shaving water next
morning, but I had to go without a bath. When I entered the kitchen I
found no one there, but while I consumed the inevitable ham and egg,
Amos arrived back for breakfast. He brought with him the morning's
'The _Herald_ says there's been a big battle at Eepers,' he announced.
I tore open the sheet and read of the great attack of 31 July which
was spoiled by the weather. 'My God!' I cried. 'They've got St Julien
and that dirty Frezenberg ridge . . . and Hooge . . . and Sanctuary
Wood. I know every inch of the damned place. . . .'
'Mr Brand,' said a warning voice, 'that'll never do. If our friends
last night heard ye talk like that ye might as well tak the train back
to London . . . They're speakin' about ye in the yards this morning.
ye'll get a good turnout at your meeting the night, but they're Sayin'
that the polis will interfere. That mightna be a bad thing, but I
trust ye to show discretion, for ye'll not be muckle use to onybody if
they jyle ye in Duke Street. I hear Gresson will be there with a
fraternal message from his lunatics in America . . . I've arranged that
ye go down to Tam Norie this afternoon and give him a hand with his
bit paper. Tam will tell ye the whole clash o' the West country, and I
look to ye to keep him off the drink. He's aye arguin' that writin'
and drinkin' gang thegither, and quotin' Robert Burns, but the
creature has a wife and five bairns dependin' on him.'
I spent a fantastic day. For two hours I sat in Norie's dirty den,
while he smoked and orated, and, when he remembered his business, took
down in shorthand my impressions of the Labour situation in South
Africa for his rag. They were fine breezy impressions, based on the
most whole-hearted ignorance, and if they ever reached the Rand I
wonder what my friends there made of Cornelius Brand, their author. I
stood him dinner in an indifferent eating-house in a street off the
Broomielaw, and thereafter had a drink with him in a public-house, and
was introduced to some of his less reputable friends.
About tea-time I went back to Amos's lodgings, and spent an hour or so
writing a long letter to Mr Ivery. I described to him everybody I had
met, I gave highly coloured views of the explosive material on the
Clyde, and I deplored the lack of clearheadedness in the progressive
forces. I drew an elaborate picture of Amos, and deduced from it that
the Radicals were likely to be a bar to true progress. 'They have
switched their old militancy,' I wrote, 'on to another track, for with
them it is a matter of conscience to be always militant.' I finished
up with some very crude remarks on economics culled from the
table-talk of the egregious Tombs. It was the kind of letter which I
hoped would establish my character in his mind as an industrious
Seven o'clock found me in Newmilns Street, where I was seized upon by
Wilkie. He had put on a clean collar for the occasion and had
partially washed his thin face. The poor fellow had a cough that shook
him like the walls of a power-house when the dynamos are going.
He was very apologetic about Amos. 'Andra belongs to a past worrld,'
he said. 'He has a big reputation in his society, and he's a fine
fighter, but he has no kind of Vision, if ye understand me. He's an
auld Gladstonian, and that's done and damned in Scotland. He's not a
Modern, Mr Brand, like you and me. But tonight ye'll meet one or two
chaps that'll be worth your while to ken. Ye'll maybe no go quite as
far as them, but ye're on the same road. I'm hoping for the day when
we'll have oor Councils of Workmen and Soldiers like the Russians all
over the land and dictate our terms to the pawrasites in Pawrliament.
They tell me, too, the boys in the trenches are comin' round to our
We entered the hall by a back door, and in a little waiting-room I was
introduced to some of the speakers. They were a scratch lot as seen in
that dingy place. The chairman was a shop-steward in one of the
Societies, a fierce little rat of a man, who spoke with a cockney
accent and addressed me as 'Comrade'. But one of them roused my
liveliest interest. I heard the name of Gresson, and turned to find a
fellow of about thirty-five, rather sprucely dressed, with a flower in
his buttonhole. 'Mr Brand,' he said, in a rich American voice which
recalled Blenkiron's. 'Very pleased to meet you, sir. We have Come
from remote parts of the globe to be present at this gathering.' I
noticed that he had reddish hair, and small bright eyes, and a nose
with a droop like a Polish Jew's.
As soon as we reached the platform I saw that there was going to be
trouble. The hall was packed to the door, and in all the front half
there was the kind of audience I expected to see--working-men of the
political type who before the war would have thronged to party
meetings. But not all the crowd at the back had come to listen. Some
were scallawags, some looked like better-class clerks out for a spree,
and there was a fair quantity of khaki. There were also one or two
gentlemen not strictly sober.
The chairman began by putting his foot in it. He said we were there
tonight to protest against the continuation of the war and to form a
branch of the new British Council of Workmen and Soldiers. He told
them with a fine mixture of metaphors that we had got to take the
reins into our own hands, for the men who were running the war had
their own axes to grind and were marching to oligarchy through the
blood of the workers. He added that we had no quarrel with Germany
half as bad as we had with our own capitalists. He looked forward to
the day when British soldiers would leap from their trenches and
extend the hand of friendship to their German comrades.
'No me!' said a solemn voice. 'I'm not seekin' a bullet in my
wame,'--at which there was laughter and cat-calls.
Tombs followed and made a worse hash of it. He was determined to
speak, as he would have put it, to democracy in its own language, so
he said 'hell' several times, loudly but without conviction. Presently
he slipped into the manner of the lecturer, and the audience grew
restless. 'I propose to ask myself a question--' he began, and from
the back of the hall came--'And a damned sully answer ye'll get.'
After that there was no more Tombs.
I followed with extreme nervousness, and to my surprise got a fair
hearing. I felt as mean as a mangy dog on a cold morning, for I hated
to talk rot before soldiers--especially before a couple of Royal Scots
Fusiliers, who, for all I knew, might have been in my own brigade. My
line was the plain, practical, patriotic man, just come from the
colonies, who looked at things with fresh eyes, and called for a new
deal. I was very moderate, but to justify my appearance there I had to
put in a wild patch or two, and I got these by impassioned attacks on
the Ministry of Munitions. I mixed up a little mild praise of the
Germans, whom I said I had known all over the world for decent
fellows. I received little applause, but no marked dissent, and sat
down with deep thankfulness.
The next speaker put the lid on it. I believe he was a noted agitator,
who had already been deported. Towards him there was no lukewarmness,
for one half of the audience cheered wildly when he rose, and the
other half hissed and groaned. He began with whirlwind abuse of the
idle rich, then of the middle-classes (he called them the 'rich man's
flunkeys'), and finally of the Government. All that was fairly well
received, for it is the fashion of the Briton to run down every
Government and yet to be very averse to parting from it. Then he
started on the soldiers and slanged the officers ('gentry pups' was
his name for them), and the generals, whom he accused of idleness, of
cowardice, and of habitual intoxication. He told us that our own kith
and kin were sacrificed in every battle by leaders who had not the
guts to share their risks. The Scots Fusiliers looked perturbed, as if
they were in doubt of his meaning. Then he put it more plainly. 'Will
any soldier deny that the men are the barrage to keep the officers'
'That's a bloody lee,' said one of the Fusilier jocks.
The man took no notice of the interruption, being carried away by the
torrent of his own rhetoric, but he had not allowed for the
persistence of the interrupter. The jock got slowly to his feet, and
announced that he wanted satisfaction. 'If ye open your dirty gab to
blagyird honest men, I'll come up on the platform and wring your
At that there was a fine old row, some crying out 'Order', some 'Fair
play', and some applauding. A Canadian at the back of the hall started
a song, and there was an ugly press forward. The hall seemed to be
moving up from the back, and already men were standing in all the
passages and right to the edge of the platform. I did not like the
look in the eyes of these new-comers, and among the crowd I saw
several who were obviously plain-clothes policemen.
The chairman whispered a word to the speaker, who continued when the
noise had temporarily died down. He kept off the army and returned to
the Government, and for a little sluiced out pure anarchism. But he
got his foot in it again, for he pointed to the Sinn Feiners as
examples of manly independence. At that, pandemonium broke loose, and
he never had another look in. There were several fights going on in
the hall between the public and courageous supporters of the orator.
Then Gresson advanced to the edge of the platform in a vain endeavour
to retrieve the day. I must say he did it uncommonly well. He was
clearly a practised speaker, and for a moment his appeal 'Now, boys,
let's cool down a bit and talk sense,' had an effect. But the mischief
had been done, and the crowd was surging round the lonely redoubt
where we sat. Besides, I could see that for all his clever talk the
meeting did not like the look of him. He was as mild as a turtle dove,
but they wouldn't stand for it. A missile hurtled past my nose, and I
saw a rotten cabbage envelop the baldish head of the ex-deportee.
Someone reached out a long arm and grabbed a chair, and with it took
the legs from Gresson. Then the lights suddenly went out, and we
retreated in good order by the platform door with a yelling crowd at
It was here that the plain-clothes men came in handy. They held the
door while the ex-deportee was smuggled out by some side entrance.
That class of lad would soon cease to exist but for the protection of
the law which he would abolish. The rest of us, having less to fear,
were suffered to leak into Newmilns Street. I found myself next to
Gresson, and took his arm. There was something hard in his coat
Unfortunately there was a big lamp at the point where we emerged, and
there for our confusion were the Fusilier jocks. Both were strung to
fighting pitch, and were determined to have someone's blood. Of me
they took no notice, but Gresson had spoken after their ire had been
roused, and was marked out as a victim. With a howl of joy they rushed
I felt his hand steal to his side-pocket. 'Let that alone, you fool,'
I growled in his ear.
'Sure, mister,' he said, and the next second we were in the thick of
It was like so many street fights I have seen--an immense crowd which
surged up around us, and yet left a clear ring. Gresson and I got
against the wall on the side-walk, and faced the furious soldiery. My
intention was to do as little as possible, but the first minute
convinced me that my companion had no idea how to use his fists, and I
was mortally afraid that he would get busy with the gun in his pocket.
It was that fear that brought me into the scrap. The jocks were
sportsmen every bit of them, and only one advanced to the combat. He
hit Gresson a clip on the jaw with his left, and but for the wall
would have laid him out. I saw in the lamplight the vicious gleam in
the American's eye and the twitch of his hand to his pocket. That
decided me to interfere and I got in front of him.
