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Title:      John Macnab
Author:     John Buchan (1875-1940)
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Language:   English
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Date first posted:          March 2003
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A Project Gutenberg of Australia eBook

Title:      John Macnab
Author:     John Buchan





CHAPTER 1

IN WHICH THREE GENTLEMEN CONFESS THEIR ENNUI


The great doctor stood on the hearth-rug looking down at his friend
who sprawled before him in an easy-chair.  It was a hot day
in early July, and the windows were closed and the blinds half-down
to keep out the glare and the dust.  The standing figure had bent
shoulders, a massive clean-shaven face, and a keen interrogatory air,
and might have passed his sixtieth birthday.  He looked like a
distinguished lawyer, who would soon leave his practice for the Bench.
But it was the man in the chair who was the lawyer, a man who had left
forty behind him, but was still on the pleasant side of fifty.

"I tell you for the tenth time that there's nothing the matter with you."

"And I tell you for the tenth time that I'm miserably ill."

The doctor shrugged his shoulders.  "Then it's a mind diseased,
to which I don't propose to minister.  What do you say is wrong?"

"Simply what my housekeeper calls a 'no-how' feeling."

"It's clearly nothing physical.  Your heart and lungs are sound.
Your digestion's as good as anybody's can be in London in Midsummer.
Your nerves--well, I've tried all the stock tests, and they appear
to be normal."

"Oh, my nerves are all right," said the other wearily.

"Your brain seems good enough, except for this dismal obsession
that you are ill.  I can find no earthly thing wrong, except that
you're stale.  I don't say run-down, for that you're not.
You're stale in mind.  You want a holiday."

"I don't.  I may need one, but I don't want it.  That's precisely
the trouble.  I used to be a glutton for holidays, and spent my leisure
moments during term planning what I was going to do.  Now there seems
to be nothing in the world I want to do--neither work nor play."

"Try fishing.  You used to be keen."

"I've killed all the salmon I mean to kill.  I never want to look
the ugly brutes in the face again."

"Shooting?"

"Too easy and too dull."

"A yacht."

"Stop it, old fellow.  Your catalogue of undesired delights only
makes it worse.  I tell you that there's nothing at this moment
which has the slightest charm for me.  I'm bored with my work,
and I can't think of anything else of any kind for which I would
cross the street.  I don't even want to go into the country and sleep.
It's been coming on for a long time--I did not feel it so badly,
for I was in a service and not my own master.  Now I've nothing to do
except to earn an enormous income, which I haven't any need for.
Work comes rolling in--I've got retainers for nearly every solvent
concern in this land--and all that happens is that I want to strangle
my clerk and a few eminent solicitors.  I don't care a tinker's curse
for success, and what is worse, I'm just as apathetic about the modest
pleasures which used to enliven my life."

"You may be more tired than you think."

"I'm not tired at all."  The speaker rose from his chair yawning,
and walked to the windows to stare into the airless street.
He did not look tired, for his movements were vigorous, and,
though his face had the slight pallor of his profession, his eye
was clear and steady.  He turned round suddenly.

"I tell you what I've got,  It's what the Middle ages suffered
from--I read a book about it the other day--and its called
Taedium Vitae.  It's a special kind of ennui.  I can diagnose
my ailment well enough and Shakespeare has the words for it.
I've come to a pitch where I find 'nothing left remarkable
beneath the visiting moon.'"

Then why do you come to me, if the trouble is not with your body?"

"Because you're you.  I should come to you just the same if you were
a vet., or a bone-setter, or a Christian Scientist.  I want your advice,
not as a fashionable consultant, but as an old friend and a wise man.
It's a state of affairs that can't go on.  What am I to do to get rid
of this infernal disillusionment?  I can't go through the rest of
my life dragging my wing."

The doctor was smiling.

"If you ask my professional advice," he said, "I am bound to tell you
that medical science has no suggestion to offer.  If you consult me as
a friend, I advise you to steal a horse in some part of the world where
a horse-thief is usually hanged."

The other considered.  "Pretty drastic prescription for a man who
has been a Law Officer of the Crown."

"I speak figuratively.  You've got to rediscover the comforts of your
life by losing them for a little.  You have good food and all the rest
of it at your command--well, you've got to be in want for a bit to
appreciate them.  You're secure and respected and rather eminent--well,
somehow or other get under the weather.  If you could induce the
newspapers to accuse you of something shady and have the devil of a job
to clear yourself it might do the trick.  The fact is, you've grown
too competent.  You need to be made to struggle for your life again--your
life or your reputation.  You have to find out the tonic of difficulty,
and you can't find it in your profession.  Therefore I say
'Steal a horse.'"

A faint interest appeared in the other's eyes.

"That sounds to me good sense.  But, hang it all, it's
utterly unpractical.  I can't go looking for scrapes.
I should feel like play-acting if in cold blood I got myself
into difficulties, and I take it that the essence of your
prescription is that I must feel desperately in earnest."

"I'm not prescribing.  Heaven forbid that I should advise a friend
to look for trouble.  I'm merely stating how in the abstract I
regard your case."

The patient rose to go.  "Miserable comforters are ye all," he groaned.
"Well, it appears you can do nothing for me except to suggest the
advisability of crime.  I suppose it's no good trying to make you
take a fee?"

The doctor shook his head.  "I wasn't altogether chaffing.
Honestly, you would be the better of dropping for a month or two
into another world--a harder one.  A hand on a cattle-boat,
for instance."

Sir Edward Leithen sighed deeply as he turned from the doorstep
down the long hot street.  He did not look behind him, or he would have
seen another gentleman approach cautiously round the corner of a
side-street, and, when the coast was clear, ring the doctor's bell.
He was so completely fatigued with life that he neglected to be cautious
at crossings, as was his habit, and was all but slain by a motor-omnibus.
Everything seemed weary and over-familiar--the summer smell of town,
the din of traffic, the panorama of faces, pretty women shopping,
the occasional sight of a friend.  Long ago, he reflected with disgust,
there had been a time when he had enjoyed it all.

He found sanctuary at last in the shade and coolness of his club.
He remembered that he was dining out, and bade the porter telephone
that he could not come, giving no reason.  He remembered, too,
that there was a division in the House that night, an important division
advertised by a three-line whip.  He declined to go near the place.
At any rate, he would have the dim consolation of behaving badly.
His clerk was probably at the moment hunting feverishly for him,
for he had missed a consultation in the great Argentine bank case
which was in the paper next morning.  That could also slide.
He wanted, nay, he was determined, to make a mess of it.

Then he discovered that he was hungry, and that it was nearly the hour
when a man may dine. "I've only one positive feeling left," he told
himself, "the satisfaction of my brute needs.  Nice position for a
gentleman and a Christian!"

There was one other man in the dining-room, sitting at the little table
in the window.  At first sight he had the look of an undergraduate,
a Rugby Blue, perhaps, who had just come down from the University,
for he had the broad, slightly stooped shoulders of the football-player.
He had a ruddy face, untidy sandy hair, and large reflective grey eyes.
It was those eyes which declared his age, for round them were the many
fine wrinkles which come only from the passage of time.

"Hullo, John," said Leithen.  "May I sit at your table?"

The other, whose name was Palliser-Yeates, nodded.

"You may certainly eat in my company, but I've got nothing to say
to you, Ned.  I'm feeling as dried-up as a dead starfish."

They ate their meal in silence, and so preoccupied was Sir Edward Leithen
with his own affairs that it did not seem to him strange that
Mr Palliser-Yeates, who was commonly a person of robust spirits
and plentiful conversation, should have the air of a deaf-mute.
When they had reached the fish, two other diners took their seats
and waved them a greeting.  One of them was a youth with lean,
high-coloured cheeks, who limped slightly; the other a tallish older
man with a long dark face, a small dark moustache, and a neat
pointed chin which gave him something of the air of a hidalgo.
He looked weary and glum, but his companion seemed to be in the best of
tempers, for his laugh rang out in that empty place with a startling
boyishness.  Mr Palliser-Yeates looked up angrily, with a shiver.

"Noisy brute, Archie Roylance!" he observed.  "I suppose he's above
himself since Ascot.  His horse won some beastly race, didn't it?
It's a good thing to be young and an ass."

There was that in his tone which roused Leithen from his apathy.
He cast a sharp glance at the other's face.

"You're off-colour."

"No," said the other brusquely.  "I'm perfectly fit.  Only I'm
getting old."

This was food for wonder, inasmuch as Mr Palliser-Yeates had a
reputation for a more than youthful energy and, although forty-five
years of age, was still accustomed to do startling things on the
Chamonix Aiguilles.  He was head of an eminent banking firm and
something of an authority on the aberrations of post-war finance.

A gleam of sympathy came into Leithen's eyes.

"How does it take you?" he asked.

"I've lost zest.  Everything seems more or less dust and ashes.
When you suddenly wake up and find that you've come to regard your
respectable colleagues as so many fidgety old women and the job
you've given your life to as an infernal squabble about trifles--why,
you begin to wonder what's going to happen."

"I suppose a holiday ought to happen."

"The last thing I want.  That's my complaint.  I have no desire
to do anything, work or play, and yet I'm not tired--only bored."

Leithen's sympathy had become interest.

"Have you seen a doctor?"

The other hesitated.  "Yes," he said at length.  "I saw old Acton Croke
this afternoon.  He was no earthly use.  He advised me to go to Moscow
and fix up a trade agreement.  He thought that might make me content
with my present lot."

"He told me to steal a horse."

Mr Palliser-Yeates stared in extreme surprise. "You! Do you feel
the same way?  Have you been to Croke?"

"Three hours ago.  I thought he talked good sense.  He said I must get
into a rougher life so as to appreciate the blessings of the life
that I'm fed up with.  Probably he is right, but you can't take
that sort of step in cold blood."

Mr. Palliser-Yeates assented.  The fact of having found an associate
in misfortune seemed to enliven slightly, very slightly, the spirits
of both.  From the adjoining table came, like an echo from a happier
world, the ringing voice and hearty laughter of youth.  Leithen jerked
his head towards them.

"I would give a good deal for Archie's gusto," he said.  "My sound right
leg, for example.  Or, if I couldn't I'd like Charles Lamancha's
insatiable ambition.  If you want as much as he wants, you don't
suffer from tedium."

Palliser-Yeates looked at the gentleman in question, the tall dark one
of the two diners.  "I'm not so sure.  Perhaps he had got too much
too easily.  He has come on uncommon quick, you know, and, if you
do that, there's apt to arrive a moment when you flag."

Lord Lamancha--the title had no connection with Don Quixote and Spain,
but was the name of a shieling in a Border glen which had been the home
six centuries ago of the ancient house of Merkland--was an object of
interest to many of his countrymen.  The Marquis of Liddesdale,
his father, was a hale old man who might reasonably be expected to live
for another ten years and so prevent his son's career being compromised
by a premature removal to the House of Lords.  He had a safe seat for
a London division, was a member of the Cabinet, and had a high
reputation for the matter-of-fact oratory which has replaced the
pre-war grandiloquence.  People trusted him, because, in spite of his
hidalgo-ish appearance, he was believed to have that combination
of candour and intelligence which England desires in her public men.
Also he was popular, for his record in the war and the rumour of a
youth spent in adventurous travel touched the imagination of the
ordinary citizen.  At the moment he was being talked of for a great
Imperial post which was soon to become vacant, and there was gossip,
in the alternative, of a Ministerial readjustment which would make him
the pivot of a controversial Government.  It was a remarkable position
for a man to have won in his early forties, who had entered public life
with every disadvantage of birth.

"I suppose he's happy," said Leithen.  "But I've always held that there
was a chance of Charles kicking over the traces.  I doubt if his
ambition is an organic part of him and not stuck on with pins.
There's a fundamental daftness in all Merklands.  I remember him
at school."

The two men finished their meal and retired to the smoking-room,
where they drank their coffee abstractedly.  Each was thinking
about the other, and wondering what light the other's case could
shed on his own.  The speculation gave each a faint glimmer of comfort.

Presently the voice of Sir Archibald Roylance was heard, and that
ebullient young man flung himself down on a sofa beside Leithen,
while Lord Lamancha selected a cigar.  Sir Archie settled his game leg
to his satisfaction, and filled an ancient pipe.

"Heavy weather," he announced.  "I've been tryin' to cheer up old
Charles and it's been like castin' a fly against a thirty-mile gale.
I can't make out what's come over him.  Here's a deservin' lad like me
struggling at the foot of the ladder and not cast down, and there's
Charles high up on the top rungs as glum as an owl and declarin' that
the whole thing's foolishness.  Shockin' spectacle for youth."

Lamancha, who had found an arm-chair beside Palliser-Yeates, looked at
the others and smiled wryly.

"Is that true, Charles?" Leithen asked.  "Are you also feeling hipped?
Because John and I have just been confessing to each other that we're
more fed up with everything in this gay world than we've ever been
before in our useful lives."

Lamancha nodded.  "I don't know what has come over me.  I couldn't face
the House to-night, so I telephoned to Archie to come and cheer me.
I suppose I'm stale, but it's a new kind of staleness, for I'm perfectly
fit in body, and I can't honestly say I feel weary in mind.
It's simply that the light has gone out of the landscape.  Nothing has
any savour."

The three men had been a school together, they had been contemporaries
at the University, and close friends ever since.  They had no secrets
from each other.  Leithen, into whose face and voice had come a remote
hint of interest, gave a sketch of his own mood, and the diagnosis
of the eminent consultant.  Archie Roylance stared blankly from one
to the other, as if some new thing had broken in upon his simple
philosophy of life.

"You fellows beat me," he cried.  "Here you are, every one of you
a swell of sorts, with every thing to make you cheerful, and you're
grousin' like a labour battalion!  You should be jolly well ashamed
of yourselves.  It's fairly temptin' Providence.  What you want is
some hard exercise.  Go and sweat ten hours a day on a steep hill,
and you'll get rid of these notions."

"My dear Archie," said Leithen. "your prescription is too crude.
I used to be fond enough of sport, but I wouldn't stir a foot to catch
a sixty-pound salmon or kill a fourteen pointer.  I don't want to.
I see no fun in it.  I'm Blase.  It's too easy."

"Well, I'm dashed!  You're the worst spoiled chap I ever heard of,
and a nice example to democracy."  Archie spoke as if his gods
had been blasphemed.

"Democracy, anyhow, is a good example to us.  I know now why workmen
strike sometimes and can't give any reason.  We're on strike--against
our privileges."

Archie was not listening. "Too easy, you say?" he repeated.  "I call that
pretty fair conceit.  I've seen you miss birds often enough, old fellow."

"Nevertheless, it seems to me too easy.  Everything has become too easy,
both work and play."

"You can screw up the difficulty, you know.  Try shootin' with a twenty
bore, or fishin' for salmon with a nine-foot rod and a dry-fly cast."

"I don't want to kill anything," said Palliser-Yeates.  "I don't see
the fun of it."

Archie was truly shocked.  Then a light of reminiscence came into his eye.
"You remind me of poor old Jim Tarras," he said thoughtfully.

There were no inquiries about Jim Tarras, so Archie volunteered
further news.

"You remember Jim? He had a little place somewhere in Moray, and spent
most of his time shootin' in East Africa.  Poor chap, he went back there
with Smuts in the war and perished of blackwater.  Well, when his father
died and he came home to settle down, he found it an uncommon dull job.
So, to enliven it, he invented a new kind of sport.  He knew all there
was to be known about Shikar, and from trampin' about the Highlands
he had a pretty accurate knowledge of the country-side.  So he used to
write to the owner of a deer forest and present his compliments, and beg
to inform him that between certain dates he proposed to kill one of
his stags.  When he had killed it he undertook to deliver it to the owner,
for he wasn't a thief."

"I call that poaching on the grand scale," observed Palliser-Yeates.

"Wasn't it? Most of the fellows he wrote to accepted his challenge and
told him to come and do his damnedest.  Little Avington, I remember,
turned on every man and boy about the place for three nights to watch
the forest.  Jim usually worked at night, you see.  One or two
curmudgeons talked of the police and prosecutin' him, but public
opinion was against them--too dashed unsportin'."

"Did he always get his stag?" Leithen asked.

"In-var-iably, and got it off the ground and delivered it to the owner,
for that was the rule of the game.  Sometimes he had a precious near
squeak, and Avington, who was going off his head at the time, tried
to pot him--shot a gillie in the leg too.  But Jim always won out.
I should think he was the best Shikari God ever made."

"Is that true, Archie?" Lamancha's voice had a magisterial tone.

"True--as--true.  I know all about it, far Wattie Lithgow, who was Jim's
man, is with me now.  He and his wife keep house for me at Crask.
Jim never took but the one man with him, and that was Wattie, and he
made him just about as cunning an old dodger as himself."