This brought the second jock into the fray. He was a broad, thickset
fellow, of the adorable bandy-legged stocky type that I had seen go
through the Railway Triangle at Arras as though it were
blotting-paper. He had some notion of fighting, too, and gave me a
rough time, for I had to keep edging the other fellow off Gresson.
'Go home, you fool,' I shouted. 'Let this gentleman alone. I don't
want to hurt you.'
The only answer was a hook-hit which I just managed to guard, followed
by a mighty drive with his right which I dodged so that he barked his
knuckles on the wall. I heard a yell of rage, and observed that
Gresson seemed to have kicked his assailant on the shin. I began to
long for the police.
Then there was that swaying of the crowd which betokens the approach
of the forces of law and order. But they were too late to prevent
trouble. In self-defence I had to take my jock seriously, and got in
my blow when he had overreached himself and lost his balance. I never
hit anyone so unwillingly in my life. He went over like a poled ox,
and measured his length on the causeway.
I found myself explaining things politely to the constables. 'These
men objected to this gentleman's speech at the meeting, and I had to
interfere to protect him. No, no! I don't want to charge anybody. It
was all a misunderstanding.' I helped the stricken jock to rise and
offered him ten bob for consolation.
He looked at me sullenly and spat on the ground. 'Keep your dirty
money,' he said. 'I'll be even with ye yet, my man--you and that
red-headed scab. I'll mind the looks of ye the next time I see ye.'
Gresson was wiping the blood from his cheek with a silk handkerchief.
'I guess I'm in your debt, Mr Brand,' he said. 'You may bet I won't
* * * * *
I returned to an anxious Amos. He heard my story in silence and his
only comment was--'Well done the Fusiliers!'
'It might have been worse, I'll not deny,' he went on. 'Ye've
established some kind of a claim upon Gresson, which may come in handy
. . . Speaking about Gresson, I've news for ye. He's sailing on Friday
as purser in the _Tobermory_. The _Tobermory's_ a boat that wanders
every month up the West Highlands as far as Stornoway. I've arranged
for ye to take a trip on that boat, Mr Brand.'
I nodded. 'How did you find out that?' I asked.
'It took me some finding,' he said dryly, 'but I've ways and means.
Now I'll not trouble ye with advice, for ye ken your job as well as
me. But I'm going north myself the morn to look after some of the
Ross-shire wuds, and I'll be in the way of getting telegrams at the
Kyle. Ye'll keep that in mind. Keep in mind, too, that I'm a great
reader of the _Pilgrim's Progress_ and that I've a cousin of the name
Various Doings in the West
The _Tobermory_ was no ship for passengers. Its decks were littered
with a hundred oddments, so that a man could barely walk a step
without tacking, and my bunk was simply a shelf in the frowsty little
saloon, where the odour of ham and eggs hung like a fog. I joined her
at Greenock and took a turn on deck with the captain after tea, when
he told me the names of the big blue hills to the north. He had a fine
old copper-coloured face and side-whiskers like an archbishop, and,
having spent all his days beating up the western seas, had as many
yarns in his head as Peter himself.
'On this boat,' he announced, 'we don't ken what a day may bring
forth. I may put into Colonsay for twa hours and bide there three
days. I get a telegram at Oban and the next thing I'm awa ayont Barra.
Sheep's the difficult business. They maun be fetched for the sales,
and they're dooms slow to lift. So ye see it's not what ye call a
pleasure trip, Maister Brand.'
Indeed it wasn't, for the confounded tub wallowed like a fat sow as
soon as we rounded a headland and got the weight of the south-western
wind. When asked my purpose, I explained that I was a colonial of
Scots extraction, who was paying his first visit to his fatherland and
wanted to explore the beauties of the West Highlands. I let him gather
that I was not rich in this world's goods.
'Ye'll have a passport?' he asked. 'They'll no let ye go north o' Fort
William without one.'
Amos had said nothing about passports, so I looked blank.
'I could keep ye on board for the whole voyage,' he went on, 'but ye
wouldna be permitted to land. If ye're seekin' enjoyment, it would be
a poor job sittin' on this deck and admirin' the works o' God and no
allowed to step on the pier-head. Ye should have applied to the
military gentlemen in Glesca. But ye've plenty o' time to make up your
mind afore we get to Oban. We've a heap o' calls to make Mull and
The purser came up to inquire about my ticket, and greeted me with a
'Ye're acquaint with Mr Gresson, then?' said the captain. 'Weel, we're
a cheery wee ship's company, and that's the great thing on this kind
I made but a poor supper, for the wind had risen to half a gale, and I
saw hours of wretchedness approaching. The trouble with me is that I
cannot be honestly sick and get it over. Queasiness and headache beset
me and there is no refuge but bed. I turned into my bunk, leaving the
captain and the mate smoking shag not six feet from my head, and fell
into a restless sleep. When I woke the place was empty, and smelt
vilely of stale tobacco and cheese. My throbbing brows made sleep
impossible, and I tried to ease them by staggering upon deck. I saw a
clear windy sky, with every star as bright as a live coal, and a
heaving waste of dark waters running to ink-black hills. Then a douche
of spray caught me and sent me down the companion to my bunk again,
where I lay for hours trying to make a plan of campaign.
I argued that if Amos had wanted me to have a passport he would have
provided one, so I needn't bother my head about that. But it was my
business to keep alongside Gresson, and if the boat stayed a week in
some port and he went off ashore, I must follow him. Having no
passport I would have to be always dodging trouble, which would
handicap my movements and in all likelihood make me more conspicuous
than I wanted. I guessed that Amos had denied me the passport for the
very reason that he wanted Gresson to think me harmless. The area of
danger would, therefore, be the passport country, somewhere north of
But to follow Gresson I must run risks and enter that country. His
suspicions, if he had any, would be lulled if I left the boat at Oban,
but it was up to me to follow overland to the north and hit the place
where the _Tobermory_ made a long stay. The confounded tub had no
plans; she wandered about the West Highlands looking for sheep and
things; and the captain himself could give me no time-table of her
voyage. It was incredible that Gresson should take all this trouble if
he did not know that at some place--and the right place--he would have
time to get a spell ashore. But I could scarcely ask Gresson for that
information, though I determined to cast a wary fly over him. I knew
roughly the _Tobermory's_ course--through the Sound of Islay to
Colonsay; then up the east side of Mull to Oban; then through the
Sound of Mull to the islands with names like cocktails, Rum and Eigg
and Coll; then to Skye; and then for the Outer Hebrides. I thought the
last would be the place, and it seemed madness to leave the boat, for
the Lord knew how I should get across the Minch. This consideration
upset all my plans again, and I fell into a troubled sleep without
coming to any conclusion.
Morning found us nosing between Jura and Islay, and about midday we
touched at a little port, where we unloaded some cargo and took on a
couple of shepherds who were going to Colonsay. The mellow afternoon
and the good smell of salt and heather got rid of the dregs of my
queasiness, and I spent a profitable hour on the pier-head with a
guide-book called _Baddely's Scotland_, and one of Bartholomew's maps.
I was beginning to think that Amos might be able to tell me something,
for a talk with the captain had suggested that the _Tobermory_ would
not dally long in the neighbourhood of Rum and Eigg. The big droving
season was scarcely on yet, and sheep for the Oban market would be
lifted on the return journey. In that case Skye was the first place to
watch, and if I could get wind of any big cargo waiting there I would
be able to make a plan. Amos was somewhere near the Kyle, and that was
across the narrows from Skye. Looking at the map, it seemed to me
that, in spite of being passportless, I might be able somehow to make
my way up through Morvern and Arisaig to the latitude of Skye. The
difficulty would be to get across the strip of sea, but there must be
boats to beg, borrow or steal.
I was poring over Baddely when Gresson sat down beside me. He was in a
good temper, and disposed to talk, and to my surprise his talk was all
about the beauties of the countryside. There was a kind of apple-green
light over everything; the steep heather hills cut into the sky like
purple amethysts, while beyond the straits the western ocean stretched
its pale molten gold to the sunset. Gresson waxed lyrical over the
scene. 'This just about puts me right inside, Mr Brand. I've got to
get away from that little old town pretty frequent or I begin to moult
like a canary. A man feels a man when he gets to a place that smells
as good as this. Why in hell do we ever get messed up in those stone
and lime cages? I reckon some day I'll pull my freight for a clean
location and settle down there and make little poems. This place would
about content me. And there's a spot out in California in the Coast
ranges that I've been keeping my eye on,' The odd thing was that I
believe he meant it. His ugly face was lit up with a serious delight.
He told me he had taken this voyage before, so I got out Baddely and
asked for advice. 'I can't spend too much time on holidaying,' I told
him, 'and I want to see all the beauty spots. But the best of them
seem to be in the area that this fool British Government won't let you
into without a passport. I suppose I shall have to leave you at Oban.'
'Too bad,' he said sympathetically. 'Well, they tell me there's some
pretty sights round Oban.' And he thumbed the guide-book and began to
read about Glencoe.
I said that was not my purpose, and pitched him a yarn about Prince
Charlie and how my mother's great-grandfather had played some kind of
part in that show. I told him I wanted to see the place where the
Prince landed and where he left for France. 'So far as I can make out
that won't take me into the passport country, but I'll have to do a
bit of footslogging. Well, I'm used to padding the hoof. I must get
the captain to put me off in Morvern, and then I can foot it round the
top of Lochiel and get back to Oban through Appin. How's that for a
He gave the scheme his approval. 'But if it was me, Mr Brand, I would
have a shot at puzzling your gallant policemen. You and I don't take
much stock in Governments and their two-cent laws, and it would be a
good game to see just how far you could get into the forbidden land. A
man like you could put up a good bluff on those hayseeds. I don't mind
having a bet . . .'
'No,' I said. 'I'm out for a rest, and not for sport. If there was
anything to be gained I'd undertake to bluff my way to the Orkney
Islands. But it's a wearing job and I've better things to think
'So? Well, enjoy yourself your own way. I'll be sorry when you leave
us, for I owe you something for that rough-house, and beside there's
darned little company in the old moss-back captain.'
That evening Gresson and I swopped yarns after supper to the
accompaniment of the 'Ma Goad!' and 'Is't possible?' of captain and
mate. I went to bed after a glass or two of weak grog, and made up for
the last night's vigil by falling sound asleep. I had very little kit
with me, beyond what I stood up in and could carry in my waterproof
pockets, but on Amos's advice I had brought my little nickel-plated
revolver. This lived by day in my hip pocket, but at night I put it
behind my pillow. But when I woke next morning to find us casting
anchor in the bay below rough low hills, which I knew to be the island
of Colonsay, I could find no trace of the revolver. I searched every
inch of the bunk and only shook out feathers from the mouldy ticking.
I remembered perfectly putting the thing behind my head before I went
to sleep, and now it had vanished utterly. Of course I could not
advertise my loss, and I didn't greatly mind it, for this was not a
job where I could do much shooting. But it made me think a good deal
about Mr Gresson. He simply could not suspect me; if he had bagged my
gun, as I was pretty certain he had, it must be because he wanted it
for himself and not that he might disarm me. Every way I argued it I
reached the same conclusion. In Gresson's eyes I must seem as harmless
as a child.
We spent the better part of a day at Colonsay, and Gresson, so far as
his duties allowed, stuck to me like a limpet. Before I went ashore I
wrote out a telegram for Amos. I devoted a hectic hour to the
_Pilgrim's Progress_, but I could not compose any kind of intelligible
message with reference to its text. We had all the same edition--the
one in the _Golden _Treasury series--so I could have made up a sort of
cipher by referring to lines and pages, but that would have taken up a
dozen telegraph forms and seemed to me too elaborate for the purpose.
So I sent this message:
_Ochterlony, Post Office, Kyle,
I hope to spend part of holiday near you and to see you if boat's
programme permits. Are any good cargoes waiting in your
neighbourhood? Reply Post Office, Oban._
It was highly important that Gresson should not see this, but it was
the deuce of a business to shake him off. I went for a walk in the
afternoon along the shore and passed the telegraph office, but the
confounded fellow was with me all the time. My only chance was just
before we sailed, when he had to go on board to check some cargo. As
the telegraph office stood full in view of the ship's deck I did not
go near it. But in the back end of the clachan I found the
schoolmaster, and got him to promise to send the wire. I also bought
off him a couple of well-worn sevenpenny novels.
The result was that I delayed our departure for ten minutes and when I
came on board faced a wrathful Gresson. 'Where the hell have you
been?' he asked. 'The weather's blowing up dirty and the old man's mad
to get off. Didn't you get your legs stretched enough this afternoon?'
I explained humbly that I had been to the schoolmaster to get
something to read, and produced my dingy red volumes. At that his brow
cleared. I could see that his suspicions were set at rest.
We left Colonsay about six in the evening with the sky behind us
banking for a storm, and the hills of Jura to starboard an angry
purple. Colonsay was too low an island to be any kind of breakwater
against a western gale, so the weather was bad from the start. Our
course was north by east, and when we had passed the butt-end of the
island we nosed about in the trough of big seas, shipping tons of
water and rolling like a buffalo. I know as much about boats as about
Egyptian hieroglyphics, but even my landsman's eyes could tell that we
were in for a rough night. I was determined not to get queasy again,
but when I went below the smell of tripe and onions promised to be my
undoing; so I dined off a slab of chocolate and a cabin biscuit, put
on my waterproof, and resolved to stick it out on deck.
I took up position near the bows, where I was out of reach of the oily
steamer smells. It was as fresh as the top of a mountain, but mighty
cold and wet, for a gusty drizzle had set in, and I got the spindrift
of the big waves. There I balanced myself, as we lurched into the
twilight, hanging on with one hand to a rope which descended from the
stumpy mast. I noticed that there was only an indifferent rail between
me and the edge, but that interested me and helped to keep off
sickness. I swung to the movement of the vessel, and though I was
mortally cold it was rather pleasant than otherwise. My notion was to
get the nausea whipped out of me by the weather, and, when I was
properly tired, to go down and turn in.
I stood there till the dark had fallen. By that time I was an
automaton, the way a man gets on sentry-go, and I could have easily
hung on till morning. My thoughts ranged about the earth, beginning
with the business I had set out on, and presently--by way of
recollections of Blenkiron and Peter--reaching the German forest
where, in the Christmas of 1915, I had been nearly done in by fever
and old Stumm. I remembered the bitter cold of that wild race, and the
way the snow seemed to burn like fire when I stumbled and got my face
into it. I reflected that sea-sickness was kitten's play to a good
bout of malaria.
The weather was growing worse, and I was getting more than spindrift
from the seas. I hooked my arm round the rope, for my fingers were
numbing. Then I fell to dreaming again, principally about Fosse Manor
and Mary Lamington. This so ravished me that I was as good as asleep.
I was trying to reconstruct the picture as I had last seen her at
Biggleswick station . . .
A heavy body collided with me and shook my arm from the rope. I
slithered across the yard of deck, engulfed in a whirl of water. One
foot caught a stanchion of the rail, and it gave with me, so that for
an instant I was more than half overboard. But my fingers clawed
wildly and caught in the links of what must have been the anchor
chain. They held, though a ton's weight seemed to be tugging at my
feet . . . Then the old tub rolled back, the waters slipped off, and I
was sprawling on a wet deck with no breath in me and a gallon of brine
in my windpipe.
I heard a voice cry out sharply, and a hand helped me to my feet. It
was Gresson, and he seemed excited.
'God, Mr Brand, that was a close call! I was coming up to find you,
when this damned ship took to lying on her side. I guess I must have
cannoned into you, and I was calling myself bad names when I saw you
rolling into the Atlantic. If I hadn't got a grip on the rope I would
have been down beside you. Say, you're not hurt? I reckon you'd better
come below and get a glass of rum under your belt. You're about as wet
as mother's dish-clouts.'
There's one advantage about campaigning. You take your luck when it
comes and don't worry about what might have been. I didn't think any
more of the business, except that it had cured me of wanting to be
sea-sick. I went down to the reeking cabin without one qualm in my
stomach, and ate a good meal of welsh-rabbit and bottled Bass, with a
tot of rum to follow up with. Then I shed my wet garments, and slept
in my bunk till we anchored off a village in Mull in a clear blue
It took us four days to crawl up that coast and make Oban, for we
seemed to be a floating general store for every hamlet in those parts.
Gresson made himself very pleasant, as if he wanted to atone for
nearly doing me in. We played some poker, and I read the little books
I had got in Colonsay, and then rigged up a fishing-line, and caught
saithe and lythe and an occasional big haddock. But I found the time
pass slowly, and I was glad that about noon one day we came into a bay
blocked with islands and saw a clean little town sitting on the hills
and the smoke of a railway engine.
I went ashore and purchased a better brand of hat in a tweed store.
Then I made a bee-line for the post office, and asked for telegrams.
One was given to me, and as I opened it I saw Gresson at my elbow.
It read thus:
_Brand, Post office, Oban. Page 117, paragraph 3. Ochterlony._
I passed it to Gresson with a rueful face.
'There's a piece of foolishness,' I said. 'I've got a cousin who's a
Presbyterian minister up in Ross-shire, and before I knew about this
passport humbug I wrote to him and offered to pay him a visit. I told
him to wire me here if it was convenient, and the old idiot has sent
me the wrong telegram. This was likely as not meant for some other
brother parson, who's got my message instead.'
'What's the guy's name?' Gresson asked curiously, peering at the
'Ochterlony. David Ochterlony. He's a great swell at writing books,
but he's no earthly use at handling the telegraph. However, it don't
signify, seeing I'm not going near him.' I crumpled up the pink form
and tossed it on the floor. Gresson and I walked to the _Tobermory_
That afternoon, when I got a chance, I had out my _Pilgrim's
Progress_. Page 117, paragraph 3, read:
'_Then I saw in my dream, that a little off the road, over
against the Silver-mine, stood Demas (gentlemanlike) to call to
passengers to come and see: who said to Christian and his
fellow, Ho, turn aside hither and I will show you a thing._
At tea I led the talk to my own past life. I yarned about my
experiences as a mining engineer, and said I could never get out of
the trick of looking at country with the eye of the prospector. 'For
instance,' I said, 'if this had been Rhodesia, I would have said there
was a good chance of copper in these little kopjes above the town.
They're not unlike the hills round the Messina mine.' I told the
captain that after the war I was thinking of turning my attention to
the West Highlands and looking out for minerals.
'Ye'll make nothing of it,' said the captain. 'The costs are ower big,
even if ye found the minerals, for ye'd have to import a' your labour.
The West Hielandman is no fond o' hard work. Ye ken the psalm o' the
_O that the peats would cut themselves,
The fish chump on the shore,
And that I in my bed might lie
Henceforth for ever more!_'
'Has it ever been tried?' I asked.
'Often. There's marble and slate quarries, and there was word o'
coal in Benbecula. And there's the iron mines at Ranna.'
'Where's that?' I asked.
'Up forenent Skye. We call in there, and generally bide a bit. There's
a heap of cargo for Ranna, and we usually get a good load back. But as
I tell ye, there's few Hielanders working there. Mostly Irish and lads
frae Fife and Falkirk way.'
I didn't pursue the subject, for I had found Demas's silver-mine. If
the _Tobermory_ lay at Ranna for a week, Gresson would have time to do
his own private business. Ranna would not be the spot, for the island
was bare to the world in the middle of a much-frequented channel. But
Skye was just across the way, and when I looked in my map at its big,
wandering peninsulas I concluded that my guess had been right, and
that Skye was the place to make for.
That night I sat on deck with Gresson, and in a wonderful starry
silence we watched the lights die out of the houses in the town, and
talked of a thousand things. I noticed--what I had had a hint of
before--that my companion was no common man. There were moments when
he forgot himself and talked like an educated gentleman: then he would
remember, and relapse into the lingo of Leadville, Colorado. In my
character of the ingenuous inquirer I set him posers about politics
and economics, the kind of thing I might have been supposed to pick up
from unintelligent browsing among little books. Generally he answered
with some slangy catchword, but occasionally he was interested beyond
his discretion, and treated me to a harangue like an equal. I
discovered another thing, that he had a craze for poetry, and a
capacious memory for it. I forgot how we drifted into the subject, but
I remember he quoted some queer haunting stuff which he said was
Swinburne, and verses by people I had heard of from Letchford at
Biggleswick. Then he saw by my silence that he had gone too far, and
fell back into the jargon of the West. He wanted to know about my
plans, and we went down into the cabin and had a look at the map. I
explained my route, up Morvern and round the head of Lochiel, and back
to Oban by the east side of Loch Linnhe.