Leithen yawned.  "What sort of a place is Crask?" he inquired.

"Tiny little place.  No fishin' except some hill lochs and only
rough shootin'.  I take it for the birds.  Most marvellous nestin'
ground in Britain barrin' some of the Outer Islands.  I don't know why
it should be, but it is.  Something to do with the Gulf Stream, maybe.
Anyhow, I've got the greenshank breedin' regularly and the red-throated
diver, and half a dozen rare duck.  It's a marvellous stoppin' place in
spring too, for birds goin' north."

"Are you much there?"

"Generally in April, and always from the middle of August till the
middle of October.  You see, it's about the only place I know where
you can do exactly as you like.  The house is stuck away up on a long
slope of moor, and you see the road for a mile from the windows,
so you've plenty of time to take to the hills if anybody comes
to worry you.  I roost there with old Sime, my butler, and the two
Lithgows, and put up a pal now and then who likes the life.
It's the jolliest bit of the year for me."

"Have you any neighbours?"

"Heaps, but they don't trouble me much.  Crask's the earthenware pot
among the brazen vessels--mighty hard to get to and nothing to see
when you get there.  So the brazen vessels keep to themselves."

Lamancha went to a shelf of books above a writing-table and returned
with an atlas.  "Who are your brazen vessels?" he asked.

"Well, my brassiest is old Claybody at Haripol--that's four miles off
across the hill."

"Bit of a swine, isn't he?" said Leithen.

"Oh, no.  He's rather a good old bird himself.  Don't care so much for
his family.  Then there's Glenraden t'other side of the Larrig"--he
indicated a point on the map which Lamancha was studying--"with a real
old Highland grandee living in it--Alastair Raden--commanded the
Scots Guards, I believe, in the year One.  Family as old as the Flood
and very poor, but just manage to hang on.  He's the last Raden that
will live there, but that doesn't matter so much as he has no son--only
a brace of daughters.  Then, of course, there's the show place,
Strathlarrig--horrible great house as large as a factory, but wonderful
fine salmon-fishin'.  Some Americans have got it this year--Boston or
Philadelphia, I don't remember which--very rich and said to be rather
high-brow.  There's a son, I believe."

Lamancha closed the atlas.

"Do you know any of these people, Archie?" he asked.

"Only the Claybody's--very slightly.  I stayed with them in Suffolk
for a covert shoot two years ago.  The Radens have been to call on me,
but I was out.  The Bandicotts--that's the Americans--are new this year.

"Is the sport good?"

"The very best.  Haripol is about the steepest and most sportin' forest
in the Highlands, and Glenraden is nearly as good.  There's no forest
at Strathlarrig, but, as I've told you, amazin' good salmon fishin'.
For a west coast river, I should put the Larrig only second to
the Laxford."

Lamancha consulted the atlas again and appeared to ponder.  Then he
lifted his head, and his long face, which had a certain heaviness
and sullenness in repose, was now lit by a smile which made it
handsomer and younger.

"Could you have me at Crask this autumn?" he asked.  "My wife has to go
to Aix for a cure and I have no plans after the House rises."

"I should jolly well think so," cried Archie.  "There's heaps of room
in the old house, and I promise you I'll make you comfortable.  Look here,
you fellows!  Why shouldn't all three of you come?  I can get in a couple
of extra maids from Inverlarrig."

"Excellent idea," said Lamancha.  "But you mustn't bother about the maids.
I'll bring my own man, and we'll have a male establishment, except for
Mrs. Lithgow....By the way, I suppose you can count on Mrs. Lithgow?"

"How do you mean, 'count'?" asked Archie, rather puzzled.  Then a
difficulty struck him.  "But wouldn't you be bored?  I can't show you
much in the way of sport, and you're not naturalists like me.
It's a quiet life, you know."

"I shouldn't be bored," said Lamancha, "I should take steps
to prevent it."

Leithen and Palliser-Yeates seemed to divine his intention,
for they simultaneously exclaimed.--"It isn't fair to excite Archie,
Charles," the latter said.  "You know that you'll never do it."

"I intend to have a try.  Hang it, John, it's the specific we were
talking about--devilish difficult, devilish unpleasant, and calculated
to make a man long for a dull life.  Of course you two fellows will
join me."

"What on earth are you talkin' about?" said the mystified Archie.
"Join what?"

"We're proposing to quarter ourselves on you, my lad, and take a leaf
out of Jim Tarras's book."

Sir Archie first stared, then he laughed nervously, then he called upon
his gods, then he laughed freely and long.  "Do you really mean it?
What an almighty rag!...But hold on a moment.  It will be rather awkward
for me to take a hand.  You see I've just been adopted as prospective
candidate for that part of the country."

"So much the better.  If you're found out--which you won't be--you'll
get the poaching vote solid, and a good deal more.  Most men at heart
are poachers."

Archie shook a doubting head.  "I don't know about that.  They're an
awfully respectable lot up there, and all those dashed stalkers and
keepers and gillies are a sort of trade-union.  The scallywags are a
hopeless minority.  If I get sent to quod--"

"You won't get sent to quod.  At the worst it will be a fine, and you
can pay that.  What's the extreme penalty for this kind of offence, Ned?"

"I don't know," Leithen answered.  "I'm not an authority on Scots law.
But Archie's perfectly right.  We can't go making a public exhibition
of ourselves like this.  We're too old to be listening to the chimes
at midnight."

"Now, look here."  Lamancha had shaken off his glumness and was as tense
and eager as a schoolboy.  "Didn't your doctor advise you to
steal a horse?  Well, this is a long sight easier than horse-stealing.
It's admitted that we three want a tonic.  On second thoughts Archie
had better stand out--he hasn't our ailment, and a healthy man doesn't
need medicine.  But we three need it, and this idea is an inspiration.
Of course we take risks, but they're sound sporting risks.  After all,
I've a reputation of a kind, and I put as much into the pool as anyone."

His hearers regarded him with stony faces, but this in no way checked
his ardour.

"It's a perfectly first-class chance.  A lonely house where you can see
visitors a mile off, and an unsociable dog like Archie for a host.
We write the letters and receive the answers at a London address.
We arrive at Crask by stealth, and stay there unbeknown to the country-
side, for Archie can count on his people and my man in a sepulchre.  Also
we've got Lithgow, who played the same game with Jim Tarras.  We have a job
which will want every bit of our nerve and ingenuity with a reasonable
spice of danger--for, of course, if we fail we should cut queer figures.
The thing is simply ordained by Heaven for our benefit.  Of course you'll
come."

"I'll do nothing of the kind," said Leithen.

"No more will I," said Palliser-Yeates.

"Then I'll go alone," said Lamancha cheerfully.  "I'm out for a cure, if
you're not.  You've a month to make up your mind, and meanwhile a share in
the syndicate remains open to you."

Sir Archie looked as if he wished he had never mentioned the fatal name of
Jim Tarras, "I say, you know, Charles," he began hesitatingly, but was cut
short.

"Are you going back on your invitation?" asked Lamancha sternly.  "Very
well, then, I've accepted it, and what's more I'm going to draft a specimen
letter that will go to your Highland grandee, and Claybody and the
American."

He rose with a bound and fetched a pencil and a sheet of notepaper from the
nearest writing-table.  "Here goes--Sir, I have the honour to inform you
that I propose to kill a stag--or a salmon as the case may be--on your
ground between midnight on---and midnight---.  We can leave the dates open
for the present.  The animal, of course, remains your property and will be
duly delivered to you.  It is a condition that it must be removed wholly
outside your bounds.  In he event of the undersigned failing to achieve his
purpose he will pay as forfeit one hundred pounds, and if successful fifty
pounds to any charity you may appoint.  I have the honour to be, your
obedient humble servant."

"What do you say to that?" he asked.  "Formal, a little official, but
perfectly civil, and the writer proposes to pay his way like a gentleman.
Bound to make a good impression."

"You've forgotten the signature," Leithen observed dryly.

"It must be signed with a nom de guerre."  He thought for a moment.  "I've
got it.  At once business-like and mysterious."

At the bottom of the draft he scrawled the name "John Macnab."



CHAPTER 2


DESPERATE CHARACTERS IN COUNCIL


Crask--which is properly Craoisg and is so spelled by the Ordnance
Survey--when the traveller approaches it from the Larrig Bridge
has the air of a West Highland terrier, couchant and regardant.
You are to picture a long tilt of moorland running east and west,
not a smooth lawn of heather, but seamed with gullies and patched
with bogs and thickets and crowned at the summit with a low line
of rocks above which may be seen peeping the spikes of the distant
Haripol hills.  About three-quarters of the way up the slope stands
the little house, whitewashed, slated, grey stone framing the narrow
windows, with that attractive jumble of masonry which belongs to an
adapted farm.  It is approached by a road which scorns detours and runs
straight from the glen highway, and it looks south over broken moorland
to the shining links of the Larrig, and beyond them to the tributary vale
of the Raden and the dark mountains of its source.  Such is the view
from the house itself, but from the garden behind there is an ampler
vista, since to the left a glimpse may be had of the policies of
Strathlarrig and even of a corner of that monstrous mansion, and to
the right of the tidal waters of the river and the yellow sands on which
in the stillest weather the Atlantic frets.  Crask is at once a sanctuary
and a watchtower; it commands a wide countryside and yet preserves its
secrecy, for, though officially approached by a road like a ruler,
there are a dozen sheltered ways of reaching it by the dips and crannies
of the hill-side.

So thought a man who about five o'clock on the afternoon of the 24th
of August was inconspicuously drawing towards it by way of a peat road
which ran from the east through a wood of birches.  Sir Edward Leithen's
air was not more cheerful than when we met him a month ago, except that
there was now a certain vigour in it which came from ill-temper.  He had
been for a long walk in the rain, and the scent of wet bracken and
birches and bog myrtle, the peaty fragrance of the hills salted with
the tang of the sea, had failed to comfort, though, not so long ago,
it had had the power to intoxicate.  Scrambling in the dell of a burn,
he had observed both varieties of the filmy fern and what he knew to be
a very rare cerast, and, though an ardent botanist, he had observed
them unmoved.  Soon the rain had passed, the west wind blew aside
the cloud-wrack, and the Haripol tops had come out black against a
turquoise sky, with Sgurr Dearg, awful and remote, towering above all.
Though a keen mountaineer, the spectacle had neither exhilarated nor
tantalised him.  He was in a bad temper, and he knew that at Crask he
should find three other men in the same case, for even the debonair
Sir Archie was in the dumps with a toothache.

He told himself that he had come on a fool's errand, and the extra
absurdity was that he could not quite see how he had been induced
to come.  He had consistently refused: so had Palliser-Yeates;
Archie as a prospective host had been halting and nervous; there was
even a time when Lamancha, the source of all the mischief, had seemed
to waver.  Nevertheless, some occult force--false shame probably--had
shepherded them all here, unwilling, unconvinced, cold-footed, destined
to a preposterous adventure for which not one of them had the slightest
zest....Yet they had taken immense pains to arrange the thing, just as if
they were all exulting in the prospect.  His own clerk was to attend
to the forwarding of their letters including any which might be
addressed to "John Macnab."

The newspapers had contained paragraphs announcing that the Countess
of Lamancha had gone to Aix for a month, where she would presently be
joined by her husband, who intended to spend a week drinking the waters
before proceeding to his grouse-moor of Leriot on the Borders.
The Times, three days ago, had recorded Sir Edward Leithen and Mr John
Palliser-Yeates as among those who had left Euston for Edinburgh,
and more than one social paragrapher had mentioned that the
ex-Attorney-General would be spending his holiday fishing on the Tay,
while the eminent banker was to the be the guest of the Chancellor of
the Exchequer at an informal vacation conference on the nation's
precarious finances.  Lamancha had been fetched under cover of night by
Archie from a station so remote that no one but a lunatic would think
of using it.  Palliser-Yeates had tramped for two days across the hills
from the south, and Leithen himself, having been instructed to bring
a Ford car, had had a miserable drive of a hundred and fifty miles in
the rain, during which he had repeatedly lost his way.  He had carried out
his injunctions as to secrecy by arriving at two in the morning by means
of this very peat road.  The troops had achieved their silent
concentration, and the silly business must now begin.  Leithen groaned,
and anathematised the memory of Jim Tarras.

As he approached the house he saw, to his amazement, a large closed car
making its way down the slope.  Putting his glass on it, he watched it
reach the glen road and then turn east, passing the gates of Strathlarrig,
till he lost it behind a shoulder of hill.  Hurrying across the
stable-yard, he entered the house by the back-door, disturbing Lithgow
the Keeper in the midst of a whispered confabulation with Lamancha's man,
whose name was Shapp.  Passing through the gun-room he found, in the big
smoking-room which looked over the valley, Lamancha and Palliser-Yeates
with the crouch of conspirators flattening their noses on the windowpane.

The sight of him diverted the attention of the two from the landscape.

"This is an infernal plant," Palliser-Yeates exclaimed.  "Archie swore
to us that no one ever came here, and the second day a confounded great
car arrives.  Charles and I had just time to nip in here and lock
the door, while Archie parleyed with them.  He's been uncommon quick
about it.  The brutes didn't stay for more than five minutes."

"Who were they?" Leithen asked.

"Only got a side glance at them.  They seemed to be a stout woman and a
girl--oh, and a yelping little dog.  I expect Archie kicked him, for he
was giving tongue from the drawing-room."

The door opened to admit their host, who bore in one hand a large
whisky-and-soda.  He dropped wearily into a chair, where he sipped
the beverage.  An observer might have noted that what could be seen
of his wholesome face was much inflamed, and that a bandage round chin
and cheeks which ended in a top-knot above his scalp gave him the
appearance of Ricquet with the Tuft in the Fairytale.

"That's all right," he said, in the tone of a man who has done a good
piece of work.  "I've choked off visitors at Crask for a bit, for the
old lady will put it all round the country-side."

"Put what?" said Leithen, and "Who is the old lady?" asked Lamancha,
and "Did you kick the dog?" demanded Palliser-Yeates.

Archie looked drearily at his friends.  "It was Lady Claybody and a
daughter--I think the second one--and their horrid little dog.
They won't come back in a hurry--nobody will come back--I'm marked down
as a pariah.  Hang it, I may as well chuck my candidature.
I've scuppered my prospects for the sake of you three asses."

"What has the blessed martyr been and done?" asked Palliser-Yeates.

"I've put a barrage round this place, that's all.  I was very civil to
the Claybodys, though I felt a pretty fair guy with my head in a sling.
I bustled about, talking nonsense and offerin' tea, and then, as luck
would have it, I trod on the hound.  That's the worst of my game leg.
The brute nearly had me over, and it started howlin'--you must have
heard it.  That dog's a bit weak in the head, for it can't help barkin'
just out of pure cussedness--Lady Claybody says it's high-strung because
of its fine breedin'.  It got something to bark for this time, and
the old woman had it in her arms fondlin' it and lookin' very
old-fashioned at me.  It seems the beast's name is Roguie and she
called it her darlin' Wee Roguie, for she's pickin' up a bit of Scots
since she came to live in these parts....Lucky Mackenzie wasn't at home.
He'd have eaten it....Well, after that things settled down, and I was
just goin' to order tea, when it occurred to the daughter to ask
what was wrong with my face.  Then I had an inspiration."

Archie paused and smiled sourly.

"I said I didn't know, but I feared I might be sickenin' for small-pox.
I hinted that my face was a horrid sight under the bandage."

"Good for you, Archie," said Lamancha.  "What happened then?"

"They bolted--fairly ran for it.  They did record time into their car-
scarcely stopped to say goodbye.  I suppose you realise what I've done,
you fellows.  The natives here are scared to death of infectious
diseases, and if we hadn't our own people we wouldn't have a servant
left in the house.  The story will be all over the country-side in
two days, and my only fear is that it may bring some medical officer
of health nosin' round....Anyhow, it will choke off visitors."

"Archie, you're a brick," was Lamancha's tribute.

"I'm very much afraid I'm a fool, but thank Heaven I'm not the only one.
Sime," he shouted in a voice of thunder, "what's happened to tea?"

The shout brought the one-armed butler and Shapp with the apparatus of
the meal, and an immense heap of letters all addressed to
Sir Archibald Roylance.

"Hullo! the mail has arrived," cried the master of the house.
"Now let's see what's the news of John Macnab?"

He hunted furiously among the correspondence, tearing open envelopes and
distributing letters to the others with the rapidity of a conjurer.
One little sealed packet he reserved to the last, and drew from it
three missives bearing the same superscription.

These he opened, glanced at, and handed to Lamancha.

"Read 'em out, Charles," he said.  "It's the answers at last."

Lamancha read slowly the first document, of which this is the text:

                                         GLENRADEN CASTLE,
                                             STRATHLARRIG,
                                               AUG.--19--,
SIR,
  I have received your insolent letter.  I do not know what kind of
  rascal you may be, except that you have the morals of a bandit
  and the assurance of a halfpenny journalist.  But since you seem
  in your perverted way to be a sportsman, I am not the man to refuse
  your challenge.  My reply is, sir, damn your eyes and have a try.
  I defy you to kill a stag in my forest between midnight on the 28th
  of August and midnight of the 30th.  I will give instructions to
  my men to guard my marches, and if you should be roughly handled
  by them you have only to blame yourself.

                                         Yours faithfully,
                                               Alastair Raden.
  John Macnab, Esq.

"That's a good fellow," said Archie with conviction.  "Just the sort
of letter I'd write myself.  He takes things in the proper spirit.
But it's a blue look-out for your chances, my lads.  What old Raden
doesn't' know about deer isn't knowledge."

Lamancha read the second reply:

                                          STRATHLARRIG HOUSE,
                                                STRATHLARRIG,
                                                  Aug.--, 19--.
  MY DEAR SIR,
  Your letter was somewhat of a surprise, but as I am not yet familiar
  with the customs of this country, I forbear to enlarge on this point,
  and since you have marked it 'Confidential' I am unable to take advice.
  You state that you intend to kill a salmon in the Strathlarrig water
  between midnight on September 1 and midnight on September 3,
  this salmon, if killed, to remain my property.  I have consulted
  such books as might give me guidance, and I am bound to state that in
  my view the laws of Scotland are hostile to your suggested enterprise.
  Nevertheless, I do not take my stand on the law, for I presume that
  your proposition is conceived in a sporting spirit, and that you
  dare me to stop you.  Well sir, I will see you on that hand.
  The fishing is not that good at present that I am inclined to quarrel
  about one salmon.  I give you leave to use every method that may occur
  to you to capture that fish, and I promise to use every method that may
  occur to me to prevent you,  In your letter you undertake to use only
  'legitimate means.'  I would have pleasure in meeting you in the same
  spirit, but I reckon that all means are counted legitimate in the
  capture of poachers.
                                       Cordially,
                                       JUNIUS THEODORE BANDICOTT.
  Mr. J Macnab.

"That's the young'un," Archie observed.  "The old man was christened
'Acheson,' and don't take any interest in fishin'.  He spends his time
in lookin' for Norse remains."

"He seems a decent sort of fellow," said Palliser-Yeates, "but I don't
quite like the last sentence.  He'll probably try shooting, same as his
countrymen once did on the Beauly.  Whoever gets this job will have some
excitement for his money."

Lamancha read out the last letter:

                                       227 NORTH MELVILLE STREET,
                                                EDINBURGH,
                                                Aug.--, 19--
  SIR,
                   Re Haripol Forest
  Our client, the Right Honourable Lord Claybody, has read to us on the
  telephone your letter of Aug.--and has desired us to reply to it.
  We are instructed to say that our client is at a loss to understand
  how to take your communication, whether as a piece of impertinence
  or as a serious threat.  If it is the latter, and you persist in your
  intention, we are instructed to apply to the Court for a summary
  interdict to prevent your entering upon his lands.  We would also
  point out that under the Criminal Law of Scotland, any person
  whatsoever who commits a trespass in the daytime by entering upon
  any land without leave of the proprietor, in pursuit of, inter alia,
  deer, is liable to a fine of two pounds, while, if such person have
  his face blackened, or if five or more persons acting in concert commit
  the trespass, the penalty is five pounds (2 & 3 William IV, C. 68).
                       We are, sir,
                         Your obedient servants,
                         PROSSER, McKELPIE, AND MACLYMONT.

  John Macnab, Esq.

Lamancha laughed.  "Is that good law, Ned?"

Leithen read the letter again.  "I suppose so.  Deer being Ferae Naturae,
there is no private property in them or common law crime in killing them,
and the only remedy is to prevent trespass in pursuit of them or to punish
the trespasser."

"It seems to me that you get off pretty lightly," said Archie.  "Two quid
is not much in the way of a fine, for I don't suppose you want to black
your faces or march five deep into Haripol....But what a rotten sportsman
old Claybody is!"

Palliser-Yeates heaved a sigh of apparent relief.  "I am bound to say
the replies are better than I expected.  It will be a devil of a business,
though, to circumvent that old Highland chief, and that young American
sounds formidable.  Only, if we're caught out there, we're dealing with
sportsmen and can appeal to their higher nature, you know.  Claybody is
probably the easiest proposition so far as getting a stag is concerned,
but if we're nobbled by him we needn't look for mercy.  Still, it's only
a couple of pounds."

"You're an ass, John," said Leithen.  "It's only a couple of pounds for
John Macnab.  But if these infernal Edinburgh lawyers get on the job,
it will be a case of producing the person of John Macnab, and then we're
all in the cart.  Don't you realise that in this fool's game we simply
cannot afford to lose--none of us?"

"That," said Lamancha, "is beyond doubt the truth, and it's just there
that the fun comes in."

The reception of the three letters had brightened the atmosphere.
Each man had now something to think about, and, till it was time
to dress for dinner, each was busy with sheets of the Ordnance maps.
The rain had begun again, the curtains were drawn, and round a good fire
of peats they read and smoked and dozed.  Then they had hot baths,
and it was a comparatively cheerful and very hungry party that assembled
in the dining-room.  Archie proposed champagne, but the offer was
unanimously declined.  "We ought to be in training," Lamancha warned him.
"Keep the Widow for the occasions when we need comforting.
They'll come all right."

Palliser-Yeates was enthusiastic about the food.  "I must say, you do us
very well," he told his host.  "These haddocks are the best things I've
ever eaten.  How do you manage to get fresh sea-fish here?"

Archie appealed to Sime.  "They come from Inverlarrig, Sir Erchibald,"
said the butler.  "There's a wee laddie comes up here selling haddies
verra near every day."

"Bless my soul, Sime.  I thought no one came up here.  You know
my orders."

"This is just a tinker laddie, Sir Erchibald.  He sleeps in a cairt
down about Larrigmore.  He just comes wi' his powny and awa' back,
and doesna' bide twae minutes.  Mistress Lithgow was anxious for haddies,
for she said gentlemen got awfu' tired of saumon and trout.'

"All right, Sime.  I'll speak to Mrs. Lithgow.  She'd better tell him
we don't want any more.  By the way, we ought to see Lithgow after dinner.
Tell him to come to the smoking-room."

When Sime had put the port on the table and withdrawn, Leithen lifted
up his voice.

"Look here, before we get too deep into this thing, let's make sure that
we know where we are.  We're all three turned up here--why, I don't know.
But there's still time to go back.  We realise now what we're in for.
Are you clear in your minds that you want to go on?"

"I am," said Lamancha doggedly.  "I'm out for a cure.  Hang it, I feel
a better man already."

"I suppose your profession makes you take risks," said Leithen dryly,
"Mine doesn't.  What about you, John?"

Palliser-Yeates shifted uneasily in his chair.  "I don't want to go on.
I feel no kind of keenness, and my feet are rather cold.
And yet--you know--I should feel rather ashamed to turn back."

Archie uplifted his turbaned head.  "That's how I feel, though I'm not
on myself in this piece.  We've given hostages, and the credit of John
Macnab is at stake.  We've dared old Raden and young Bandicott,
and we can't decently cry off.  Besides, I'm advertised as a smallpox
patient, and it would be a pity to make a goat of myself for nothing.
Mind you, I stand to lose as much as anybody, if we bungle things."

Leithen had the air of bowing to the inevitable.  "Very well,
that's settled.  But I wish to Heaven I saw myself safely out of it.
My only inducement to go on is to score off that bounder Claybody.
He and his attorney's letter put my hackles up."

In the smoking-room Lamancha busied himself with preparing three slips
of paper and writing on them three names.

"We must hold a council of war," he said.  "First of all, we have taken
measures to keep our presence here secret.  My man Shapp is all right.
What about your people, Archie?"

"Sime and Carfrae have been warned, and you may count on them.
They're the class of lads that ask no questions.  So are the Lithgows.
We've no neighbours, and they're anyway not the gossiping kind,
and I've put them on their Bible oath.  I fancy they think the reason
is politics.  They're a trifle scared of you, Charles, and your
reputation, for they're not accustomed to hidin' Cabinet Ministers
in the scullery.  Lithgow's a fine crusted old Tory."

"Good.  Well, we'd better draw for beats, and get Lithgow in."

The figure that presently appeared before them was a small man, about fifty
years of age, with a great breadth of shoulder and a massive face decorated
with a wispish tawny beard.  His mouth had the gravity and primness of an
elder of the Kirk, but his shrewd blue eyes were not grave.  The son of a
Tweeddale shepherd who had emigrated years before to a cheviot farm in
Sutherland, he was in every line and feature the Lowlander, and his
speech had still the broad intonation of the Borders.  But all his life
had been spent in the Highlands on this and that deer forest, and as a
young stalker he had been picked out by Jim Tarras for his superior
hill craft.  To Archie his chief recommendation was that he was a
passionate naturalist, who was as eager to stalk a rare bird with
a field-glass as to lead a rifle up to deer.  Other traits will appear
in the course of this narrative; but it may be noted here that he was
a voracious reader and in the long winter nights had amassed a store
of varied knowledge, which was patently improving his master's mind.
Archie was accustomed to quote him for most of his views on matters
other than ornithology and war.

"Do you mind going over to that corner and shuffling these slips?
Now, John, you draw first."

Mr. Palliser-Yeates extracted a slip from Lithgow's massive hand.

"Glenraden," he cried.  "Whew, I'm for it this time."

Leithen drew next.  His slip read Strathlarrig.

"Thank God, I've got old Claybody," said Lamancha.  "Unless you want him
very badly, Ned?"

Leithen shook his head.  "I'm content.  It would be a bad start to
change the draw."

"Sit down, Wattie," said Archie.  "Here's a dram for you.  We've summoned
you to a consultation.  I daresay you've been wonderin' what all this
fuss about secrecy has meant.  I'm going to tell you.  You were with
Jim Tarras, and you've often told me about his poachin'.  Well, these
three gentlemen want to have a try at the same game.  They're tired of
ordinary sport, and want something more excitin'.  It wouldn't do,
of course, for them to appear under their real names, so they've invented
a nom de guerre--that's a bogus name, you know.  They call themselves
collectively, as you might say, John Macnab.  John Macnab writes from
London to three proprietors, same as Jim Tarras used to do, and proposes
to take a deer or a salmon on their property between certain dates.
There's a copy of the letter, and here are the replies that
arrived tonight.  Just you read 'em."

Lithgow, without moving a muscle of his face, took the documents.
He nodded approvingly over the original letter.  He smiled broadly
at Colonel Raden's epistle, puzzled a little at Mr. Bandicott's,
and wrinkled his brows over that of the Edinburgh solicitors.
Then he stared into the fire, and emitted short grunts which might
have equally well been chuckles or groans.

"Well, what do you think of the chances?" asked Archie at length.

"Would the gentlemen be good shots?" asked Lithgow.

"Mr Palliser-Yeates, who has drawn Glenraden, is a very good shot,"
Archie replied, "and he has stalked on nearly every forest in Scotland.
Lord Lamancha--Charles, you're pretty good, aren't you?"

"Fair," was the answer.  "Good on my day."

"And Sir Edward Leithen is a considerable artist on the river.
Now, Wattie, you understand that they want to win--want to get the stags
and the salmon--but it's absolute sheer naked necessity that, whether
they fail or succeed, they mustn't be caught.  John Macnab must remain
John Macnab, an unknown blighter from London.  You know who Lord Lamancha
is, but perhaps you don't know that Sir Edward Leithen is a great lawyer,
and Mr. Pallisers-Yeates is one of the biggest bankers in the country."

"I ken all about the gentlemen," said Lithgow gravely.  "I was readin'
Mr Yeates's letter in The Times about the debt we was owin' America,
and I mind fine Sir Edward's speeches in Parliament about the
Irish Constitution.  I didna altogether agree with him."

"Good for you, Wattie.  You see, then, how desperately important it is
that the thing shouldn't get out.  Mr Tarras didn't much care if he was
caught, but if John Macnab is uncovered there will be a high and holy row.
Now you grasp the problem, and you've got to pull up your socks and
think it out.  I don't want your views to-night, but I should like
to have your notion of the chances in a general way.  What's the bettin'?
Twenty to one against?"

"Mair like a thousand," said Lithgow grimly.  "It will be verra,
verra deeficult.  It will want a deal o' thinkin'."  Then he added,
"Mr Tarras was an awfu' grand shot.  He would kill a runnin' beast
at fower hundred yards--aye, he could make certain of it."

"Good Lord, I'm not in that class," Palliser-Yeates exclaimed.

"Aye, and he was more than a grand shot.  He could creep up to
a sleepin' beast in the dark and pit a knife in its throat.
The sauvages in Africa had learned him that.  There was plenty
o' times when him and me were out that it was no possible to use
the rifle."

"We can't compete there," said Lamancha dolefully.

"But I wad not say it was impossible," Lithgow added more briskly.
"It will want a deal o' thinkin'.  It might be done on Haripol--I wadna
say but it might be done, but yon auld man at Glenraden will be ill
to get the better of.  And the Strathlarrig water is an easy water
to watch.  Ye'll be for only takin' shootable beasts, like Mr Tarras,
and ye'll not be wantin' to cleek a fish? It might be not so hard
to get a wee staggie, or to sniggle a salmon in one of the deep pots."

"No, we must play the game by the rules.  We're not poachers."

"Then it will be verra, verra deeficult."

"You understand," put in Lamancha, "that, though we count on your help,
you yourself mustn't be suspected.  It's as important for you as for us
to avoid suspicion, for if they got you it would implicate your master,
and that mustn't happen on any account."

"I ken that.  It will be verra, verra deeficult.  I said the odds were
a thousand to one, but I think ten thousand wad be liker the thing."

"Well, go and sleep on it, and we'll see you in the morning.  And tell
your wife I don't want any boys comin' up to the house with fish.
She must send elsewhere and buy 'em.  Good-night, Wattie."

When Lithgow had withdrawn the four men sat silent and meditative
in their chairs.  One would rise now and then and knock out his pipe,
but scarcely a word was spoken.  It is to be presumed that the thoughts
of each were on the task in hand, but Leithen's must have wandered.
"By the way, Archie," he said, "I saw a very pretty girl on the road
this afternoon, riding a yellow pony.  Who could she be?"

"Lord knows!" said Archie.  "Probably one of the Raden girls.
I haven't seen 'em yet."

When the clock struck eleven Sir Archie arose and ordered his guests
to bed.

"I think my toothache is gone," he said, switching off his turban and
revealing a ruffled head and scarlet cheek.  Then he muttered:
"A thousand to one!  Ten thousand to one! It can't be done, you know.
We've got to find some way of shortenin' the odds!"




CHAPTER 3


RECONNAISSANCE


Rosy-fingered Dawn, when, attended by mild airs and a sky of Italian blue,
she looked in at Crask next morning, found two members of the household
already astir.  Mr Palliser-Yeates, coerced by Wattie Lithgow, was
starting with bitter self-condemnation to prospect what his guide called
"the yont side o' Glenraden."  A quarter of an hour later Lamancha,
armed with a map and a telescope, departed alone for the crest of hill
behind which lay the Haripol forest.  After that peace fell on the place,
and it was not till the hour of ten that Sir Edward Leithen descended
for breakfast.

The glory of the morning had against his convictions made him cheerful.
The place smelt so good within and without, Mrs Lithgow's scones were so
succulent, the bacon so crisp, and Archie, healed of the toothache,
was so preposterous and mirthful a figure that Leithen found a faint zest
again in the contemplation of the future.  When Archie advised him to get
busy about the Larrig he did not complain, but accompanied his host
to the gun-room, where he studied attentively on a large-scale map
the three miles of the stream in the tenancy of Mr Bandicott.

It seemed to him that he had better equip himself for the part by some
simple disguise, so, declining Archie's suggestion of a kilt, he returned
to his bedroom to refit.  Obviously the best line was the tourist, so he
donned a stiff white shirt and a stiff dress collar with a tartan bow-tie
contributed from Sime's wardrobe.  Light brown boots in which he had
travelled from London took the place of his nailed shoes, and his thick
knickerbocker stockings bulged out above them.  Sime's watch-chain, from
which depended a football club medal, a vulgar green Homburg hat of
Archie's, and a camera slung on his shoulders completed the equipment.
His host surveyed him with approval.