'Got you,' he said. 'You've a hell of a walk before you. That bug
never bit me, and I guess I'm not envying you any. And after that, Mr
'Back to Glasgow to do some work for the cause,' I said lightly.
'Just so,' he said with a grin. 'It's a great life if you don't
We steamed out of the bay next morning at dawn, and about nine o'clock
I got on shore at a little place called Lochaline. My kit was all on
my person, and my waterproof's pockets were stuffed with chocolates
and biscuits I had bought in Oban. The captain was discouraging.
'Ye'll get your bellyful o' Hieland hills, Mr Brand, afore ye win
round the loch head. Ye'll be wishin' yerself back on the
_Tobermory_.' But Gresson speeded me joyfully on my way, and said he
wished he were coming with me. He even accompanied me the first
hundred yards, and waved his hat after me till I was round the turn of
The first stage in that journey was pure delight. I was thankful to be
rid of the infernal boat, and the hot summer scents coming down the
glen were comforting after the cold, salt smell of the sea. The road
lay up the side of a small bay, at the top of which a big white house
stood among gardens. Presently I had left the coast and was in a glen
where a brown salmon-river swirled through acres of bog-myrtle. It had
its source in a loch, from which the mountain rose steeply--a place so
glassy in that August forenoon that every scar and wrinkle of the
hillside were faithfully reflected. After that I crossed a low pass to
the head of another sea-lock, and, following the map, struck over the
shoulder of a great hill and ate my luncheon far up on its side, with
a wonderful vista of wood and water below me.
All that morning I was very happy, not thinking about Gresson or
Ivery, but getting my mind clear in those wide spaces, and my lungs
filled with the brisk hill air. But I noticed one curious thing. On my
last visit to Scotland, when I covered more moorland miles a day than
any man since Claverhouse, I had been fascinated by the land, and had
pleased myself with plans for settling down in it. But now, after
three years of war and general rocketing, I felt less drawn to that
kind of landscape. I wanted something more green and peaceful and
habitable, and it was to the Cotswolds that my memory turned with
I puzzled over this till I realized that in all my Cotswold pictures a
figure kept going and coming--a young girl with a cloud of gold hair
and the strong, slim grace of a boy, who had sung 'Cherry Ripe' in a
moonlit garden. Up on that hillside I understood very clearly that I,
who had been as careless of women as any monk, had fallen wildly in
love with a child of half my age. I was loath to admit it, though for
weeks the conclusion had been forcing itself on me. Not that I didn't
revel in my madness, but that it seemed too hopeless a business, and I
had no use for barren philandering. But, seated on a rock munching
chocolate and biscuits, I faced up to the fact and resolved to trust
my luck. After all we were comrades in a big job, and it was up to me
to be man enough to win her. The thought seemed to brace any courage
that was in me. No task seemed too hard with her approval to gain and
her companionship somewhere at the back of it. I sat for a long time
in a happy dream, remembering all the glimpses I had had of her, and
humming her song to an audience of one black-faced sheep.
On the highroad half a mile below me, I saw a figure on a bicycle
mounting the hill, and then getting off to mop its face at the summit.
I turned my Ziess glasses on to it, and observed that it was a country
policeman. It caught sight of me, stared for a bit, tucked its machine
into the side of the road, and then very slowly began to climb the
hillside. Once it stopped, waved its hand and shouted something which
I could not hear. I sat finishing my luncheon, till the features were
revealed to me of a fat oldish man, blowing like a grampus, his cap
well on the back of a bald head, and his trousers tied about the shins
There was a spring beside me and I had out my flask to round off my
'Have a drink,' I said.
His eye brightened, and a smile overran his moist face.
'Thank you, sir. It will be very warrm coming up the brae.'
'You oughtn't to,' I said. 'You really oughtn't, you know. Scorching
up hills and then doubling up a mountain are not good for your time of
He raised the cap of my flask in solemn salutation. 'Your very good
health.' Then he smacked his lips, and had several cupfuls of water
from the spring.
'You will haf come from Achranich way, maybe?' he said in his soft
sing-song, having at last found his breath.
'Just so. Fine weather for the birds, if there was anybody to shoot
'Ah, no. There will be few shots fired today, for there are no
gentlemen left in Morvern. But I wass asking you, if you come from
Achranich, if you haf seen anybody on the road.'
From his pocket he extricated a brown envelope and a bulky telegraph
form. 'Will you read it, sir, for I haf forgot my spectacles?'
It contained a description of one Brand, a South African and a
suspected character, whom the police were warned to stop and return to
Oban. The description wasn't bad, but it lacked any one good
distinctive detail. Clearly the policeman took me for an innocent
pedestrian, probably the guest of some moorland shooting-box, with my
brown face and rough tweeds and hobnailed shoes.
I frowned and puzzled a little. 'I did see a fellow about three miles
back on the hillside. There's a public-house just where the burn comes
in, and I think he was making for it. Maybe that was your man. This
wire says "South African"; and now I remember the fellow had the look
of a colonial.'
The policeman sighed. 'No doubt it will be the man. Perhaps he will
haf a pistol and will shoot.'
'Not him,' I laughed. 'He looked a mangy sort of chap, and he'll be
scared out of his senses at the sight of you. But take my advice and
get somebody with you before you tackle him. You're always the better
of a witness.'
'That is so,' he said, brightening. 'Ach, these are the bad times! in
old days there wass nothing to do but watch the doors at the
flower-shows and keep the yachts from poaching the sea-trout. But now
it is spies, spies, and "Donald, get out of your bed, and go off
twenty mile to find a German." I wass wishing the war wass by, and the
Germans all dead.'
'Hear, hear!' I cried, and on the strength of it gave him another
I accompanied him to the road, and saw him mount his bicycle and
zig-zag like a snipe down the hill towards Achranich. Then I set off
briskly northward. It was clear that the faster I moved the better.
As I went I paid disgusted tribute to the efficiency of the Scottish
police. I wondered how on earth they had marked me down. Perhaps it
was the Glasgow meeting, or perhaps my association with Ivery at
Biggleswick. Anyhow there was somebody somewhere mighty quick at
compiling a _dossier_. Unless I wanted to be bundled back to Oban I
must make good speed to the Arisaig coast.
Presently the road fell to a gleaming sea-loch which lay like the blue
blade of a sword among the purple of the hills. At the head there was
a tiny clachan, nestled among birches and rowans, where a tawny burn
wound to the sea. When I entered the place it was about four o'clock
in the afternoon, and peace lay on it like a garment. In the wide,
sunny street there was no sign of life, and no sound except of hens
clucking and of bees busy among the roses. There was a little grey box
of a kirk, and close to the bridge a thatched cottage which bore the
sign of a post and telegraph office.
For the past hour I had been considering that I had better prepare for
mishaps. If the police of these parts had been warned they might prove
too much for me, and Gresson would be allowed to make his journey
unmatched. The only thing to do was to send a wire to Amos and leave
the matter in his hands. Whether that was possible or not depended
upon this remote postal authority.
I entered the little shop, and passed from bright sunshine to a
twilight smelling of paraffin and black-striped peppermint balls. An
old woman with a mutch sat in an arm-chair behind the counter. She
looked up at me over her spectacles and smiled, and I took to her on
the instant. She had the kind of old wise face that God loves.
Beside her I noticed a little pile of books, one of which was a Bible.
Open on her lap was a paper, the _United Free Church Monthly_. I
noticed these details greedily, for I had to make up my mind on the
part to play.
'It's a warm day, mistress,' I said, my voice falling into the broad
Lowland speech, for I had an instinct that she was not of the
She laid aside her paper. 'It is that, sir. It is grand weather for
the hairst, but here that's no till the hinner end o' September, and
at the best it's a bit scart o' aits.'
'Ay. It's a different thing down Annandale way,' I said.
Her face lit up. 'Are ye from Dumfries, sir?'
'Not just from Dumfries, but I know the Borders fine.'
'Ye'll no beat them,' she cried. 'Not that this is no a guid place and
I've muckle to be thankfu' for since John Sanderson--that was ma
man--brought me here forty-seeven year syne come Martinmas. But the
aulder I get the mair I think o' the bit whaur I was born. It was twae
miles from Wamphray on the Lockerbie road, but they tell me the place
is noo just a rickle o' stanes.'
'I was wondering, mistress, if I could get a cup of tea in the
'Ye'll hae a cup wi' me,' she said. 'It's no often we see onybody frae
the Borders hereaways. The kettle's just on the boil.'
She gave me tea and scones and butter, and black-currant jam, and
treacle biscuits that melted in the mouth. And as we ate we talked of
many things--chiefly of the war and of the wickedness of the world.
'There's nae lads left here,' she said. 'They a' joined the Camerons,
and the feck o' them fell at an awfu' place called Lowse. John and me
never had no boys, jist the one lassie that's married on Donald Frew,
the Strontian carrier. I used to vex mysel' about it, but now I thank
the Lord that in His mercy He spared me sorrow. But I wad hae liked to
have had one laddie fechtin' for his country. I whiles wish I was a
Catholic and could pit up prayers for the sodgers that are deid. It
maun be a great consolation.'
I whipped out the _Pilgrim's Progress_ from my pocket. 'That is the
grand book for a time like this.'
'Fine I ken it,' she said. 'I got it for a prize in the Sabbath School
when I was a lassie.'
I turned the pages. I read out a passage or two, and then I seemed
struck with a sudden memory.
'This is a telegraph office, mistress. Could I trouble you to send a
telegram? You see I've a cousin that's a minister in Ross-shire at the
Kyle, and him and me are great correspondents. He was writing about
something in the _Pilgrim's Progress_ and I think I'll send him a
telegram in answer.'
'A letter would be cheaper,' she said.
'Ay, but I'm on holiday and I've no time for writing.'