"The Blackpool season is beginning," he observed.  "You're the born
tripper, my lad.  Don't forget the picture post cards."  A bicycle was
found, and the late Attorney-General zigzagged warily down the steep road
to the Larrig bridge.

He entered the highway without seeing a human soul, and according to plan
turned down the glen towards Inverlarrig.  There at the tiny post-office
he bought the regulation picture post cards, and conversed in what he
imagined to be the speech of Cockaigne with the aged post-mistress.
He was eloquent on the beauties of the weather and the landscape and not
reticent as to his personal affairs.  He was, he said, a seeker for
beauty-spots, and had heard that the best were to be found in the
demesne of Strathlarrig.  "It's private grund," he was told,
"but there's Americans bidin' there and they're kind folk and awfu'
free with their siller.  If ye ask at the lodge, they'll maybe let
ye in to photograph."  The sight of an array of ginger-beer bottles
inspired him to further camouflage, so he purchased two which he stuck
in his side-pockets.

East of the Bridge of Larrig he came to the chasm in the river above
which he knew began the Strathlarrig water.  The first part was a
canal-like stretch among bogs, which promised ill for fishing, but beyond
a spit of rock the Larrig curled in towards the road edge, and ran in
noble pools and swift streams under the shadow of great pines.
This, Leithen knew from the map, was the Wood of Larrigmore, a remnant
of the ancient Caledonian Forest.  By the water's edge the covert
was dark, but towards the roadside the trees thinned out, and the ground
was delicately carpeted with heather and thymy turf.  There grazed an
aged white pony, and a few yards off, on the shaft of a dilapidated
fish-cart, sat a small boy.

Leithen, leaning his bicycle against a tree, prospected the murky pools
with the air rather of an angler than a photographer, and in the process
found his stiff shirt and collar a vexation.  Also the ginger-beer bottles
bobbed unpleasantly at his side.  So, catching sight of the boy, he
beckoned him near.  "Do you like ginger-beer?" he asked, and in reply to
a vigorous nod bestowed the pair on him.  The child returned like a dog
to the shelter of the cart, whence might have been presently heard the
sound of gluttonous enjoyment.  Leithen, having satisfied himself that
no mortal could take a fish in that thicket, continued up-stream till he
struck the wall of the Strathlarrig domain and a vast castellated lodge.

The lodge-keeper made no objection when he sought admittance, and he
turned from the gravel drive towards the river, which now flowed
through a rough natural park.  For a fisherman it was the water
of his dreams.  The pools were long and shelving, with a strong stream
at the head and, below, precisely the right kind of boulders and
outjutting banks to shelter fish.  There were three of these pools--the
"Duke's," the "Black Scour," and "Davie's Pot," were the names Archie
had told him--and beyond, almost under the windows of the house,
"Lady Maisie's," conspicuous for its dwarf birches and the considerable
waterfall above it.  Here he made believe to take a photograph, though he
had no idea how a camera worked, and reflected dismally upon the
magnitude of his task.  The whole place was as bright and open as the
Horse Guards Parade.  The house commanded all four pools, which he knew
to be the best, and even at midnight, with the owner unsuspecting,
poaching would be nearly impossible.  What would it be when the owner
was warned, and legitimate methods of fishing were part of the contract?

After a glance at the house, which seemed to be deep in noontide slumber,
he made his inconspicuous way past the end of a formal garden to a reach
where the Larrig flowed wide and shallow over pebbles.  Then came a belt
of firs, and then a long tract of broken water which was obviously not
a place to hold salmon.  He realised, from his memory of the map, that
he must be near the end of the Strathlarrig beat, for the topmost mile
was a series of unfishable linns.  But presently he came to a noble pool.
It lay in a meadow where the hay had just been cut and was liker a bit
of Tweed or Eden than a Highland stream.  Its shores were low and on
the near side edged with fine gravel, the far bank was a green rise
unspoiled by scrub, the current entered it with a proud swirl,
washed the high bank, and spread itself out in a beautifully broken
tail, so that every yard of it spelled fish.  Leithen stared at it with
appreciative eyes.  The back of a moving monster showed in mid-stream
and automatically he raised his arm in an imaginary cast.

The next second he observed a man walking across the meadow towards him,
and remembered his character.  Directing his camera hastily at the
butt-end of a black-faced sheep on the opposite shore, he appeared to be
taking a careful photograph, after which he restored the apparatus to its
case and turned to reconnoitre the stranger.  This proved to be a
middle-aged man in ancient tweed knickerbockers of an outrageous pattern
known locally as the "Strathlarrig tartan."  He was obviously a
river-keeper, and was advancing with a resolute and minatory air.

Leithen took off his hat with a flourish.

"Have I the honour, sir, to address the owner of this lovely spot?" he
asked in what he hoped was the true accent of a tripper.

The keeper stopped short and regarded him sternly.

"What are ye daein' here?" he demanded.

"Picking up a few pictures, sir.  I inquired at your lodge, and was told
that I might presume upon your indulgence.  Pardon me, if I 'ave presumed
too far.  If I 'ad known that the proprietor was at 'and I would have
sought 'im out and addressed my 'umble request to 'imself."

"Ye're makin' a mistake.  I'm no the laird.  The laird's awa' about India.
But Mr Bandicott--that's him that's the tenant--has given strict orders
that naebody's to gang near the watter.  I wonder Mactavish at the lodge
hadna mair sense."

"I fear the blame is mine," said the agreeable tourist.  "I only asked
leave to enter the grounds, but the beauty of the scenery attracted me
to the river.  Never 'ave I seen a more exquisite spot."  He waved his
arm towards the pool.

"It's no that bad.  But ye maun awa' out o' this.  Ye'd better gang by
the back road, for fear they see ye frae the hoose."

Leithen followed him obediently, after presenting him with a cigarette,
which he managed to extract without taking his case from his pocket.
It should have been a fag, he reflected, and not one of Archie's
special Egyptians.  As they walked he conversed volubly.

"What's the name of the river?" he asked.  "Is it the Strathlarrig?"

"No, it's the Larrig, and that bit you like sae weel is the
Minister's Pool.  There's no a pool like it in Scotland."

"I believe you.  There is not," was the enthusiastic reply.

"I mean for fish.  Ye'll no ken muckle aboot fishin'."

"I've done a bit of anglin' at 'ome.  What do you catch here?
Jack and perch?"

"Jack and perch!" cried the keeper scornfully.  "Saumon, man.
Saumon up to thirty pounds' wecht."

"Oh, of course, salmon.  That must be a glorious sport.  But a friend
of mine, who has seen it done, told me it wasn't 'ard.  He said that
even I could catch a salmon."

"Mair like a saumon wad catch you.  Now, you haud down the back road,
and ye'll come out aside the lodge gate.  And dinna you come here again.
The orders is strict, and if auld Angus was to get a grip o' ye, I wadna
say what wad happen.  Guid day to ye, and dinna stop till ye're out
o' the gates."

Leithen did as he was bid, circumnavigated the house, struck a farm track,
and in time reached the high road.  It was a very doleful tourist who
trod the wayside heather past the Wood of Larrigmore.  Never had he seen
a finer stretch of water or one so impregnably defended.  No bluff or
ingenuity would avail an illicit angler on that open greensward,
with every keeper mobilised and on guard.  He thought less now of the
idiocy of the whole proceeding than of the folly of plunging in the dark
upon just that piece of river.  There were many streams where Jim
Tarras's feat might be achieved, but he had chosen the one stretch in
all Scotland where it was starkly impossible.

The recipient of the ginger-beer was still sitting by the shafts
of his cart.  He seemed to be lunching, for he was carving attentively
a hunk of cheese and a loaf-end with a gully-knife.  As he looked up
from his task Leithen saw a child of perhaps twelve summers, with a
singularly alert and impudent eye, a much-freckled face, and a thatch of
tow-coloured hair bleached almost white by the sun.  His feet were bare,
his trousers were those of a grown man, tucked up at the knees and
hitched up almost under his armpits, and for a shirt he appeared to
have a much-torn jersey.  Weather had tanned his whole appearance into
the blend of greys and browns which one sees on a hill-side boulder.
The boy nodded gravely to Leithen, and continued to munch.

Below the wood lay the half-mile where the Larrig wound sluggishly
through a bog before precipitating itself into the chasm above the
Bridge of Larrig.  Leithen left his bicycle by the roadside and crossed
the waste of hags and tussocks to the water's edge.  It looked a
thankless place for the angler.  The clear streams of the Larrig seemed
to have taken on the colour of their banks, and to drowse dark and deep
and sullen in one gigantic peat-hole.  In spite of the rain of yesterday
there was little current.  The place looked oily, stagnant, and
unfishable--a tract through which salmon after mounting the fall would
hurry to the bright pools above.

Leithen sat down in a clump of heather and lit his pipe.  Something might
be done with a worm after a spate, he considered, but any other lure was
out of the question.  The place had its merits for every purpose but
taking salmon.  It was a part of the Strathlarrig water outside the
park pale, and it was so hopeless that it was not likely to be
carefully patrolled.  The high road, it was true, ran near, but it was
little frequented.  If only....He suddenly sat up, and gazed intently
at a ripple on the dead surface.  Surely that was a fish on the move..
..He kept his eyes on the river, until he saw something else which made
him rub them, and fall into deep reflection....

He was roused by a voice at his shoulder.

"What for will they no let me come up to Crask ony mair?" the voice
demanded in a sort of tinker's whine.

Leithen turned and found the boy of the ginger-beer.

"Hullo! You oughtn't to do that, my son.  You'll give people heart disease.
What was it you asked?"

"What...for...will...they...no...let...me come...up to Crask...ony mair?"

"I'm sure I don't know.  What's crask?"

"Ye ken it fine.  It's the big hoose up the hill.  I seen you come doon
frae it yoursel' this mornin'."

Leithen was tempted to deny this allegation and assert his title of
tourist, but something in the extreme intelligence of the boy's face
suggested that such a course might be dangerous.  Instead he said, "Tell me
your name, and what's your business at Crask?"

"My name's Benjamin Bogle, but I get Fish Benjie frae most folks.  I've
sell't haddies and flukes to Crask these twa months.  But this mornin' I
was tell't no to come back, and when I speired what way, the auld wife shut
the door on me."

A recollection of Sir Archie's order the night before returned to Leithen's
mind, and with it a great sense of insecurity.  The argus-eyed child, hot
with a grievance, had seen him descend from Crask, and was therefore in a
position to give away the whole show.  What chance was there for secrecy
with this malevolent scout hanging around?

"Where do you live, Benjie?"

"I bide in my cart.  My father's in jyle, and my mither's lyin' badly in
Muirtown.  I sell fish to a' the gentry."

"And you want to know why you can't sell them at Crask?"

"Aye, I wad like to ken that.  The auld wife used to be a kind body and gie
me jeely pieces.  What's turned he into a draygon?"

Leithen was accustomed, in the duties of his profession, to quick decisions
on tactics, and now he took one which was destined to be momentous.

"Benjie," he said solemnly, "there's a lot of things in the world that I
don't understand, and it stands to reason that there must be more that you
don't.  I'm in a position in which I badly want somebody to help me.  I
like the look of you.  You look a trusty fellow and a keen one.  Is all
your time taken up selling haddies?"

"'Deed no.  Just twa hours in the mornin', and twa hours at nicht when I
gang doun to the cobles at Inverlarrig.  I've a heap o' time on my hands."

"Good.  I think I can promise that you may resume your trade at Crask.
But first I want you to do a job for me.  There's a bicycle lying by
the roadside.  Bring it up to Crask this evening between six and seven.
Have you a watch?"

"No, but I can tell the time braw and fine."

"Go to the stables and wait for me there.  I want to have a talk
with you."  Leithen produced half a crown, on which the grubby paw
of Fish Benjie instantly closed.

"And look here, Benjie.  You haven't seen me here, or anybody like me.
Above all, you didn't see me come down from Crask this morning.
If anybody asks you questions, you only saw a man on a bicycle on
the road to Inverlarrig."

The boy nodded, and his solemn face flickered for a second with
a subtle smile.

"Well, that's a bargain."  Leithen got up from his couch and turned down
the river, making for the Bridge of Larrig, where the highway crossed.
He looked back once, and saw Fish Benjie wheeling his bicycle into the
undergrowth of the wood.  He was in two minds as to whether he had done
wisely in placing himself in the hands of a small ragamuffin, who for
all he knew might be hand-in-glove with the Strathlarrig keepers.
But the recollection of Benjie's face reassured him.  He did not look
like a boy who would be the pet of any constituted authority;
he had the air rather of the nomad against whom the orderly waged war.
There had been an impish honesty in his face, and Leithen, who had
a weakness for disreputable urchins, felt that he had taken the
right course.  Besides, the young sleuth-hound had got on his trail,
and there had been nothing for it but to make him an ally.

He crossed the bridge, avoided the Crask road, and struck up hill
by a track which followed the ravine of a burn.  As he walked his mind
went back to a stretch on a Canadian river, a stretch of still unruffled
water warmed all day by a July sun.  It had been as full as it could hold
of salmon, but no artifice of his could stir them.  There in the later
afternoon had come an aged man from Boston, who fished with a light
trout rod and cast a deft line, and placed a curious little dry fly
several feet above a fish's snout.  Then, by certain strange manoeuvres,
he had drawn the fly under water.  Leithen had looked on and marvelled,
while before sunset that ancient man hooked and landed seven good
fish....Somehow that bit of shining sunflecked Canadian river
reminded him of the unpromising stretch of the Larrig he had
just been reconnoitring.

At a turn of the road he came upon his host, tramping homeward in
the company of a most unprepossessing hound.  I pause for an instant
to introduce Mackenzie.  He was a mongrel collie of the old
Highland stock, known as "beardies," and his touzled head, not unlike
an extra-shaggy Dandie Dinmont's, was set upon a body of immense length,
girth and muscle.  His manners were atrocious to all except his master,
and local report accused him of every canine vice except worrying sheep.
He had been christened "The Bluidy Mackenzie" after a noted persecutor
of the godly, by someone whose knowledge of history was greater
than Sir Archie's, for the latter never understood the allusion.
The name, however, remained his official one; commonly he was addressed
as Mackenzie, but in moments of expansion he was referred to by his
master as Old Bloody.

The said master seemed to be in a strange mood.  He was dripping wet,
having apparently fallen into the river, but his spirits soared,
and he kept on smiling in a light-hearted way.  He scarcely listened
to Leithen, when he told him of his compact with Fish Benjie.
"I daresay it will be all right."  He observed idiotically.
"Is your idea to pass off one of his haddies as a young salmon
on the guileless Bandicott?"  For an explanation of Sir Archie's
conduct the chronicler must retrace his steps.

After Leithen's departure it had seemed good to him to take the air,
so, summoning Mackenzie from a dark lair in the yard, he made his way
to the river--the beat below the bridge and beyond the high road,
which was on Crask ground.  There it was a broad brawling water,
boulder-strewn and shallow, which an active man could cross dry-shod
by natural stepping-stones.  Sir Archie sat for a time on the near shore,
listening to the sandpipers--birds which were his special favourites--and
watching the whinchats on the hill-side and the flashing white breasts
of the water-ousels.  Mackenzie lay beside him, an uneasy sphinx,
tormented by a distant subtle odour of badger.

Presently Sir Archie arose and stepped out on the half-submerged boulder.
He was getting very proud of the way he had learned to manage
his game leg, and it occurred to him that here was a chance of testing
his balance.  If he could hop across on the stones to the other side
he might regard himself as an able-bodied man.  Balancing himself with
his stick as a rope-dancer uses his pole, he in due course reached
the middle of the current.  After that it was more difficult, for
the stones were smaller and the stream more rapid, but with an occasional
splash and flounder he landed safely, to be saluted with a shower
of spray from Mackenzie, who had taken the deep-water route.

"Not so bad that, for a crock," he told himself, as he lay full length
in the sun watching the faint line of the Haripol hills overtopping
the ridge of Crask.

Half an hour was spent in idleness till the dawning of hunger warned him
to return.  The crossing as seen from this side looked more formidable,
for the first stones could only be reached by jumping a fairly broad
stretch of current.  Yet the jump was achieved, and with renewed
confidence Sir Archie essayed the more solid boulders.  All would
have gone well had not he taken his eyes from the stones and observed
on the bank beyond a girl's figure.  She had been walking by the
stream and had stopped to stare at the portent of his performance.
Now Sir Archie was aware that his style of jumping was not graceful
and he was discomposed by his sudden gallery.  Nevertheless, the thing
was so easy that he could scarcely have failed had it not been for
the faithful Mackenzie.  That animal had resolved to follow his master's
footsteps, and was jumping steadily behind him.  But three boulders
from the shore they jumped simultaneously, and there was not
standing-room for both.  Sir Archie, already nervous, slipped,
recovered himself, slipped again, and then, accompanied by Mackenzie,
subsided noisily into three feet of water.

He waded ashore to find himself faced by a girl in whose face concern
struggled with amusement.  He lifted a dripping hand and grinned.

"Silly exhibition, wasn't it?  All the fault of Mackenzie!  Idiotic brute
of a dog, not to remember my game leg!"

"You're horribly wet," the girl said, "but it was sporting of you to try
that crossing.  What about dry clothes?"

"Oh, no trouble about that.  I've only to get up to Crask."

"You're Sir Archibald Roylance, aren't you?  I'm Janet Raden.
I've been with papa to call on you, but you're never at home."

Sir Archie, having now got the water out of his eyes and hair was able
to regard his interlocutor.  He saw a slight girl with what seemed
to him astonishingly bright hair and very blue and candid eyes.
She appeared to be anxious about his dry clothes, for she led
the way up the bank at a great pace, while he lingered behind her.
Suddenly she noticed the limp.

"Oh, please forgive me, I forgot about your leg.  You had another smash,
hadn't you, besides the one in the war--steeplechasing, wasn't it?"

"Yes, but it didn't signify.  I'm all right again and get about anywhere,
but I'm a bit slower on the wing, you know."

"You're keen about horses?"

"Love 'em."

"So do I.  Agatha--that's my sister--doesn't care a bit about them.
She would like to live all the year at Glenraden, but--I'm ashamed
to say it--I would rather have a foggy November in Warwickshire
than August in Scotland.  I simply dream of hunting."

The ardent eyes and the young grace of the girl seemed marvellous things
to Sir Archie.  "I expect you go uncommon well," he murmured.

"No, only moderate.  I only get scratch mounts.  You see I stay with my
Aunt Barbara, and she's too old to hunt, and has nothing in her stables
but camels.  But this year..."  She broke off as she caught sight of
the pools forming round Sir Archie's boots.  "I mustn't keep you
here talking.  You be off home at once."

"Don't worry about me.  I'm wet for days on end when I'm watchin' birds
in the spring.  You were sayin' about this year?"

Her answer was a surprising question.  "Do you know anybody
called John Macnab?"

Sir Archibald Roylance was a resourceful mountebank and did not hesitate.

"Yes.  The distiller, you mean?  Dhuniewassel Whisky?  I've seen his
advertisements--'They drink Dhuniewassel, In cottage and castle--'
That chap?"

"No, no, somebody quite different.  Listen, please, if you're not
too wet, for I want you to help me.  Papa has had the most extraordinary
letter from somebody called John Macnab, saying he means to kill a stag
in our forest between certain dates, and daring us to prevent him.
He is going to hand over the beast to us if he gets it and pay
fifty pounds, but if he fails he is to pay a hundred pounds.
Did you ever hear of such a thing?"

"Some infernal swindler," said Archie darkly.

"No, he can't be.  You see the fifty pounds arrived this morning."

"God bless my soul!"

"Yes.  In Bank of England notes, posted from London.  Papa at first
wanted to tell him to go to--well, where Papa tells people he doesn't
like to go.  But I thought the offer so sporting that I persuaded him
to take up the challenge.  Indeed, I wrote the reply myself.
Mr Macnab said that the money was to go to a charity, so Agatha is
having the fifty pounds for her native weaving and dyeing--she's
frightfully keen about that.  But if we win the other fifty pounds papa
says the best charity he can think of is to prevent me breaking my neck
on hirelings, and I'm to have it to buy a hunter.  So I'm very anxious
to find out about Mr John Macnab."

"Probably some rich Colonial who hasn't learned manners."

"I don't think so.  His manners are very good, to judge by his letter.
I think he is a gentleman, but perhaps a little mad.  We simply must
beat him, for I've got to have that fifty pounds.  And--and I want you
to help me."

"Oh, well, you know--I mean to say--I'm not much of a fellow...."

"You're very clever, and you've done all kinds of things.
I feel that if you advised us we should win easily, for I'm sure
you had far harder jobs in the war."

To have a pretty young woman lauding his abilities and appealing
with melting eyes for his aid was a new experience in Sir Archie's life.
It was so delectable an experience that he almost forgot its
awful complications.  When he remembered them he flushed and stammered.

"Really, I'd love to, but I wouldn't be any earthly good.  I'm an old
crock, you see.  But you needn't worry--your Glenraden gillies will make
short work of this bandit....By Jove, I hope you get your hunter,
Miss Raden.  You've got to have it somehow.  Tell you what, if I've
any bright idea I'll let you know."

"Thank you so much.  And may I consult you if I'm in difficulties?"

"Yes, of course.  I mean to say, No.  Hang it, I don't know, for I don't
like interferin' with your father's challenge."

"That means you will.  Now, you mustn't wait another moment.  Good-bye.
Will you come over to lunch at Glenraden?"

Then she broke off and stared at him.  "I forgot.  Haven't you smallpox?"

"What! Smallpox? Oh, I see!  Has old Mother Claybody been putting
that about?"

"She came to tea yesterday twittering with terror, and warned us all
not to go within a mile of Crask."

Sir Archie laughed somewhat hollowly.  "I had a bad toothache and
my head tied up, and I daresay I said something silly, but I never
thought she would take it for gospel.  You see for yourself that I've
nothing the matter with me."

"You'll have pneumonia the matter with you, unless you hurry home.
Good-bye.  We'll expect you to lunch the day after to-morrow."
And with a wave of her hand she was gone.

The extraordinary fact was that Sir Archie was not depressed by the
new tangle which encumbered him.  On the contrary, he was in the best
of spirits.  He hobbled gaily up the by-road to Crask, listened
to Leithen, when he met him, with less than half an ear, and was happy
with his own thoughts.  I am at a loss to know how to describe the
first shattering impact of youth and beauty on a susceptible mind.
The old plan was to borrow the language of the world's poetry,
the new seems to be to have recourse to the difficult jargon
of psychologists and physicians; but neither, I fear, would suit
Sir Archie's case.  He did not think of nymphs and goddesses or
of linnets in spring; still less did he plunge into the depths
of a subconscious self which he was not aware of possessing.
The unromantic epithet which rose to his lips was "jolly."
This was for certain the jolliest girl he had ever met--regular
young sportswoman and amazingly good-lookin', and he was dashed
if she wouldn't get her hunter.  For a delirious ten minutes,
which carried him to the edge of the Crask lawn, he pictured
his resourcefulness placed at her service, her triumphant success,
and her bright-eyed gratitude.

Then he suddenly remembered that alliance with Miss Janet Raden
was treachery to his three guests.  The aid she had asked for could
only be given at the expense of John Macnab.  He was in the miserable
position of having a leg in both camps, of having unhappily received the
confidences of both sides, and whatever he did he must make a mess of it.
He could not desert his friends, so he must fail the lady; wherefore
there could be no luncheon for him, the day after to-morrow, since
another five minutes' talk with her would entangle him beyond hope.
There was nothing for it but to have a return of smallpox.
He groaned aloud.

"A twinge of that beastly toothache," he explained in reply to his
companion's inquiry.

When the party met in the smoking-room that night after dinner two
very weary men occupied the deepest arm-chairs.  Lamancha was struggling
with sleep; Palliser-Yeates was limp with fatigue, far too weary
to be sleepy.  "I've had the devil of a day," said the latter.
"Wattie took me at a racing gallop about thirty miles over bogs and crags.
Lord!  I'm stiff and footsore.  I believe I crawled more than ten miles,
and I've no skin left on my knees.  But we spied the deuce of a lot
of ground, and I see my way to the rudiments of a plan.  You start off,
Charles, while I collect my thoughts."

But Lamancha was supine.

"I'm too drunk with sleep to talk," he said.  "I prospected all
the south side of Haripol--all this side of the Reascuill, you know.
I got a good spy from Sgurr Mor, and I tried to get up Sgurr Dearg,
but stuck on the rocks.  That's a fearsome mountain, if you like.
Didn't see a blessed soul all day--no rifles out--but I heard a shot
from the Machray ground.  I got my glasses on to several fine beasts.
It struck me that the best chance would be in the corrie between Sgurr Mor
and Sgurr Dearg--there's a nice low pass at the head to get a stag
through and the place is rather tucked away from the rest of the forest.
That's as far as I've got at present.  I want to sleep."

Palliser-Yeates was in a very different mood.  With an ordnance map
spread out on his knees he expounded the result of his researches,
waving his pipe excitedly.

"It's a stiff problem, but there's just the ghost of a hope.
Wattie admitted that on the way home.  Look here, you fellows--Glenraden
is divided, like Gaul, into three parts.  There's the Home beat--all the
low ground of the Raden glen and the little hills behind the house.
Then there's the Carnbeg beat to the east, which is the best I fancy--very
easy going, not very high and with peat roads and tracks where you could
shift a beast.  Last there's Carnmore, miles from anywhere, with all
the highest tops and as steep as Torridon.  It would be the devil of
a business, if I got a stag there, to move it.  Wattie and I went round
the whole marches, mostly on our bellies.  No, we weren't seen--Wattie
took care of that.  What a noble shikari the old chap is!"

"Well, what's your conclusion?" Leithen asked.

Palliser-Yeates shook his head.  "That's just where I'm stumped.
Try to put yourself in old Raden's place.  He has only one stalker
and two gillies for the whole forest, for he's very short-handed,
and as a matter of fact he stalks his beasts himself.  He'll consider
where John Macnab is likeliest to have his try, and he'll naturally
decide on the Carnmore beat, for that's by far the most secluded.
You may take it from me that he has only enough men to watch
one beat properly.  But he'll reflect that John Macnab has got
to get his stag away, and he'll wonder how he'll manage it on Carnmore,
for there's only one bad track up from Inverlarrig.  Therefore he'll
conclude that John Macnab may be more likely to try Carnbeg,
though it's a bit more public.  You see, his decision isn't any easier
than mine.  On the whole, I'm inclined to think he'll plump for Carnmore,
for he must think John Macnab a fairly desperate fellow who will aim first
at killing his stag in peace, and will trust to Providence for the rest.
So at the moment I favour Carnbeg."

Leithen wrinkled his brow.  "There are three of us," he said.
"That gives us a chance of a little finesse.  What about letting
Charles or me make a demonstration against Carnmore, while you
wait at Carnbeg?"

"Good idea! I thought of that too."

"You'd better assume Colonel Raden to be in very full possession
of his wits," Leithen continued.  "The simple bluff won't do--he'll
see through it.  He'll think that John Macnab is the same wary kind
of old bird as himself.  I found out in the war that it didn't do
to underrate your opponent's brains.  He's pretty certain to expect
a feint and not to be taken in.  I'm for something a little subtler."

"Meaning?"

"Meaning that you feint in one place, so that your opponent believes it
to be a feint and pays no attention--and then you sail in and get
to work in that very place."

Palliser-Yeates whistled.  "That wants thinking over....
How about yourself?"

"I've studied the river, and you never in your life saw such a hopeless
proposition,  All the good pools are as open as the Serpentine.
Wattie stated the odds correctly."

"Nothing doing there?"

"Nothing doing, unless I take steps to shorten the odds.
So I've taken in a partner."

The others stared, and even Lamancha woke up.

"Yes.  I interviewed him in the stable before dinner.  It's the little
ragamuffin who sells fish--Fish Benjie is the name he goes by.
Archie, I hope you don't mind, but I told him to resume his
morning visits.  They're my best chance for consultations."

"You're taking a pretty big risk, Ned," said his host.  "D'you mean
to say you've let that boy into the whole secret?"

"I've told him everything.  It was the only way, for he had
begun to suspect.  I admit it's a gamble, but I believe I can
trust the child.  I think I know a sportsman when I see him."

Archie still shook his head. "There's something else I may as
well tell you.  I met one of the Raden girls to-day--the younger--she
was on the bank when I fell into the Larrig.  She asked me point-blank
if I knew anybody called John Macnab?"

Lamancha was wide awake.  "What did you say?" he asked sharply.

"Oh, lied of course.  Said I supposed she meant the distiller.
Then she told me the whole story--said she had written the letter
her father signed.  She's mad keen to win the extra fifty quid.
For it means a hunter for her this winter down in Warwickshire.
Yes, and she asked me to help.  I talked a lot of rot about my game leg
and that sort of thing, but I sort of promised to go and lunch at
Glenraden the day after to-morrow."

"That's impossible," said Lamancha.

"I know it is, but there's only one way out of it.  I've got to
have smallpox again."

"You've got to go to bed and stay there for a month," said
Palliser-Yeates severely.  "Now, look here, Archie.  We simply can't
have you getting mixed up with the enemy, especially the enemy women.
You're much too susceptible and far too great an ass."

"Of course not," said Archie, with a touch of protest in his voice.
"I see that well enough, but it's a black look-out for me.  I wish to
Heaven you fellows had chosen to take your cure somewhere else.
I'm simply wreckin' all my political career.  I had a letter from my agent
to-night, and I should be touring the constituency instead of playin'
the goat here.  All I've got to say is that you've a dashed lot more
than old Raden against you.  You've got that girl, crazy about her hunter,
and anyone can see that she's clever as a monkey."

But the laird of Crask was not thinking of Miss Janet Raden's wits
as he went meditatively to bed.  He was wondering why her eyes were
so blue, and as he ascended the stairs he thought he had discovered
the reason.  Her hair was spun-gold, but she had dark eye-lashes.



CHAPTER 4


FISH BENJIE

On the roads of the north of Scotland, any time after the last
snow-wreaths have melted behind the dykes, you will meet a peculiar
kind of tinker.  They are not the copper-nosed scarecrows of the lowlands,
sullen and cringing, attended by sad infants in ramshackle perambulators.
Nor are they in any sense gipsies, for they have not the Romany speech
or colouring.  They travel the roads with an establishment, usually a
covered cart and one or more lean horses, and you may find their
encampments any day by any burnside.  Of a rainy night you can see their
queer little tents, shaped like a segment of sausage, with a fire hissing
at the door, and the horses cropping the roadside grass; of a fine
morning the women will be washing their duds on the loch shore and
their young fighting like ferrets among the shingle.  You will meet
with them in the back streets of the little towns, and at the back doors
of wayside inns, but mostly in sheltered hollows of the moor or
green nooks among the birches, for they are artists in choosing
camping-grounds.  They are children of Esau who combine a dozen crafts--
tinkering, fish-hawking, besom-making, and the like--with their natural
trades of horse-coping and poaching.  At once brazen and obsequious,
they beg rather as an art than a necessity; they will whine to a keeper
with pockets full of pheasant's eggs, and seek permission to camp
from a laird with a melting tale of hardships, while one of his salmon
lies hidden in the bracken on their cart floor.  The men are an
upstanding race, keen-eyed, resourceful, with humour in their cunning;
the women, till life bears too hardly on them, are handsome and
soft-spoken; and the children are burned and weathered like imps
of the desert.  Their speech is neither lowland nor highland,
but a sing-song Scots of their own, and if they show the Celt in
their secret ways there is a hint of Norse blood in the tawny hair
and blue eyes so common among them.

Ebenezer Bogle was born into this life, and for fifty-five years
travelled the roads from the Reay country to the Mearns and from
John o' Groats to the sea-lochs of Appin.  Sickness overtook him
one October when camped in the Black Isle, and, feeling the hand
of death on him, he sent for two people.  One was the nearest Free Kirk
minister--for Ebenezer was theologically of the old school; the other
was a banker from Muirtown.  What he said to the minister I do not know;
but what the banker said to him may be gathered from the fact that he
informed his wife before he died that in the Muirtown bank there lay
to his credit a sum of nearly three thousand pounds.  Ebenezer had been
a sober and careful man, and a genius at horse-coping.  He had bought
the little rough shelties of the North and the Isles, and sold them
at lowland fairs, he had dabbled in black cattle, he had done big trade
in sheep-skins when a snowstorm decimated the Sutherland flocks,
and he had engaged, perhaps, in less reputable ventures, which might
be forbidden by the law of the land, but were not contrary, so he
believed, to the Bible.  Year by year his bank balance had mounted,
for he spent little, and now he had a fortune to bequeath.
He made no will; all went to his wife, with the understanding that
it would be kept intact for his son; and in this confidence Ebenezer
closed his eyes.