She gave me a form, and I wrote:
_Ochterlony. Post Office, Kyle. --Demas will be at his mine
within the week. Strive with him, lest I faint by the way._
'Ye're unco lavish wi' the words, sir,' was her only comment.
We parted with regret, and there was nearly a row when I tried to pay
for the tea. I was bidden remember her to one David Tudhole, farmer in
Nether Mirecleuch, the next time I passed by Wamphray.
The village was as quiet when I left it as when I had entered. I took
my way up the hill with an easier mind, for I had got off the
telegram, and I hoped I had covered my tracks. My friend the
postmistress would, if questioned, be unlikely to recognize any South
African suspect in the frank and homely traveller who had spoken with
her of Annandale and the _Pilgrim's Progress_.
The soft mulberry gloaming of the west coast was beginning to fall on
the hills. I hoped to put in a dozen miles before dark to the next
village on the map, where I might find quarters. But ere I had gone
far I heard the sound of a motor behind me, and a car slipped past
bearing three men. The driver favoured me with a sharp glance, and
clapped on the brakes. I noted that the two men in the tonneau were
carrying sporting rifles.
'Hi, you, sir,' he cried. 'Come here.' The two rifle-bearers--solemn
gillies--brought their weapons to attention.
'By God,' he said, 'it's the man. What's your name? Keep him covered,
The gillies duly covered me, and I did not like the look of their
wavering barrels. They were obviously as surprised as myself.
I had about half a second to make my plans. I advanced with a very
stiff air, and asked him what the devil he meant. No Lowland Scots for
me now. My tone was that of an adjutant of a Guards' battalion.
My inquisitor was a tall man in an ulster, with a green felt hat on
his small head. He had a lean, well-bred face, and very choleric blue
eyes. I set him down as a soldier, retired, Highland regiment or
cavalry, old style.
He produced a telegraph form, like the policeman.
'Middle height--strongly built--grey tweeds--brown hat--speaks with a
colonial accent--much sunburnt. What's your name, sir?'
I did not reply in a colonial accent, but with the hauteur of the
British officer when stopped by a French sentry. I asked him again
what the devil he had to do with my business. This made him angry and
he began to stammer.
'I'll teach you what I have to do with it. I'm a deputy-lieutenant of
this county, and I have Admiralty instructions to watch the coast.
Damn it, sir, I've a wire here from the Chief Constable describing
you. You're Brand, a very dangerous fellow, and we want to know what
the devil you're doing here.'
As I looked at his wrathful eye and lean head, which could not have
held much brains, I saw that I must change my tone. If I irritated him
he would get nasty and refuse to listen and hang me up for hours. So
my voice became respectful.
'I beg your pardon, sir, but I've not been accustomed to be pulled up
suddenly, and asked for my credentials. My name is Blaikie, Captain
Robert Blaikie, of the Scots Fusiliers. I'm home on three weeks'
leave, to get a little peace after Hooge. We were only hauled out five
days ago.' I hoped my old friend in the shell-shock hospital at Isham
would pardon my borrowing his identity.
The man looked puzzled. 'How the devil am I to be satisfied about
that? Have you any papers to prove it?'
'Why, no. I don't carry passports about with me on a walking tour. But
you can wire to the depot, or to my London address.'
He pulled at his yellow moustache. 'I'm hanged if I know what to do. I
want to get home for dinner. I tell you what, sir, I'll take you on
with me and put you up for the night. My boy's at home, convalescing,
and if he says you're pukka I'll ask your pardon and give you a dashed
good bottle of port. I'll trust him and I warn you he's a keen hand.'
There was nothing to do but consent, and I got in beside him with an
uneasy conscience. Supposing the son knew the real Blaikie! I asked
the name of the boy's battalion, and was told the 10th Seaforths. That
wasn't pleasant hearing, for they had been brigaded with us on the
Somme. But Colonel Broadbury--for he told me his name--volunteered
another piece of news which set my mind at rest. The boy was not yet
twenty, and had only been out seven months. At Arras he had got a bit
of shrapnel in his thigh, which had played the deuce with the sciatic
nerve, and he was still on crutches.
We spun over ridges of moorland, always keeping northward, and brought
up at a pleasant white-washed house close to the sea. Colonel
Broadbury ushered me into a hall where a small fire of peats was
burning, and on a couch beside it lay a slim, pale-faced young man. He
had dropped his policeman's manner, and behaved like a gentleman.
'Ted,' he said, 'I've brought a friend home for the night. I went out
to look for a suspect and found a British officer. This is Captain
Blaikie, of the Scots Fusiliers.'
The boy looked at me pleasantly. 'I'm very glad to meet you, sir.
You'll excuse me not getting up, but I've got a game leg.' He was the
copy of his father in features, but dark and sallow where the other
was blond. He had just the same narrow head, and stubborn mouth, and
honest, quick-tempered eyes. It is the type that makes dashing
regimental officers, and earns V.C.s, and gets done in wholesale. I
was never that kind. I belonged to the school of the cunning cowards.
In the half-hour before dinner the last wisp of suspicion fled from my
host's mind. For Ted Broadbury and I were immediately deep in 'shop'.
I had met most of his senior officers, and I knew all about their
doings at Arras, for his brigade had been across the river on my left.
We fought the great fight over again, and yarned about technicalities
and slanged the Staff in the way young officers have, the father
throwing in questions that showed how mighty proud he was of his son.
I had a bath before dinner, and as he led me to the bathroom he
apologized very handsomely for his bad manners. 'Your coming's been a
godsend for Ted. He was moping a bit in this place. And, though I say
it that shouldn't, he's a dashed good boy.'
I had my promised bottle of port, and after dinner I took on the
father at billiards. Then we settled in the smoking-room, and I laid
myself out to entertain the pair. The result was that they would have
me stay a week, but I spoke of the shortness of my leave, and said I
must get on to the railway and then back to Fort William for my
So I spent that night between clean sheets, and ate a Christian
breakfast, and was given my host's car to set me a bit on the road. I
dismissed it after half a dozen miles, and, following the map, struck
over the hills to the west. About midday I topped a ridge, and beheld
the Sound of Sleat shining beneath me. There were other things in the
landscape. In the valley on the right a long goods train was crawling
on the Mallaig railway. And across the strip of sea, like some
fortress of the old gods, rose the dark bastions and turrets of the
hills of Skye.
The Skirts of the Coolin
Obviously I must keep away from the railway. If the police were after
me in Morvern, that line would be warned, for it was a barrier I must
cross if I were to go farther north. I observed from the map that it
turned up the coast, and concluded that the place for me to make for
was the shore south of that turn, where Heaven might send me some luck
in the boat line. For I was pretty certain that every porter and
station-master on that tin-pot outfit was anxious to make better
acquaintance with my humble self.
I lunched off the sandwiches the Broadburys had given me, and in the
bright afternoon made my way down the hill, crossed at the foot of a
small fresh-water lochan, and pursued the issuing stream through
midge-infested woods of hazels to its junction with the sea. It was
rough going, but very pleasant, and I fell into the same mood of idle
contentment that I had enjoyed the previous morning. I never met a
soul. Sometimes a roe deer broke out of the covert, or an old
blackcock startled me with his scolding. The place was bright with
heather, still in its first bloom, and smelt better than the myrrh of
Arabia. It was a blessed glen, and I was as happy as a king, till I
began to feel the coming of hunger, and reflected that the Lord alone
knew when I might get a meal. I had still some chocolate and biscuits,
but I wanted something substantial.
The distance was greater than I thought, and it was already twilight
when I reached the coast. The shore was open and desolate--great
banks of pebbles to which straggled alders and hazels from the
hillside scrub. But as I marched northward and turned a little point
of land I saw before me in a crook of the bay a smoking cottage. And,
plodding along by the water's edge, was the bent figure of a man,
laden with nets and lobster pots. Also, beached on the shingle was a
I quickened my pace and overtook the fisherman. He was an old man with
a ragged grey beard, and his rig was seaman's boots and a much-darned
blue jersey. He was deaf, and did not hear me when I hailed him. When
he caught sight of me he never stopped, though he very solemnly
returned my good evening. I fell into step with him, and in his silent
company reached the cottage.
He halted before the door and unslung his burdens. The place was a
two-roomed building with a roof of thatch, and the walls all grown
over with a yellow-flowered creeper. When he had straightened his
back, he looked seaward and at the sky, as if to prospect the weather.
Then he turned on me his gentle, absorbed eyes. 'It will haf been a
fine day, sir. Wass you seeking the road to anywhere?'
'I was seeking a night's lodging,' I said. 'I've had a long tramp on
the hills, and I'd be glad of a chance of not going farther.'
'We will haf no accommodation for a gentleman,' he said gravely.
'I can sleep on the floor, if you can give me a blanket and a bite of
'Indeed you will not,' and he smiled slowly. 'But I will ask the wife.
Mary, come here!'
An old woman appeared in answer to his call, a woman whose face was so
old that she seemed like his mother. In highland places one sex ages
quicker than the other.
'This gentleman would like to bide the night. I wass telling him that
we had a poor small house, but he says he will not be minding it.'
She looked at me with the timid politeness that you find only in
'We can do our best, indeed, sir. The gentleman can have Colin's bed
in the loft, but he will haf to be doing with plain food. Supper is
ready if you will come in now.'
I had a scrub with a piece of yellow soap at an adjacent pool in the
burn and then entered a kitchen blue with peat-reek. We had a meal of
boiled fish, oatcakes and skim-milk cheese, with cups of strong tea to
wash it down. The old folk had the manners of princes. They pressed
food on me, and asked me no questions, till for very decency's sake I
had to put up a story and give some account of myself.
I found they had a son in the Argylls and a young boy in the Navy. But
they seemed disinclined to talk of them or of the war. By a mere
accident I hit on the old man's absorbing interest. He was passionate
about the land. He had taken part in long-forgotten agitations, and
had suffered eviction in some ancient landlords' quarrel farther
north. Presently he was pouring out to me all the woes of the
crofter--woes that seemed so antediluvian and forgotten that I
listened as one would listen to an old song. 'You who come from a new
country will not haf heard of these things,' he kept telling me, but
by that peat fire I made up for my defective education. He told me of
evictions in the year. One somewhere in Sutherland, and of harsh
doings in the Outer Isles. It was far more than a political grievance.