The wife did not change her habit of life.  The son Benjamin accompanied
her as before in the long rounds between May and October, and in the
winter abode in the fishing quarter of Muirtown, and intermittently
attended school.  Presently his mother took a second husband, a Catholic
Macdonald from the West, for the road is a lonely occupation for
a solitary woman.  Her new man was a cheerful being--very little like
the provident Ebenezer--much addicted to the bottle and a lover of all
things but legitimate trade.  But he respected the dead man's wishes
and made no attempt to touch the hoard in the Muirtown bank; he was kind,
too, to the boy, and taught him many things that are not provided for
in the educational system of Scotland.  From him Benjie learned how
to take a nesting grouse, how to snare a dozen things, from hares
to roebuck, how to sniggle salmon in the clear pools, and how to poach
a hind when the deer came down in hard weather to the meadows.
He learned how to tell the hour by the sun, and to find his way
by the stars, and what weather was foretold by the starlings packing
at nightfall, or the crows sitting with their beaks to the wind,
or a badger coming home after daylight.  The boy knew how to make
cunning whistles from ash and rowan with which to imitate a snipe's bleat
or the call of an otter, and he knew how at all times and in all weathers
to fend for himself and find food and shelter.  A tough little nomad he
became under this tutelage, knowing no boys' games, with scarcely an
acquaintance of his age, but able to deal on equal terms with every
fisherman, gillie, and tinker north of the Highland line.

It chanced that in the spring of this year Mrs Bogle had fallen ill
for the first time in her life.  It was influenza, and, being neglected,
was followed by pneumonia, so that when May came she was in no condition
to take the road.  By ill luck her husband had been involved in a
drunken row, when he had assaulted two of his companions with such
violence and success that he was sent for six months to prison.
In these circumstances there was nothing for it but that Benjie
should set out alone with the cart, and it is a proof of the
stoutheartedness of the family tradition that his mother never questioned
the propriety of this arrangement.  He departed with her blessing,
and weekly despatched to her a much-blotted scrawl describing his doings.
There was something of his father's hard fibre in the child, for he was
a keen bargainer and as wary as a fox against cajolery.  He met friends
of his family who let him camp beside them, and with their young
he did battle, when they dared to threaten his dignity.  Benjie fought
in no orthodox way, but like a weasel, using every weapon of tooth
and claw, but in his sobbing furies he was unconquerable, and was soon
left in peace.  Presently he found that he preferred to camp alone,
so with his old cart and horse he made his way up and down the long glens
of the West to the Larrig.  There, he remembered, the fish trade had been
profitable in past years, so he sat himself down by the roadside,
to act a middleman between the fishing-cobles of Inverlarrig and
the kitchens of the shooting lodges.  It would be untrue to say that
this was his only means of livelihood, and I fear that the contents
of Benjie's pot, as it bubbled of an evening in the Wood of Larrigmore,
would not have borne inspection by any keeper who chanced to pass.
The weekly scrawls went regularly to his now convalescent mother,
and once a parcel arrived for him at the Inverlarrig post-office
containing a gigantic new shirt, which he used as a blanket.
For the rest, he lived as Robinson Crusoe lived, on the country-side
around him, asking no news of the outer world.

On the morning of the 27th of August he might have been seen,
a little after seven o'clock, driving his cart up the fine beech avenue
which led to Glenraden Castle.  It was part of his morning round,
but hitherto he had left his cart at the lodge-gate, and carried his fish
on foot to the house; wherefore he had some slight argument with the
lodge-keeper before he was permitted to enter.  He drove circumspectly
to the back regions, left his fish at the kitchen door, and then
proceeded to the cottage of the stalker, one Macpherson, which stood
by itself in a clump of firs.  There he waited for some time till
Mrs Macpherson came to feed her hens.  A string of haddocks
changed hands, and Benjie was bidden indoors, where he was given a cup
of tea, while old Macpherson smoked his early pipe and asked questions.
Half an hour later Benjie left, with every sign of amity, and drove
very slowly down the woodland road towards the haugh where the Raden,
sweeping from the narrows of the glen, spreads into broad pools
and shining shallows.  There he left the cart and squatted
inconspicuously in the heather in a place which commanded a prospect
of the home woods.  From his observations he was aware that one of
the young ladies regularly took her morning walk in this quarter.

Meantime in the pleasant upstairs dining-room of the Castle
breakfast had begun.  Colonel Alastair Raden, having read prayers
to a row of servants from a chair in the window--there was a family
tradition that he once broke off in a petition to call excitedly
his Maker's attention to a capercailzie on the lawn--and having finished
his porridge, which he ate standing, with bulletins interjected
about the weather, was doing good work on bacon and eggs.
Breakfast, he used to declare, should consist of no kickshaws
like kidneys and omelettes; only bacon and eggs, and plenty of 'em.
The master of the house was a lean old gentleman dressed in an ancient
loud-patterned tweed jacket and a very faded kilt.  Still erect as a post,
he had a barrack-square voice, and high-boned, aquiline face,
and a kindly but irritable blue eye.  His daughters were devoting what
time was left to them from attending to the breakfasts of three terriers
to an animated discussion of a letter which lay before them.
The morning meal at Glenraden was rarely interrupted by correspondence,
for the post did not arrive till the evening, but this missive had
been delivered by hand.

"He can't come," the younger cried.  "He says he's seedy again.
It may really be smallpox this time."

"Who can't come, and who has smallpox?" her father demanded.

"Sir Archibald Roylance.  I told you I met him and asked him to lunch
here to-day.  We really ought to get to know our nearest neighbour,
and he seems a very pleasant young man."

"I think he is hiding a dark secret," said the elder Miss Raden.
"Nobody who calls there ever finds him in--except Lady Claybody,
and then he told her he had smallpox.  Old Mr Bandicott said he went
up the long hill to Crask yesterday, and found nobody at home,
though he was perfectly certain he saw one figure slinking into
the wood and another moving away from a window.  I wonder if
Sir Archibald is really all right.  We don't know anything
about him, do we?"

"Of course he's all right--bound to be--dashed gallant sporting fellow.
Sorry he's not coming to luncheon--I want to meet him.  He's probably
afraid of Nettie, and I don't blame him, for she's a brazen hussy,
and he does well to be shy of old Bandicott.  I'm scared to death
by the old fellow myself."

"You know you've promised to let him dig in the Piper's Ring, Papa."

"I know I have, and I would have promised to let him dig up
my lawn to keep him quiet.  Never met a man with such a flow
of incomprehensible talk.  He had the audacity to tell me that
I was no more Celtic than he was, but sprung from some blackguard
Norse raiders a thousand years back.  Judging by the sketch he gave me
of their habits, I'd sooner the Radens were descended from Polish Jews."

"I thought him a darling," said his elder daughter, "and with such
a beautiful face."

"He may be a darling for all I know, but his head is stuffed with maggots.
If you admired him so much, why didn't you take him off my hands?
I liked the look of the young fellow and wanted to have a word with him.
More by token"--the Colonel was hunting about for the marmalade--"what
were you two plotting with him in the corner after dinner?"

"We were talking about John Macnab."

The Colonel's face became wrathful.

"Then I call it dashed unfilial conduct of you not to have brought me in.
There was I, deafened with the old man's chatter--all about a fellow
called Harald Blacktooth or Bottlenose or some such name, that he swears
is buried in my grounds and means to dig up--when I might have been
having a really fruitful conversation.  What was young Bandicott's
notion of John Macnab?"

"Mr Junius thinks he is a lunatic," said the elder Miss Raden.
She was in every way her sister's opposite, dark of hair and eye where
Janet was fair, tall where Janet was little, slow and quiet of voice
where Janet was quick and gusty.

"I entirely differ from him.  I think John Macnab is perfectly sane,
and probably a good fellow, though a dashed insolent one.
What's Bandicott doing about his river?"

"Patrolling it day and night between the 1st and 3rd of September.
He says he's taking no chances, though he'd bet Wall Street to a nickel
that the poor poop hasn't the frozenest outside."

"Nettie, he said nothing of the kind!"  Miss Agatha was indignant.
"He talks beautiful English, with no trace of an accent--all Bostonians
do, he told me."

"Anyhow, he asked what steps we were taking and advised us to get busy.
We come before him, you know....Heavens, papa, it begins to-morrow night!
Oh, and I did so want to consult Sir Archibald.  I'm sure he could help."

Colonel Raden, having made a satisfactory breakfast, was lighting a pipe.

"You need not worry, my dear.  I'm an old campaigner and have planned out
the thing thoroughly.  I've been in frequent consultation with Macpherson,
and yesterday we had Alan and James Fraser in, and they entirely agreed."

He produced from his pocket a sheet of foolscap on which had been roughly
drawn a map of the estate.

"Now, listen to me.  We must assume this fellow Macnab to be
in possession of his senses, and to have more or less reconnoitred
the ground--though I don't know how the devil he can have managed it,
for the gillies have kept their eyes open, and nobody's been seen
near the place.  Well, here are the three beats.  Unless young Bandicott
is right and the man's a lunatic, he won't try the Home beat,
for the simple reason that a shot there would be heard by twenty people
and he could not move a beast twenty yards without being caught.
There remains Carnmore and Carnbeg.  Macpherson was clear that he would
try Carnmore, as being farthest away from the house.  But I, with my old
campaigning experience"--here Colonel Raden looked remarkably cunning--
"pointed out at once that such reasoning was rudimentary.
I said 'He'll bluff us, and just because he thinks that we think
he'll try Carnmore, he'll try Carnbeg.  Therefore, since we can only
afford to watch one beat thoroughly, we'll watch Carnbeg.'  What do you
think of that, my dears?"

"I think you're very clever, papa," said Agatha.  "I'm sure you're right."

"And you, Nettie?"

Janet was knitting her brows and looking thoughtful.

"I'm ...not...so...sure.  You see we must assume that John Macnab
is very ingenious.  He probably made his fortune in the colonies
by every kind of dodge.  He's sure to be very clever."

"Well put, my dear," said her father, "it's just that cleverness
that I propose to match."

"But do you think you have quite matched it?  You have tried to imagine
what John Macnab would be thinking, and he will have done just the same
by you.  Why shouldn't he have guessed the solution you have reached
and be deciding to go one better?"

"How do you mean, Nettie?" asked her puzzled parent.  He was inclined
to be annoyed, but experience had taught him that his younger daughter's
wits were not to be lightly disregarded.

Nettie took the estate map from his hand and found a stump of pencil
in the pocket of her jumper.

"Please look at this, papa.  Here is A and B.  B offers a better chance,
so Macpherson says John Macnab will take B.  You say, acutely, that
John Macnab is not a fool, and will try to bluff us by taking A.
I say that John Macnab will have anticipated your acumen."

"Yes, yes," said her father impatiently.  "And then?"

"And then will take B after all."

The Colonel stood rapt in unpleasant meditation for the space
of five seconds....

"God bless my soul!" he cried.  "I see what you mean.  Confound it,
of course he'll go for Carnmore.  Lord, this is a puzzle.
I must see Macpherson at once.  Are you sure you're right, Nettie?"

"I'm not in the least sure.  We've only a choice of uncertainties,
and must gamble.  But, as far as I see, if we must plump for one
we should plump for Carnmore."

Colonel Raden departed from his study, after summoning Macpherson
to that shrine of the higher thought, and Janet Raden, after one
or two brief domestic interviews, collected her two terriers and set out
for her morning walk.  The morning was as fresh and bright as April,
the rain in the night had set every burn singing, and the thickets
and lawns were still damp where the sun had not penetrated.
Her morning walk was wont to be a scamper, a thing of hops, skips,
and jumps, rather than a sedate progress; but on this occasion,
though two dogs and the whole earth invited to hilarity, she walked
slowly and thoughtfully.  The mossy broken tops of Carnbeg showed
above a wood of young firs, and to the right rose the high blue peaks
of the Carnmore ground.  On which of these on the morrow would John
Macnab begin his depredations?  He had two days for his exploit;
probably he would make his effort on the second day, and devote
the first to confusing the minds of the defence.  That meant that
the problem would have to be thought out anew each day, for the alert
intelligence of John Macnab--she now pictured him as a sort of
Sherlock Holmes in knicker-bockers--would not stand still.
The prospect exhilarated, but it also alarmed her; the desire to
win a new hunter was now a fixed resolution; but she wished she had
a colleague.  Agatha was no use, and her father, while admirable
in tactics, was weak in strategy; she longed more than ever for the help
of that frail vessel, Sir Archie.

Her road led her by a brawling torrent through the famous Glenraden
beechwood to the spongy meadows of the haugh, beyond which could be seen
the shining tides of the Raden sweeping to the high-backed bridge across
which ran the road to Carnmore.  The haugh was all bog-myrtle and heather
and bracken, sprinkled with great boulders which the river during
the ages had brought down from the hills.  Half a mile up it stood
the odd tumulus called the Piper's Ring, crowned with an ancient
gnarled fir, where reposed, according to the elder Bandicott,
the dust of that dark progenitor, Harald Blacktooth.  If Mr Bandicott
proposed to excavate there he had his work cut out; the place was
encumbered with giant stones since a thousand floods had washed its
sides since it first received the dead Viking.  Great birch woods
from both sides of the valley descended to the stream, thereby making
the excellence of the Home beat, for the woodland stag is a heavier
beast than his brother of the high tops.

Close to the road, in a small hollow where one of the rivulets from
the woods cut its way through the haugh, she came on an ancient cart
resting on its shafts, an ancient horse grazing on a patch of turf
among the peat, and a small boy diligently whittling his way through
a pile of heather roots.  The urchin sprang to his feet and saluted
like a soldier.

"Please, lady," he explained in a high falsetto whine, "I've gotten
permission from Mr Macpherson to make heather besoms on this muir.
He's been awfu' kind to me, lady."

"You're the boy who sells fish?  I've seen you on the road."

"Aye, lady, I'm Fish Benjie.  I sell my fish in the mornin's and evenin's,
and I've a' the day for other jobs.  I've aye wanted to come here,
for it's the grandest heather i' the country-side; and Mr Macpherson,
he kens I'll do nae harm, and I've promised no to kindle a fire."

The child with the beggar's voice looked at her with such sage and
solemn eyes that Janet, who had a hopeless weakness for small boys,
sat down on a sun-warmed hillock and stared at him, while he turned
resolutely to business.

"If you're hungry, Benjie," she said, "and they won't let you make
a fire, you can come up to the Castle and get tea from Mrs Fraser.
Tell her I sent you."

"Thank you, lady, but if you please, I was gaun to my tea at
Mrs Macpherson's.  She's fell fond o' my haddies, and she tell't
me to tak a look in when I stoppit work.  I'm ettlin' to be here
for a guid while."

"Will you come every day?"

"Aye, every day about eight o'clock, and bide till maybe five in
the afternoon when I go down to the cobles at Inverlarrig."

"Now, look here, Benjie.  When you're sitting quietly working here
I want you to keep your eyes open, and if you see any strange man,
tell Mr Macpherson.  By strange man I mean somebody who doesn't belong
to the place.  We're rather troubled by poachers just now."

Benjie raised a ruminant eye from his besom.

"Aye, lady.  I seen a queer man already this mornin'.  He cam up the road
and syne started off over the bog.  He was sweatin' sore, and there was
twa men from Strathlarrig wi' him carryin' picks and shovels....Losh,
there he is comin' back."

Following Benjie's pointing finger Janet saw, approaching her from
the direction of the Piper's Ring, a solitary figure which laboured
heavily among the peat-bogs.  Presently it was revealed as an elderly man
wearing a broad grey wide-awake and a suit of flannel knickerbockers.
His enormous horn spectacles clearly did not help his eyesight,
for he had almost fallen over the shafts of the fish-cart before
he perceived Janet Raden.  He removed his hat, bowed with an antique
courtesy, and asked permission to recover his breath.

"I was on my way to see your father," he said at length.  "This morning
I have prospected the barrow of Harald Blacktooth, and it is clear to me
that I can make no progress unless I have Colonel Raden's permission
to use explosives.  Only the very slightest use, I promise you.
I have located, I think, the ceremonial entrance, but it is blocked with
boulders which it would take a gang of navvies to raise with crowbars.
A discreet application of dynamite would do the work in half an hour.
I cannot think that Colonel Raden would object to my using it when
I encounter such obstacles.  I assure you it will not spoil the look
of the barrow."

"I'm sure papa will be delighted.  You're certain the noise won't
frighten the deer.  You know the Piper's Ring is in the forest."

"Not in the least, my dear young lady.  The reports will be very slight,
scarcely louder than a rifle-shot.  I ought to tell you that I am
an old hand at explosives, for in my young days I mined in Colorado,
and recently I have employed them in my Alaska researches...."

"If we go home now," said Janet, rising, "we'll just catch papa before
he goes out.  You're very warm, Mr Bandicott, and I think you would
be the better for a rest and a drink."

"I certainly should, my dear.  I was so eager to begin that I bolted
my breakfast, and started off before Junius was ready.  He proposes to
meet me here."

Benjie, left alone, wrought diligently at his heather roots, whistling
softly to himself, and every now and then raising his head to scan
the haugh and the lower glen.  Presently a tall young man appeared,
who was identified as the younger American, and who was duly directed
to follow his father to the Castle.  The two returned in a little while,
accompanied by Agatha Raden, and, while the elder Mr Bandicott hastened
to the Piper's Ring, the young people sauntered to the Raden bridge
and appeared to be deep in converse.  "That twa's weel agreed,"
was Benjie's comment.  A little before one o'clock the party adjourned
to the Castle, presumably for luncheon, and Benjie, whose noon-tide meal
was always sparing, nibbled a crust of bread and a rind of cheese.
In the afternoon Macpherson and one of the gillies strolled past,
and the head-stalker proved wonderfully gracious, adjuring him, as Janet
had done, to keep his eyes open and report the presence of any stranger.
"There'll be the three folk from Strathlarrig howkin' awa there, but if
ye see anybody else, away up to the house and tell the wife.
They'll no be here for any good."  Benjie promised fervently.
"I've grand een, Mr Macpherson, sir, and though they was to be crawlin'
like a serpent I'd be on them."  The head-stalker observed that he was
a "gleg one," and went his ways.

Despite his industry Benjie was remarkably observant that day,
but he was not looking for poachers.  He had suddenly developed an
acute interest in the deer.  His unaided eyes were as good as the
ordinary man's telescope, and he kept a keen watch on the fringes
of the great birch woods.  The excavation at the Piper's Ring kept away
any beasts from the east side of the haugh, but on the west bank of
the stream he saw two lots of hinds grazing, with one or two young stags
among them, and even on the east bank, close in to the edge of the river,
he saw hinds with calves.  He concluded that on the fringes of the Raden
the feeding must be extra good, and, as a steady west wind was blowing,
the deer there would not be alarmed by Mr Bandicott's quest.
Just after he had finished his bread and cheese he was rewarded with
the spectacle of a hummel, a great fellow of fully twenty stone,
who rolled in a peat hole and then stood blowing in the shallow water
as unconcerned as if he had been on the top of Carnmore.
Later in the afternoon he saw a good ten-pointer in the same place,
and a little later an eight-pointer with a damaged horn.
He concluded that that particular hag was a favourite mud-bath
for stags, and that with the wind in the west it was no way
interfered with by the activities at the Piper's Ring.

About four o'clock Benjie backed the old horse into the shafts,
and jogged up the beech-avenue to Mrs Macpherson's where he was stayed
with tea and scones.  There was a gathering outside the door
of Macpherson himself and the two gillies, and a strange excitement
seemed to have fallen on that stolid community.  Benjie could not
avoid--indeed, I am not sure that he tried to avoid--hearing scraps
of their talk.  "I've been a' round Carnmore," said Alan, "and I seen
some fine beasts.  They're mostly in a howe atween the two tops,
and a man at the Grey Beallach could keep an eye on all the good ground."
"Aye, but there's the Carn Moss, and the burnheads--there will be beasts
there too," said James Fraser.  "There will have to be a man there,
for him at the Grey Beallach would not ken what was happening."
"And what about Corrie Gall?" asked Macpherson fiercely.
"Ye canna post men on Carnmore--they will have to keep moving;
it is that awful broken ground."  "Well, there's you and me and James,"
said Alan, "and there's Himself."  "And that's the lot of us,
and every man wanted."  said Macpherson.  "It's what I was always
saying--ye will need every man for Carnmore, and must let Carnbeg alone,
or ye can watch Carnbeg and not go near Carnmore.  We're far ower few."
"I wass thinking," said James Fraser, "that the youngest leddy might
be watching Carnbeg."  "Aye, James"--this satirically from
Macpherson--"and how would the young leddy be keeping a wild man
from killing a stag and getting him away?"  "'Deed, I don't ken,"
said the puzzled James, "without she took a gun with her and
had a shot at him."

Benjie drove quietly to Inverlarrig for his supply of fish, and did not
return to his head-quarters in the Wood of Larrigmore till nearly
seven o'clock.  At eight, having cooked and eaten his supper,
he made a simple toilet, which consisted in washing the fish-scales
and the stains of peat from his hands, holding his head in the river,
parting his damp hair with a broken comb, and putting over his shoulders
a waterproof cape, which had dropped from some passing conveyance
and had been found by him on the road.  Thus accoutred, he crossed
the river and by devious paths ascended to Crask.

He ensconced himself in the stable, where he was greeted sourly by
the Bluidy Mackenzie, who was tied up in one of the stalls.
There he occupied himself in whistling strathspeys and stuffing
a foul clay pipe with the stump of a cigar which he had picked up
in the yard.  Benjie smoked not for pleasure, but from a sense
of duty, and a few whiffs were all he could manage with comfort.
The gloaming had fallen before he heard his name called, and Wattie
Lithgow appeared.  "Ye're there, ye monkey?  The gentlemen are
asking for ye.  Quick and follow me.  They're in a awfu' ill key
the nicht and maunna be keepit waitin'."

There certainly seemed trouble in the smoking-room when Benjie
was ushered in.  Lamancha was standing on the hearth-rug with a letter
crumpled in his hand, and Sir Archie, waving a missive, was excitedly
confronting him.  The other two sat in arm-chairs with an air of
protest and dejection.

"I forgot all about the infernal thing till I got Montgomery's letter.
The 4th of September!  Hang it, my assault on old Claybody is timed
to start on the 5th.  How on earth can I get to Muirtown and back
and deliver a speech, and be ready for the 5th?  Besides, it betrays
my presence in this part of the world.  It simply can't be done...and
yet I don't know how on earth to get out of it?  Apparently the thing
was arranged months ago."

"You're for it all right, my son," cried Sir Archie, "and so am I.
Here's the beastly announcement.  'A Great Conservative Meeting will
be held in the Town Hall, Muirtown, on Thursday, September 4th,
to be addressed by the Right Hon. the Earl of Lamancha, M.P., His
Majesty's Secretary of State for the Dominions.  The chair will be
taken at 3 p.m. by His Grace the Duke of Angus, K.G.  Among the speakers
will be Colonel Wavertree, M.P., the Hon. W.J. Murdoch, Ex-Premier of
New Caledonia, and Captain Sir Archibald Roylance, D.S.O., prospective
Conservative candidate for Wester Ross.'  Oh, will he? Not by a
long chalk!  Catch me going to such a fiasco, with Charles hidin' here
and the show left to the tender mercies of two rotten bad speakers
and a prosy chairman."

"Did you forget about it too?" Leithen asked.

"'Course I did," said Archie wildly.  "How could I think of anything
with you fellows turnin' my house into a den of thieves?  I forgot about
it just as completely as Charles, only it doesn't matter about me,
and it matters the devil of a lot about him.  I don't stand an earthly
chance of winnin' the seat, if, first of all, I mustn't canvass because
of smallpox, and, second, my big meetin', on which all my fellows counted,
is wrecked by Charles playin' the fool."

Lamancha's dark face broke into a smile.

"Don't worry, old chap.  I won't let you down.  But it looks as if I
must let down John Macnab, and just when I was gettin' keen about him..
..Hang it, no! There must be a way.  I'm not going to be beaten
either by Claybody or this damned Tory rally.  Ned, you slacker,
what's your advice?"

"Have a try at the double event," Leithen drawled.  "You'll probably
make a mess of both, but it's a sporting proposition."

Archie's face brightened.  "You don't realise how sportin' a proposition
it is.  The Claybodys will be there, and they'll be all over you--brother
nobleman, you know, and you goin' to poach their stags next day!
Hang it, why shouldn't you turn the affair into camouflage? 'Out of my
stony griefs Bethel I'll raise,' says the hymn....We'll have to think
the thing out ve-ry carefully.--Anyway, Charles, you've got to help me
with my speech.  I don't mind so much lyin' doggo here if I can put in
a bit of good work on the 5th....Now, Benjie my lad, for your report."

Benjie, not without a certain shyness, cleared his throat and began.
He narrated how, following his instructions, he had secured Macpherson's
permission to cut heather for besoms on the Raden haugh.  He had duly
taken up his post there, had remained till four o'clock, and had seen
such and such people and heard this and that talk.  He recounted what
he could remember of the speeches of Macpherson and the gillies.

"They've got accustomed to the sight of you, I suppose," Palliser-Yeates
said at length.

"Aye, they're accustomed right enough.  Both the young lady and Macpherson
was tellin' me to keep a look-out for poachers."  Benjie chuckled.

"Then to-morrow you begin to move up to the high ground by the Carnmore
peat-road.  Still keep busy at your besoms.  You understand what I
want you for, Benjie?  If I kill a stag I have to get it off Glenraden
land, and your old fish-cart won't be suspected.'

"Aye, I see that fine.  But I've been thinkin' that there's maybe
a better way."

"Go ahead, and let's have it."

Benjie began his speech nervously, but he soon warmed to it, and borrowed
a cigar-box and the fire-irons to explain his case.  The interest of his
hearers kindled, until all four men were hanging on his words.
When he concluded and had answered sundry questions, Sir Archie
drew a deep breath and laughed excitedly.

"I suppose there's nothing in that that isn't quite cricket..
..I thought I knew something about bluff, but this--this absolutely
vanquishes the band.  Benjie, I'm goin' to have you taught poker.
You've the right kind of mind for it."



CHAPTER 5


THE ASSAULT ON GLENRADEN

Shortly after midnight of the 28th day of August three men foregathered
at the door of Macpherson's cottage, and after a few words took each
a different road into the dark wastes of wood and heather.
Macpherson contented himself with a patrol of the low ground in the glen,
for his legs were not as nimble as they once had been and his back
had a rheumaticky stiffness.  Alan departed with great strides for
the Carnbeg tops, and James Fraser, the youngest and the leanest,
set out for Carnmore, with the speed of an Indian hunter....Darkness gave
place to the translucence of early dawn: the badger trotted home from
his wanderings: the hill-fox barked in the cairns to summon his household:
sleepy pipits awoke: the peregrine who lived above the Grey Beallach
drifted down into the glens to look for breakfast: hinds and calves
moved up from the hazel shows to the high fresh pastures: the tiny
rustling noises of night disappeared in that hush which precedes the
awakening of life: and then came the flood of morning gold from behind
the dim eastern mountains, and in an instant the earth had wheeled
into a new day.  A thin spire of smoke rose from Mrs Macpherson's
chimney, and presently the three wardens of the marches arrived
for breakfast.  They reported that the forest was still unviolated,
that no alien foot had yet entered its sacred confines.  Herd-boys,
the offspring of Alan and James Fraser, had taken up their post
at key-points, so that if a human being was seen on the glacis of
the fort the fact would at once be reported to the garrison.

"I'm thinkin' he'll no come to-day," said Macpherson after this third
cup of tea.  "It will be the morn.  The day he will be tryin' to confuse
our minds, and that will no be a difficult job wi' you, Alan, my son."

"He'll come in the da-ark," said Alan crossly.

"And how would he be gettin' a beast in the dark?  The Laird was sayin'
that this man John Macnab was a gra-and sportsman.  He will not be
shootin' at any little staggie, but takin' a sizeable beast, and it's
not a howlet could be tellin' a calf from a stag in these da-ark nights.
Na, he will not shoot in the night, but he might be travellin' in
the night and gettin' his shot in the early mornin'."

"What for," Alan asked, "should he not be havin' his shot in the gloamin'
and gettin' the beast off the ground in the da-ark?"

"Because we will be watchin' all hours of the day.  Ye heard what the
Laird said, Alan Macdonald, and you, James Fraser.  This John Macnab
is not to shoot a Glenraden beast at all, at all, but if he shoots one
he is not to move it one foot.  If it comes to fightin', you are young
lads and must break the head of him.  But the Laird said for God's sake
you was to have no guns, but to fight like honest folks with your fists,
and maybe a wee bit stick.  The Laird was sayin' the law was on our side,
except for shootin'....Now, James Fraser, you will take the outer marches
the day, and keep an eye on the peat-roads from Inverlarrig, and you,
Alan, will watch Carnbeg, and I will be takin' the woods myself.
The Laird was sayin' that it would be Carnmore the man Macnab would
be tryin', most likely at skreigh of day the morn, and he would be hidin'
the beast, if he got one, in some hag, and waitin' till the da-ark
to shift him.  So the morn we will all be on Carnmore, and I can tell you
the Laird has the ground planned out so that a snipe would not be movin'
without us seein' him."

The early morning broadened into day, and the glen slept in the windless
heat of late August.  Janet Raden, sauntering down from the Castle
towards the river about eleven o'clock, thought that she had never seen
the place so sabbatically peaceful.  To her unquiet soul the calm
seemed unnatural, like a thick cloak covering some feverish activity.
All the household were abroad since breakfast--her father on a
preliminary reconnaissance of Carnmore, Agatha and Mr Junius Bandicott
on a circuit of Carnbeg, while the gillies and their youthful allies sat
perched with telescopes on eyries surveying every approach to the forest.
The plans seemed perfect, but the dread of John Macnab, that dark
conspirator, would not be exorcised.  It was she who had devised
the campaign, based on her reading of the enemy's mind; but had she
fathomed it, she asked herself?  Might he not even now be preparing
some master-stroke which would crumble their crude defences?
Horrible stories which she had read of impersonation and the shifts
of desperate characters recurred to her mind.  Was John Macnab perhaps
old Mr Bandicott disguised as an archaeologist?  Or was he one of the
Strathlarrig workmen?

She walked over the moor to the Piper's Ring and was greeted by
a mild detonation and a shower of earth.  Old Mr Bandicott,
very warm and stripped to his shirt, was desperately busy and
most voluble about his task.  There was no impersonation here,
nor in the two fiery-faced labourers who were burrowing their way
towards the resting-place of Harald Blacktooth.  Nevertheless, her
suspicion was not allayed, she felt herself in the antechamber of
plotters, and looked any moment to see on the fringes of the wood
or on the white ribbon of road a mysterious furtive figure which she
would know for a minion of the enemy.

But the minion did not appear.  As Janet stood on the rise before
the bridge of Raden with her hat removed to let the faint south-west wind
cool her forehead, she looked upon a scene of utter loneliness and peace.
The party at the Piper's Ring were hidden, and in all the green
amphitheatre nothing stirred but the stream.  Even Fish Benjie and
his horse had been stricken into carven immobility.  He had moved away
from the road a few hundred yards into the moor, not far from the
waterside, and his little figure, as he whittled at his brooms,
appeared from where Janet stood to be as motionless as a boulder,
while the old grey pony mused upon three legs as rapt and lifeless
as an Elgin marble.  The two seemed to have become one with nature,
and to be as much part of the sleeping landscape as the clump of birches
whose leaves did not even shimmer in that bright silent noontide.

The quiet did something to soothe Janet's restlessness, but after
luncheon, which she partook of in solitary state, she found it returning.
A kind of 'folie de doute' assailed her, not unknown to generals
in the bad hours which intervene between the inception and execution
of a plan.  She had a strong desire to ride up to Crask and have a talk
with Sir Archie, and was only restrained by the memory of that young man's
last letter, and the hint it contained of grave bodily maladies.
She did not know whether to believe in these maladies or not, but clearly
she could not thrust her company upon one who had shown a marked distaste
for it....Yet she had her pony saddled and rode slowly in the direction
of Strathlarrig, half hoping to see a limping figure on the highway.
But not a soul was in sight on the long blinding stretch or at the bridge
where the Crask road started up the hill.  Janet turned homeward with
a feeling that the world had suddenly become dispeopled.  She did not
turn her head once, and so failed to notice first one figure and
then another, which darted across the high road, and disappeared
in the thick coverts of the Crask hill-side.

At the Castle she found Agatha and Junius Bandicott having tea,
and presently her father arrived in a state of heat and exhaustion.
Stayed with a whisky-and-soda, Colonel Raden became communicative.
He had been over the high tops of Carnmore, had visited the Carn Moss,
and Corrie Gall, had penetrated the Grey Beallach, had heard the tales
of the gillies and of the herd-boys in their eyries, and his report
was "all clear."  The deer were undisturbed, according to James Fraser,
since the morning.  Moreover, the peat-road from Inverlarrig had relapsed
owing to recent rains into primeval bog which no wheeled vehicle and
few ponies could traverse.  The main fortress seemed not only unassailed
but unassailable, and Colonel Raden viewed the morrow with equanimity.

The Carnbeg party had a different story to tell, or rather the main
members of it had no story at all.  Agatha and Junius Bandicott appeared
to have sauntered idly into the pleasant wilderness of juniper and heather
which lay between the mossy summits, to have lunched at leisure by the
famous Cailleach's Well, and to have sauntered home again.  They reported
that it had been divine weather, for a hill breeze had tempered the heat,
and that they had observed the Claybody's yacht far out at the entrance
of Loch Larrig.  Also Junius had seen his first blue hare, which he
called a "jack rabbit."  Of anything suspicious there had been neither
sign nor sound.