It was the lament of the conservative for vanished days and manners.
'Over in Skye wass the fine land for black cattle, and every man had
his bit herd on the hillside. But the lairds said it wass better for
sheep, and then they said it wass not good for sheep, so they put it
under deer, and now there is no black cattle anywhere in Skye.' I tell
you it was like sad music on the bagpipes hearing that old fellow. The
war and all things modern meant nothing to him; he lived among the
tragedies of his youth and his prime.
I'm a Tory myself and a bit of a land-reformer, so we agreed well
enough. So well, that I got what I wanted without asking for it. I
told him I was going to Skye, and he offered to take me over in his
boat in the morning. 'It will be no trouble. Indeed no. I will be
going that way myself to the fishing.'
I told him that after the war, every acre of British soil would have
to be used for the men that had earned the right to it. But that did
not comfort him. He was not thinking about the land itself, but about
the men who had been driven from it fifty years before. His desire was
not for reform, but for restitution, and that was past the power of
any Government. I went to bed in the loft in a sad, reflective mood,
considering how in speeding our newfangled plough we must break down a
multitude of molehills and how desirable and unreplaceable was the
life of the moles.
In brisk, shining weather, with a wind from the south-east, we put off
next morning. In front was a brown line of low hills, and behind them,
a little to the north, that black toothcomb of mountain range which I
had seen the day before from the Arisaig ridge.
'That is the Coolin,' said the fisherman. 'It is a bad place where
even the deer cannot go. But all the rest of Skye wass the fine land
for black cattle.'
As we neared the coast, he pointed out many places. 'Look there, Sir,
in that glen. I haf seen six cot houses smoking there, and now there
is not any left. There were three men of my own name had crofts on the
machars beyond the point, and if you go there you will only find the
marks of their bit gardens. You will know the place by the gean
When he put me ashore in a sandy bay between green ridges of bracken,
he was still harping upon the past. I got him to take a pound--for the
boat and not for the night's hospitality, for he would have beaten me
with an oar if I had suggested that. The last I saw of him, as I
turned round at the top of the hill, he had still his sail down, and
was gazing at the lands which had once been full of human dwellings
and now were desolate.
I kept for a while along the ridge, with the Sound of Sleat on my
right, and beyond it the high hills of Knoydart and Kintail. I was
watching for the _Tobermory_, but saw no sign of her. A steamer put
out from Mallaig, and there were several drifters crawling up the
channel and once I saw the white ensign and a destroyer bustled
northward, leaving a cloud of black smoke in her wake. Then, after
consulting the map, I struck across country, still keeping the higher
ground, but, except at odd minutes, being out of sight of the sea. I
concluded that my business was to get to the latitude of Ranna without
So soon as I changed my course I had the Coolin for company. Mountains
have always been a craze of mine, and the blackness and mystery of
those grim peaks went to my head. I forgot all about Fosse Manor and
the Cotswolds. I forgot, too, what had been my chief feeling since I
left Glasgow, a sense of the absurdity of my mission. It had all
seemed too far-fetched and whimsical. I was running apparently no
great personal risk, and I had always the unpleasing fear that
Blenkiron might have been too clever and that the whole thing might be
a mare's nest. But that dark mountain mass changed my outlook. I began
to have a queer instinct that that was the place, that something might
be concealed there, something pretty damnable. I remember I sat on a
top for half an hour raking the hills with my glasses. I made out ugly
precipices, and glens which lost themselves in primeval blackness.
When the sun caught them--for it was a gleamy day--it brought out no
colours, only degrees of shade. No mountains I had ever seen--not the
Drakensberg or the red kopjes of Damaraland or the cold, white peaks
around Erzerum--ever looked so unearthly and uncanny.
Oddly enough, too, the sight of them set me thinking about Ivery.
There seemed no link between a smooth, sedentary being, dwelling in
villas and lecture-rooms, and that shaggy tangle of precipices. But I
felt there was, for I had begun to realize the bigness of my opponent.
Blenkiron had said that he spun his web wide. That was intelligible
enough among the half-baked youth of Biggleswick, and the pacifist
societies, or even the toughs on the Clyde. I could fit him in all
right to that picture. But that he should be playing his game among
those mysterious black crags seemed to make him bigger and more
desperate, altogether a different kind of proposition. I didn't
exactly dislike the idea, for my objection to my past weeks had been
that I was out of my proper job, and this was more my line of country.
I always felt that I was a better bandit than a detective. But a sort
of awe mingled with my satisfaction. I began to feel about Ivery as I
had felt about the three devils of the Black Stone who had hunted me
before the war, and as I never felt about any other Hun. The men we
fought at the Front and the men I had run across in the Greenmantle
business, even old Stumm himself, had been human miscreants. They were
formidable enough, but you could gauge and calculate their capacities.
But this Ivery was like a poison gas that hung in the air and got into
unexpected crannies and that you couldn't fight in an upstanding way.
Till then, in spite of Blenkiron's solemnity, I had regarded him
simply as a problem. But now he seemed an intimate and omnipresent
enemy, intangible, too, as the horror of a haunted house. Up on that
sunny hillside, with the sea winds round me and the whaups calling, I
got a chill in my spine when I thought of him.
I am ashamed to confess it, but I was also horribly hungry. There was
something about the war that made me ravenous, and the less chance of
food the worse I felt. If I had been in London with twenty restaurants
open to me, I should as likely as not have gone off my feed. That was
the cussedness of my stomach. I had still a little chocolate left, and
I ate the fisherman's buttered scones for luncheon, but long before
the evening my thoughts were dwelling on my empty interior.
I put up that night in a shepherd's cottage miles from anywhere. The
man was called Macmorran, and he had come from Galloway when sheep
were booming. He was a very good imitation of a savage, a little
fellow with red hair and red eyes, who might have been a Pict. He
lived with a daughter who had once been in service in Glasgow, a fat
young woman with a face entirely covered with freckles and a pout of
habitual discontent. No wonder, for that cottage was a pretty mean
place. It was so thick with peat-reek that throat and eyes were always
smarting. It was badly built, and must have leaked like a sieve in a
storm. The father was a surly fellow, whose conversation was one long
growl at the world, the high prices, the difficulty of moving his
sheep, the meanness of his master, and the godforsaken character of
Skye. 'Here's me no seen baker's bread for a month, and no company but
a wheen ignorant Hielanders that yatter Gawlic. I wish I was back in
the Glenkens. And I'd gang the morn if I could get paid what I'm
However, he gave me supper--a braxy ham and oatcake, and I bought the
remnants off him for use next day. I did not trust his blankets, so I
slept the night by the fire in the ruins of an arm-chair, and woke at
dawn with a foul taste in my mouth. A dip in the burn refreshed me,
and after a bowl of porridge I took the road again. For I was anxious
to get to some hill-top that looked over to Ranna.
Before midday I was close under the eastern side of the Coolin, on a
road which was more a rockery than a path. Presently I saw a big house
ahead of me that looked like an inn, so I gave it a miss and struck
the highway that led to it a little farther north. Then I bore off to
the east, and was just beginning to climb a hill which I judged stood
between me and the sea, when I heard wheels on the road and looked
It was a farmer's gig carrying one man. I was about half a mile off,
and something in the cut of his jib seemed familiar. I got my glasses
on him and made out a short, stout figure clad in a mackintosh, with a
woollen comforter round its throat. As I watched, it made a movement
as if to rub its nose on its sleeve. That was the pet trick of one man
I knew. Inconspicuously I slipped through the long heather so as to
reach the road ahead of the gig. When I rose like a wraith from the
wayside the horse started, but not the driver.
'So ye're there,' said Amos's voice. 'I've news for ye. The
_Tobermory_ will be in Ranna by now. She passed Broadford two hours
syne. When I saw her I yoked this beast and came up on the chance of
foregathering with ye.'
'How on earth did you know I would be here?' I asked in some surprise.
'Oh, I saw the way your mind was workin' from your telegram. And says
I to mysel'--that man Brand, says I, is not the chiel to be easy
stoppit. But I was feared ye might be a day late, so I came up the
road to hold the fort. Man, I'm glad to see ye. Ye're younger and
soopler than me, and yon Gresson's a stirrin' lad.'
'There's one thing you've got to do for me,' I said. 'I can't go into
inns and shops, but I can't do without food. I see from the map
there's a town about six miles on. Go there and buy me anything that's
tinned--biscuits and tongue and sardines, and a couple of bottles of
whisky if you can get them. This may be a long job, so buy plenty.'
'Whaur'll I put them?' was his only question.
We fixed on a cache, a hundred yards from the highway in a place where
two ridges of hill enclosed the view so that only a short bit of road
'I'll get back to the Kyle,' he told me, 'and a'body there kens Andra
Amos, if ye should find a way of sendin' a message or comin' yourself.
Oh, and I've got a word to ye from a lady that we ken of. She says,
the sooner ye're back in Vawnity Fair the better she'll be pleased,
always provided ye've got over the Hill Difficulty.'
A smile screwed up his old face and he waved his whip in farewell. I
interpreted Mary's message as an incitement to speed, but I could not
make the pace. That was Gresson's business. I think I was a little
nettled, till I cheered myself by another interpretation. She might be
anxious for my safety, she might want to see me again, anyhow the mere
sending of the message showed I was not forgotten. I was in a pleasant
muse as I breasted the hill, keeping discreetly in the cover of the
many gullies. At the top I looked down on Ranna and the sea.
There lay the _Tobermory_ busy unloading. It would be some time, no
doubt, before Gresson could leave. There was no row-boat in the
channel yet, and I might have to wait hours. I settled myself snugly
between two rocks, where I could not be seen, and where I had a clear
view of the sea and shore. But presently I found that I wanted some
long heather to make a couch, and I emerged to get some. I had not
raised my head for a second when I flopped down again. For I had a
neighbour on the hill-top.
He was about two hundred yards off, just reaching the crest, and,
unlike me, walking quite openly. His eyes were on Ranna, so he did not
notice me, but from my cover I scanned every line of him. He looked an
ordinary countryman, wearing badly cut, baggy knickerbockers of the
kind that gillies affect. He had a face like a Portuguese Jew, but I
had seen that type before among people with Highland names; they might
be Jews or not, but they could speak Gaelic. Presently he disappeared.
He had followed my example and selected a hiding-place.
It was a clear, hot day, but very pleasant in that airy place. Good
scents came up from the sea, the heather was warm and fragrant, bees
droned about, and stray seagulls swept the ridge with their wings. I
took a look now and then towards my neighbour, but he was deep in his
hidey-hole. Most of the time I kept my glasses on Ranna, and watched
the doings of the _Tobermory_. She was tied up at the jetty, but
seemed in no hurry to unload. I watched the captain disembark and walk
up to a house on the hillside. Then some idlers sauntered down towards
her and stood talking and smoking close to her side. The captain
returned and left again. A man with papers in his hand appeared, and a
woman with what looked like a telegram. The mate went ashore in his
best clothes. Then at last, after midday, Gresson appeared. He joined
the captain at the piermaster's office, and presently emerged on the
other side of the jetty where some small boats were beached. A man
from the _Tobermory_ came in answer to his call, a boat was launched,
and began to make its way into the channel. Gresson sat in the stern,
placidly eating his luncheon.
I watched every detail of that crossing with some satisfaction that my
forecast was turning out right. About half-way across, Gresson took
the oars, but soon surrendered them to the _Tobermory_ man, and lit a
pipe. He got out a pair of binoculars and raked my hillside. I tried
to see if my neighbour was making any signal, but all was quiet.
Presently the boat was hid from me by the bulge of the hill, and I
caught the sound of her scraping on the beach.
Gresson was not a hill-walker like my neighbour. It took him the best
part of an hour to get to the top, and he reached it at a point not
two yards from my hiding-place. I could hear by his labouring breath
that he was very blown. He walked straight over the crest till he was
out of sight of Ranna, and flung himself on the ground. He was now
about fifty yards from me, and I made shift to lessen the distance.
There was a grassy trench skirting the north side of the hill, deep
and thickly overgrown with heather. I wound my way along it till I was
about twelve yards from him, where I stuck, owing to the trench dying
away. When I peered out of the cover I saw that the other man had
joined him and that the idiots were engaged in embracing each other.
I dared not move an inch nearer, and as they talked in a low voice I
could hear nothing of what they said. Nothing except one phrase, which
the strange man repeated twice, very emphatically. 'Tomorrow night,'
he said, and I noticed that his voice had not the Highland inflection
which I looked for. Gresson nodded and glanced at his watch, and then
the two began to move downhill towards the road I had travelled that
I followed as best I could, using a shallow dry watercourse of which
sheep had made a track, and which kept me well below the level of the
moor. It took me down the hill, but some distance from the line the
pair were taking, and I had to reconnoitre frequently to watch their
movements. They were still a quarter of a mile or so from the road,
when they stopped and stared, and I stared with them. On that lonely
highway travellers were about as rare as roadmenders, and what caught
their eye was a farmer's gig driven by a thick-set elderly man with a
woollen comforter round his neck.
I had a bad moment, for I reckoned that if Gresson recognized Amos he
might take fright. Perhaps the driver of the gig thought the same, for
he appeared to be very drunk. He waved his whip, he jiggoted the
reins, and he made an effort to sing. He looked towards the figures on
the hillside, and cried out something. The gig narrowly missed the
ditch, and then to my relief the horse bolted. Swaying like a ship in
a gale, the whole outfit lurched out of sight round the corner of hill
where lay my cache. If Amos could stop the beast and deliver the goods
there, he had put up a masterly bit of buffoonery.
The two men laughed at the performance, and then they parted. Gresson
retraced his steps up the hill. The other man--I called him in my mind
the Portuguese Jew--started off at a great pace due west, across the
road, and over a big patch of bog towards the northern butt of the
Coolin. He had some errand, which Gresson knew about, and he was in a
hurry to perform it. It was clearly my job to get after him.
I had a rotten afternoon. The fellow covered the moorland miles like a
deer, and under the hot August sun I toiled on his trail. I had to
keep well behind, and as much as possible in cover, in case he looked
back; and that meant that when he had passed over a ridge I had to
double not to let him get too far ahead, and when we were in an open
place I had to make wide circuits to keep hidden. We struck a road
which crossed a low pass and skirted the flank of the mountains, and
this we followed till we were on the western side and within sight of
the sea. It was gorgeous weather, and out on the blue water I saw cool
sails moving and little breezes ruffling the calm, while I was glowing
like a furnace. Happily I was in fair training, and I needed it. The
Portuguese Jew must have done a steady six miles an hour over
About five o'clock we came to a point where I dared not follow. The
road ran flat by the edge of the sea, so that several miles of it were
visible. Moreover, the man had begun to look round every few minutes.
He was getting near something and wanted to be sure that no one was in
his neighbourhood. I left the road accordingly, and took to the
hillside, which to my undoing was one long cascade of screes and
tumbled rocks. I saw him drop over a rise which seemed to mark the rim
of a little bay into which descended one of the big corries of the
mountains. It must have been a good half-hour later before I, at my
greater altitude and with far worse going, reached the same rim. I
looked into the glen and my man had disappeared.
He could not have crossed it, for the place was wider than I had
thought. A ring of black precipices came down to within half a mile of
the shore, and between them was a big stream--long, shallow pools at
the sea end and a chain of waterfalls above. He had gone to earth like
a badger somewhere, and I dared not move in case he might be watching
me from behind a boulder.
But even as I hesitated he appeared again, fording the stream, his
face set on the road we had come. Whatever his errand was he had
finished it, and was posting back to his master. For a moment I
thought I should follow him, but another instinct prevailed. He had
not come to this wild place for the scenery. Somewhere down in the
glen there was something or somebody that held the key of the mystery.
It was my business to stay there till I had unlocked it. Besides, in
two hours it would be dark, and I had had enough walking for one day.
I made my way to the stream side and had a long drink. The corrie
behind me was lit up with the westering sun, and the bald cliffs were
flushed with pink and gold. On each side of the stream was turf like a
lawn, perhaps a hundred yards wide, and then a tangle of long heather
and boulders right up to the edge of the great rocks. I had never seen
a more delectable evening, but I could not enjoy its peace because of
my anxiety about the Portuguese Jew. He had not been there more than
half an hour, just about long enough for a man to travel to the first
ridge across the burn and back. Yet he had found time to do his
business. He might have left a letter in some prearranged place--in
which case I would stay there till the man it was meant for turned up.
Or he might have met someone, though I didn't think that possible. As
I scanned the acres of rough moor and then looked at the sea lapping
delicately on the grey sand I had the feeling that a knotty problem
was before me. It was too dark to try to track his steps. That must be
left for the morning, and I prayed that there would be no rain in the
I ate for supper most of the braxy ham and oatcake I had brought from
Macmorran's cottage. It took some self-denial, for I was ferociously
hungry, to save a little for breakfast next morning. Then I pulled
heather and bracken and made myself a bed in the shelter of a rock
which stood on a knoll above the stream. My bed-chamber was well
hidden, but at the same time, if anything should appear in the early
dawn, it gave me a prospect. With my waterproof I was perfectly warm,
and, after smoking two pipes, I fell asleep.
My night's rest was broken. First it was a fox which came and barked
at my ear and woke me to a pitch-black night, with scarcely a star
showing. The next time it was nothing but a wandering hill-wind, but
as I sat up and listened I thought I saw a spark of light near the
edge of the sea. It was only for a second, but it disquieted me. I got
out and climbed on the top of the rock, but all was still save for the
gentle lap of the tide and the croak of some night bird among the
crags. The third time I was suddenly quite wide awake, and without any
reason, for I had not been dreaming. Now I have slept hundreds of
times alone beside my horse on the veld, and I never knew any cause
for such awakenings but the one, and that was the presence near me of
some human being. A man who is accustomed to solitude gets this extra
sense which announces like an alarm-clock the approach of one of his
But I could hear nothing. There was a scraping and rustling on the
moor, but that was only the wind and the little wild things of the
hills. A fox, perhaps, or a blue hare. I convinced my reason, but not
my senses, and for long I lay awake with my ears at full cock and
every nerve tense. Then I fell asleep, and woke to the first flush of
The sun was behind the Coolin and the hills were black as ink, but far
out in the western seas was a broad band of gold. I got up and went
down to the shore. The mouth of the stream was shallow, but as I moved
south I came to a place where two small capes enclosed an inlet. It
must have been a fault in the volcanic rock, for its depth was
portentous. I stripped and dived far into its cold abysses, but I did
not reach the bottom. I came to the surface rather breathless, and
struck out to sea, where I floated on my back and looked at the great
rampart of crag. I saw that the place where I had spent the night was
only a little oasis of green at the base of one of the grimmest
corries the imagination could picture. It was as desert as Damaraland.
I noticed, too, how sharply the cliffs rose from the level. There were
chimneys and gullies by which a man might have made his way to the
summit, but no one of them could have been scaled except by a
I was feeling better now, with all the frowsiness washed out of me,
and I dried myself by racing up and down the heather. Then I noticed
something. There were marks of human feet at the top of the deep-water
inlet--not mine, for they were on the other side. The short sea-turf
was bruised and trampled in several places, and there were broken
stems of bracken. I thought that some fisherman had probably landed
there to stretch his legs.
But that set me thinking of the Portuguese Jew. After breakfasting on
my last morsels of food--a knuckle of braxy and a bit of oatcake--I
set about tracking him from the place where he had first entered the
glen. To get my bearings, I went back over the road I had come myself,
and after a good deal of trouble I found his spoor. It was pretty
clear as far as the stream, for he had been walking--or rather
running--over ground with many patches of gravel on it. After that it
was difficult, and I lost it entirely in the rough heather below the
crags. All that I could make out for certain was that he had crossed
the stream, and that his business, whatever it was, had been with the
few acres of tumbled wilderness below the precipices.
I spent a busy morning there, but found nothing except the skeleton of
a sheep picked clean by the ravens. It was a thankless job, and I got
very cross over it. I had an ugly feeling that I was on a false scent
and wasting my time. I wished to Heaven I had old Peter with me. He
could follow spoor like a Bushman, and would have riddled the
Portuguese Jew's track out of any jungle on earth. That was a game I
had never learned, for in the old days I had always left it to my
natives. I chucked the attempt, and lay disconsolately on a warm patch
of grass and smoked and thought about Peter. But my chief reflections
were that I had breakfasted at five, that it was now eleven, that I
was intolerably hungry, that there was nothing here to feed a
grasshopper, and that I should starve unless I got supplies.
It was a long road to my cache, but there were no two ways of it. My
only hope was to sit tight in the glen, and it might involve a wait of
days. To wait I must have food, and, though it meant relinquishing
guard for a matter of six hours, the risk had to be taken. I set off
at a brisk pace with a very depressed mind.
From the map it seemed that a short cut lay over a pass in the range.
I resolved to take it, and that short cut, like most of its kind, was
unblessed by Heaven. I will not dwell upon the discomforts of the
journey. I found myself slithering among screes, climbing steep
chimneys, and travelling precariously along razor-backs. The shoes
were nearly rent from my feet by the infernal rocks,which were all
pitted as if by some geological small-pox. When at last I crossed the
divide, I had a horrible business getting down from one level to
another in a gruesome corrie, where each step was composed of smooth
boiler-plates. But at last I was among the bogs on the east side, and
came to the place beside the road where I had fixed my cache.
The faithful Amos had not failed me. There were the provisions--a
couple of small loaves, a dozen tins, and a bottle of whisky. I made
the best pack I could of them in my waterproof, swung it on my stick,
and started back, thinking that I must be very like the picture of
Christian on the title-page of _Pilgrim's Progress_.
I was liker Christian before I reached my destination--Christian after
he had got up the Hill Difficulty. The morning's walk had been bad,
but the afternoon's was worse, for I was in a fever to get back, and,
having had enough of the hills, chose the longer route I had followed
the previous day. I was mortally afraid of being seen, for I cut a
queer figure, so I avoided every stretch of road where I had not a
clear view ahead. Many weary detours I made among moss-hags and screes
and the stony channels of burns. But I got there at last, and it was
almost with a sense of comfort that I flung my pack down beside the
stream where I had passed the night.
I ate a good meal, lit my pipe, and fell into the equable mood which
follows upon fatigue ended and hunger satisfied. The sun was
westering, and its light fell upon the rock-wall above the place where
I had abandoned my search for the spoor.
As I gazed at it idly I saw a curious thing.
It seemed to be split in two and a shaft of sunlight came through
between. There could be no doubt about it. I saw the end of the shaft
on the moor beneath, while all the rest lay in shadow. I rubbed my
eyes, and got out my glasses. Then I guessed the explanation. There
was a rock tower close against the face of the main precipice and
indistinguishable from it to anyone looking direct at the face. Only
when the sun fell on it obliquely could it be discovered. And between
the tower and the cliff there must be a substantial hollow.
The discovery brought me to my feet, and set me running towards the
end of the shaft of sunlight. I left the heather, scrambled up some
yards of screes, and had a difficult time on some very smooth slabs,
where only the friction of tweed and rough rock gave me a hold. Slowly
I worked my way towards the speck of sunlight, till I found a
handhold, and swung myself into the crack. On one side was the main
wall of the hill, on the other a tower some ninety feet high, and
between them a long crevice varying in width from three to six feet.
Beyond it there showed a small bright patch of sea.
There was more, for at the point where I entered it there was an
overhang which made a fine cavern, low at the entrance but a dozen
feet high inside, and as dry as tinder. Here, thought I, is the
perfect hiding-place. Before going farther I resolved to return for
food. It was not very easy descending, and I slipped the last twenty
feet, landing on my head in a soft patch of screes. At the burnside I
filled my flask from the whisky bottle, and put half a loaf, a tin of
sardines, a tin of tongue, and a packet of chocolate in my waterproof
pockets. Laden as I was, it took me some time to get up again, but I
managed it, and stored my belongings in a corner of the cave. Then I
set out to explore the rest of the crack.
It slanted down and then rose again to a small platform. After that it
dropped in easy steps to the moor beyond the tower. If the Portuguese
Jew had come here, that was the way by which he had reached it, for he
would not have had the time to make my ascent. I went very cautiously,
for I felt I was on the eve of a big discovery. The platform was
partly hidden from my end by a bend in the crack, and it was more or
less screened by an outlying bastion of the tower from the other side.
Its surface was covered with fine powdery dust, as were the steps
beyond it. In some excitement I knelt down and examined it.
Beyond doubt there was spoor here. I knew the Portuguese Jew's
footmarks by this time, and I made them out clearly, especially in one
corner. But there were other footsteps, quite different. The one
showed the rackets of rough country boots, the others were from
un-nailed soles. Again I longed for Peter to make certain, though I
was pretty sure of my conclusions. The man I had followed had come
here, and he had not stayed long. Someone else had been here, probably
later, for the un-nailed shoes overlaid the rackets. The first man
might have left a message for the second. Perhaps the second was that
human presence of which I had been dimly conscious in the night-time.
I carefully removed all traces of my own footmarks, and went back to
my cave. My head was humming with my discovery. I remembered Gresson's
word to his friend: 'Tomorrow night.' As I read it, the Portuguese Jew
had taken a message from Gresson to someone, and that someone had come
from somewhere and picked it up. The message contained an assignation
for this very night. I had found a point of observation, for no one
was likely to come near my cave, which was reached from the moor by
such a toilsome climb. There I should bivouac and see what the
darkness brought forth. I remember reflecting on the amazing luck
which had so far attended me. As I looked from my refuge at the blue
haze of twilight creeping over the waters, I felt my pulses quicken
with a wild anticipation.
Then I heard a sound below me, and craned my neck round the edge of
the tower. A man was climbing up the rock by the way I had come.
I Hear of the Wild Birds
I saw an old green felt hat, and below it lean tweed-clad shoulders.
Then I saw a knapsack with a stick slung through it, as the owner
wriggled his way on to a shelf. Presently he turned his face upward to
judge the remaining distance. It was the face of a young man, a face
sallow and angular, but now a little flushed with the day's sun and
the work of climbing. It was a face that I had first seen at Fosse
I felt suddenly sick and heartsore. I don't know why, but I had never
really associated the intellectuals of Biggleswick with a business
like this. None of them but Ivery, and he was different. They had been
silly and priggish, but no more--I would have taken my oath on it. Yet
here was one of them engaged in black treason against his native land.
Something began to beat in my temples when I remembered that Mary and
this man had been friends, that he had held her hand, and called her
by her Christian name. My first impulse was to wait till he got up and
then pitch him down among the boulders and let his German accomplices
puzzle over his broken neck.
With difficulty I kept down that tide of fury. I had my duty to do,
and to keep on terms with this man was part of it. I had to convince
him that I was an accomplice, and that might not be easy. I leaned
over the edge, and, as he got to his feet on the ledge above the
boiler-plates, I whistled so that he turned his face to me.
'Hullo, Wake,'I said.
He started, stared for a second, and recognized me. He did not seem
over-pleased to see me.
'Brand!' he cried. 'How did you get here?'
He swung himself up beside me, straightened his back and unbuckled his
knapsack. 'I thought this was my own private sanctuary, and that
nobody knew it but me. Have you spotted the cave? It's the best
bedroom in Skye.' His tone was, as usual, rather acid.
That little hammer was beating in my head. I longed to get my hands on
his throat and choke the smug treason in him. But I kept my mind fixed
on one purpose--to persuade him that I shared his secret and was on
his side. His off-hand self-possession seemed only the clever screen
of the surprised conspirator who was hunting for a plan.
We entered the cave, and he flung his pack into a corner. 'Last time I
was here,' he said, 'I covered the floor with heather. We must get
some more if we would sleep soft.' In the twilight he was a dim
figure, but he seemed a new man from the one I had last seen in the
Moot Hall at Biggleswick. There was a wiry vigour in his body and a
purpose in his face. What a fool I had been to set him down as no more
than a conceited fidneur!
He went out to the shelf again and sniffed the fresh evening. There
was a wonderful red sky in the west, but in the crevice the shades had
fallen, and only the bright patches at either end told of the sunset.
'Wake,' I said, 'you and I have to understand each other. I'm a friend
of Ivery and I know the meaning of this place. I discovered it by
accident, but I want you to know that I'm heart and soul with you. You
may trust me in tonight's job as if I were Ivery himself.'
He swung round and looked at me sharply. His eyes were hot again, as I
remembered them at our first meeting.
'What do you mean? How much do you know?'
The hammer was going hard in my forehead, and I had to pull myself
together to answer.
'I know that at the end of this crack a message was left last night,
and that someone came out of the sea and picked it up. That someone is
coming again when darkness falls, and there will be another message.'
He had turned his head away. 'You are talking nonsense. No submarine
could land on this coast.'
I could see that he was trying me.
'This morning,' I said, 'I swam in the deep-water inlet below us. It
is the most perfect submarine shelter in Britain.'
He still kept his face from me, looking the way he had come. For a
moment he was silent, and then he spoke in the bitter, drawling voice
which had annoyed me at Fosse Manor.
'How do you reconcile this business with your principles, Mr Brand?
You were always a patriot, I remember, though you didn't see eye to
eye with the Government.'
It was not quite what I expected and I was unready. I stammered in my
reply. 'It's because I am a patriot that I want peace. I think that
. . . I mean . . .'
'Therefore you are willing to help the enemy to win?'
'They have already won. I want that recognized and the end hurried
on.' I was getting my mind clearer and continued fluently.
'The longer the war lasts, the worse this country is ruined. We must
make the people realize the truth, and--'
But he swung round suddenly, his eyes blazing.
'You blackguard!' he cried, 'you damnable blackguard!' And he flung
himself on me like a wild-cat.
I had got my answer. He did not believe me, he knew me for a spy, and
he was determined to do me in. We were beyond finesse now, and back at
the old barbaric game. It was his life or mine. The hammer beat
furiously in my head as we closed, and a fierce satisfaction rose in
He never had a chance, for though he was in good trim and had the
light, wiry figure of the mountaineer, he hadn't a quarter of my
muscular strength. Besides, he was wrongly placed, for he had the