But at this moment a maid appeared with the announcement that
"Macpherson was wanting to see the Colonel," and presently the head
stalker arrived in what John Bunyan calls a "pelting heat."
Generally of a pale complexion which never tanned, he was now as red
as a peony, and his grey beard made a startling contrast with his
flamboyant face.  Usually he was an embarrassed figure inside the Castle,
having difficulties in disposing of his arms and legs, but now excitement
made him bold.

"I've seen him, Cornel," he panted.  "Seen him crawlin' like an adder and
runnin' like a sta-ag!"

"Seen who? Get your breath, Macpherson!"

"Him--the man--Macnab.  I beg your pardon for my pechin', sir, but I came
down the hill like I was a rollin' stone....It was up on the backside of
Craig Dhu near the old sheep-fauld.  I seen a man hunkerin' among
the muckle stones, and I got my glass on him, and he was a sma' man that
I've never seen afore.  I was wild to get a grip of him, and I started
runnin' to drive him to the Cailleach's Well, where Miss Agatha and
the gentleman was havin' their lunch.  He seen me, and he took the road
I ettled, and I thought I had him, for, thinks I, the young gentleman
is soople and lang in the leg.  But he seen the danger and turned off
down the burn, and I couldna come near him.  It would have been all right
if I could have made the young gentleman hear, but though I was roarin'
like a stot he was deafer than a tree.  Och, it is the great peety."

"Agatha, what on earth were you doing?" Janet asked severely.

Junius Bandicott blushed hotly.  "I never heard a sound," he said.
"There must be something funny about the acoustics of that place."

Colonel Raden, who knew the power of his stalker's lungs, looked in a
mystified way from one to the other.

"Didn't you see Macpherson, Agatha?" he asked.  "He must have been
in view coming over the shoulder of Craig Dhu."

It was Agatha's turn to blush, which she did with vigour, and,
to Mr Bandicott's eyes, with remarkable grace.

"Ach' I was in view well enough," went on the tactless Macpherson,
"and I was routin' like a wild beast.  But the twa of them was that busy
talking they never lifted their eyes, and the man, as I tell you, slippit
off down the burn.  It is a gre-at peety, whatever."

"What did you do then?" the Colonel demanded.

"I followed him till I lost him in that awful rough corrie....
But I seen him again--aye, I seen him again, away over on the Maam
above the big wud.  Standin', as impident as ye please, on the sky-line."

"How long after you lost him in the corrie?" Janet asked.

"Maybe half an hour."

"Impossible," she said sharply.  "No living man could cover three miles
of that ground in half an hour."

"I was thinkin' the body was the Deevil."

"You saw a second man.  John Macnab has an accomplice."

Macpherson scratched his shaggy head.  "I wouldn't say but ye're right,
Miss Janet.  Now I think of it, it was a bigger man.  He didn't bide
a moment after I caught sight of him, but I got my glass on him,
and he was a bigger man.  Aye, a bigger man, and, maybe, a younger man."

"This is very disturbing," said Colonel Raden, walking to the window
and twisting his moustache.  "What do you make of it, Nettie?"

"I think the affair is proceeding, as generals say about their battles,
'according to plan.'  We didn't know before that John Macnab had
a confederate, but of course he was bound to have one.  There was nothing
against it in the terms of the wager."

"Of course not, of course not.  But what the devil was he doing
on Carnbeg?  There was no shot, Macpherson?"

"There was no shot, and there will be no shot.  There wass no beasts the
side they were on, and Alan is up there now with one of James's laddies."

"It's exactly what we expected," said Janet.  "It proves that we
were right in guessing that John Macnab would take Carnmore.
He came here to-day to frighten us about Carnbeg--make us think that
he was going to try there, and get us to mass our forces.
To-morrow he'll be on Carnmore, and then he'll mean business.
I hoped this would happen, and I was getting nervous when Agatha
and Mr Bandicott came home looking as blank as the Babes in the Wood.
But I wish I knew which was really John Macnab--the little one
or the tall one."

"What does it matter?" her parent asked.

"Because I should be happier if he were tall.  Little men are
far more cunning."

Junius Bandicott, having recovered his composure, chose to be amused.
"I take that as a personal compliment, Miss Janet.  I'm pretty big,
and I can't say I want to be thought cunning."

"Then John Macnab will get his salmon," said Janet with decision.

Junius laughed.  "You bet he won't.  I've gotten the place watched
like the Rum Fleet at home.  A bird can't hardly cough without
its being reported to me.  My fellows are on to the game, and John Macnab
will have to be a mighty clever citizen to come within a mile of the
Strathlarrig water.  Nobody is allowed to fish it but myself till the
3rd of September is past.  I reckon angling just now is the forbidden
fruit in this neighbourhood.  I've seen but the one fellow fishing
in the last three days--on the bit of slack water five hundred yards
below the bridge.  It belongs to Crask, I think."

Janet nodded.  "No good except with a worm after a spate.  Crask has no
fishing worth the name."

"I saw him from the automobile early this morning," Junius continued.
"Strange sight he was, too--dressed in pyjamas and rubbers--flogging away
at the most helpless stretch you can imagine--dead calm, not a ripple.
He had out about fifty yards of line, and when I passed he made a cast
which fell with a flop about his ears.  Who do you suppose he was?
Somebody from Crask?"

Janet, who was the family's authority on Crask, agreed.  "Probably some
English servant who came down before breakfast just to say he had
fished for salmon."

After tea Janet went down into the haugh.  She met old Mr Bandicott
returning from the Piper's Ring, a very grubby old gentleman, and a
little dashed in spirits, for he had as yet seen no sign of
Harald Blacktooth's coffin.  "Another day's work," he announced,
"and then I win or lose.  I thought I had struck it this afternoon,
but it was the solid granite.  If the follow is there he's probably
in a rift of the rock.  That has been known to happen.  The Vikings found
a natural fissure, stuck their dead chief in it, and heaped earth above
to make a barrow...."

Down near the stream she met Benjie, who appeared to have worked late
at his besoms, bumping over the moor to the road.  He and his old pony
made a more idyllic picture than ever in the mellow light of evening,
almost too conventionally artistic to be real, she thought, till Benjie's
immobile figure woke to life at the sight of her and he pulled his
lint-white forelock.  "A grand nicht, lady," he crooned, and jogged on
into the beeches' shade.  She sat on the bridge and watched the
Raden waters pass from gold to amethyst and from amethyst to purple,
and then sauntered back through the sweet-smelling dusk.
Visions of John Macnab filled her mind, now a tall bravo with a
colonial accent, now a gnarled Caliban of infinite cunning and
gnome-like agility.  Where in this haunted land was he ensconced--in
some hazel covert, or in some clachan but-and-ben, or miles distant
in a populous hotel, ready to speed in a swift car to the scene
of action?...Anyhow, in twenty-four hours she would know if she had
defeated this insolent challenger.  On the eve of battle she had forgotten
all about the stakes and her new hunter; it was the honour of Glenraden
that was concerned, that little stone castle against the world.

Night fell, cool and cloudless, and the gillies went on their patrols.
Carnmore was their only beat, and they returned one at a time to snatch
a few hours' rest.  At dawn they went out again--with the Colonel,
but without Alan, who was to follow after he had had his ration of sleep.
It was arranged that the two girls and Junius Bandicott should spend
the day on Carnbeg by way of extra precaution, though if a desperate man
made the assault there it was not likely that Junius, who knew nothing
of deer and had no hill-craft, would be able to stop him.

Janet woke in low spirits, and her depression increased as the
morning advanced.  She was full of vague forebodings, and of an irritable
unrest to which her steady nerves had hitherto been a stranger.
She wished she were a man and could be now on Carnmore, for Carnbeg,
she was convinced, was out of danger.  Junius, splendid in buckskin
breeches and a russet sweater, she regarded with disfavour; he was
a striking figure, but out of keeping with the hills, the obvious
amateur, and she longed for the halting and guileful Sir Archie.
Nor was her temper improved by the conduct of her companions.
Agatha and Junius seemed to have an inordinate amount to say to each
other, and their conversation was idiotic to the ears of a third party.
Their eyes were far more on each other than on the landscape, and their
telescopes were never in use.  But it mattered little, for Carnbeg slept
in a primordial peace.  Only pipits broke the silence, only a circling
merlin made movement in a spell-bound world.  There were some hinds
on the west side of Craig Dhu, but no stag showed--as was natural,
the girl reflected, for in this weather and this early in the season
the stags would be on the highest tops.  John Macnab had chosen rightly
if he wanted a shot, but there were three gillies and her father to
prevent him getting his beast away.

At luncheon, which was eaten by the Cailleach's Well, Julius took to
quoting poetry and Agatha to telling, very charmingly, the fairy tales
of the glens.  To Janet it all seemed wrong; this was not an occasion
for literary philandering, when the credit of Glenraden was at stake.
But even she was forced to confess that nothing was astir in the
mossy wilderness.  She climbed to the top of Craig Dhu and had a
long spy, but, except for more hinds and one small knobber,
living thing there was none.  As the afternoon drew on, she drifted
away from the two, who, being engrossed with each other, did not
notice her departure.

She wandered through the deep heather of the Maam to where the great
woods began that dipped to the Raden glen.  It was pleasant walking
in the cool shade of the pines on turf which was half thyme and milkwort
and eyebright, and presently her spirits rose.  Now and then, on some
knuckle of blaeberry-covered rock which rose above the trees, she would
halt, and, stretched at full length, would spy the nooks of the Home beat.
There was no lack of deer there.  She picked up one group and then
another in the aisles and clearings of the woods, and there were
shootable stags among them.

A report like a rifle-shot suddenly startled her.  Then she remembered
old Mr Bandicott down in the haugh, and, turning her glance in
that direction, saw a thin cloud of blue smoke floating away from
the Piper's Ring.

Slowly she worked her way down-hill, aiming at the haugh about a mile
upstream from the excavators.  Once a startled hind and calf sprang up
from her feet, and once an old fox slipped out of a pile of rocks
and revived thoughts of Warwickshire and her problematic hunter.
Soon she was not more than three hundred feet above the stream level,
and found a bracken-clad hillock where she could lie and watch the scene.
There was a roebuck feeding just below her, a roebuck with fine horns,
and it amused her to see the beast come nearer and nearer, since
the wind was behind him.  He got within five yards of the girl,
who lay mute as a stone; then some impulse made him look up and
meet her eye, and in a second he had streaked into cover.

Amid that delicious weather and in that home of peace Janet began
to recapture her usual mirthfulness.  She had been right; Carnmore was
the place John Macnab would select, unless his heart had failed him,
and on Carnmore he would get a warm reception.  There was no need to
worry any longer about John Macnab....Her thoughts went back to Agatha.
Clearly Junius Bandicott was in love with her, and probably she would
soon be in love with Junius Bandicott.  No one could call it anything
but a most suitable match, but Janet was vaguely unhappy about it,
for it meant a break in their tiny household and the end of a long
and affectionate, if occasionally tempestuous, comradeship.
She would be very lonely at Glenraden without Agatha, and what
would Agatha do when transplanted to a foreign shore--Agatha, for whom
the world was bounded by her native hills?  She began to figure to
herself what America was like, and, as her pictures had no basis
of knowledge, they soon became fantastic, and merged into dreams.
The drowsy afternoon world laid its spell upon the girl,
and she fell asleep.

She awoke half an hour later with the sound of a shot in her ear.
It set her scrambling to her feet till she remembered the excavators
at the Piper's Ring, who were out of sight of the knoll on which
she stood, somewhat on her right rear.  Reassured, she lazily scanned
the sleeping haugh, with the glittering Raden in the middle distance,
and beyond the wooded slopes of the other side of the glen.
She noticed a small troop of deer splashing through the shallows.
Had they been scared by Mr Bandicott's explosion?  That was odd,
for the report had been faint and they were up-wind from it.

They were badly startled, for they raced through the river and
disappeared in a few breathless seconds in the farther woods..
..Suddenly a thought made her heart beat wildly, and she raked
the ground with her glass....

There was something tawny on a patch of turf in a little hollow
near the stream.  A moment of anxious spying showed her that
it was a dead stag.  The report had not been Mr Bandicott's dynamite,
but a rifle.

Down the hill-side like a startled hind went Janet.  She was choking
with excitement, and had no clear idea in her head except a determination
that John Macnab should not lay hand on the stricken beast.
If he had pierced their defences, and got his shot, he would at any rate
not get the carcass off the ground.  No thought of the stakes and her
hunter occurred to her--only of Glenraden and its inviolate honour.

Almost at once she lost sight of the place where the stag lay.
She was now on the low ground of the haugh, in a wilderness of bogs
and hollows and overgrown boulders, with half a mile of rough country
between her and her goal.  Soon she was panting hard: presently she had
a stitch in her side; her eyes dimmed with fatigue, and her hat flew off
and was left behind.  It was abominable ground for speed, for there were
heather-roots to trip the foot, and mires to engulf it, and noxious stones
over which a runner must go warily or break an ankle.  On with bursting
heart went Janet, slipping, floundering, more than once taking wild tosses.
Her light shoes grew leaden, her thin skirts a vast entangling quilt;
her side ached and her legs were fast numbing....Then, from a slight rise,
she had a glimpse of the Raden water, now very near, and the sight
of a moving head.  Her speed redoubled, and miraculously her aches
ceased--the fire of battle filled her, as it had burned in her
progenitors when they descended on their foes through the moonlit passes.

Suddenly she was at the scene of the dark deed.  There lay the dead stag,
and beside it a tall man with his shirt-sleeves turned up and a
knife in his hand.  That the miscreant should be calmly proceeding
to the gralloch was like a fiery stimulant to Janet's spirit.
Gone was every vestige of fatigue, and she descended the last slope
like a maenad.

"Stop!" she sobbed.  "Stop, you villain!"

The man started at her voice, and drew himself up.  He saw a slim
dishevelled girl, hatless, her fair locks fast coming down, who,
in the attitude of a tragedy queen, stood with uplifted and accusing hand.
She saw a tall man, apparently young, with a very ruddy face, a thatch
of sandy hair, and ancient, disreputable clothes.

"You are beaten, John Macnab," cried the panting voice.  "I forbid you
to touch that stag.  I..."

The man seemed to have grasped the situation, for he shut the knife
and slipped it back in his pocket.  Also he smiled.  Also he held both
hands above his head.

"Kamerad!" he said.  "I acknowledge defeat, Miss Raden."

Then he picked up his rifle and his discarded jacket, and turned and
ran for it.  She heard him splashing through the river, and in three
minutes he was swallowed up in the farther woods.

The victorious Janet sank gasping on the turf.  She wanted to cry,
but changed her mind and began to laugh hysterically.  After that she
wanted to sing.  She and she alone had defeated the marauder,
while every man about the place was roosting idly on Carnmore.
Now at last she remembered that hunter which would carry her in the
winter over the Midland pastures.  That was good, but to have beaten
John Macnab was better....And then just a shade of compunction
tempered her triumph.  She had greatly liked the look of John Macnab.
He was a gentleman--his voice bore witness to the fact, and the way
he had behaved.  Kamerad! He must have fought in the war and had
no doubt done well.  Also, he was beyond question a sportsman.
The stag was just the kind of beast that a sportsman would
kill--a switch-horn, going back in condition--and he had picked him
out of a herd of better beasts.  The shot was a workmanlike one--through
the neck....

And the audacity of him! His wits had beaten them all, for he had
chosen the Home beat which everyone had dismissed as inviolable.
Truly a foeman worthy of her steel, whom like all good fighters
after victory she was disposed to love.

Crouched beside the dead stag, she slowly recovered her breath.
What was the next move to be?  If she left the beast might not
John Macnab return and make off with it? No, he wouldn't.
He was a gentleman, and would not go back on his admission of defeat.
But she was anxious to drain the last drops of her cup of triumph,
to confront the idle garrison of Carnmore on its return with the tangible
proof of her victory.  The stag should be lying at the Castle door,
and she herself waiting beside it to tell her tale.  She might borrow
Mr Bandicott's men to move it.

Hastily doing up her hair, she climbed out of the hollow to the little
ridge which gave a prospect over the haugh.  There before her,
not a hundred yards distant, was the old cart and the white pony
of Fish Benjie, looking as if it had been part of the landscape since
the beginning of time.

Benjie had wormed his way far into the moss, for he was more than
half a mile from the road.  It appeared that he had finished his
day's work on the besoms, for his pony was in the shafts, and he himself
was busy loading the cart with the fruits of his toil.  She called out
to him, but got no reply, and it was not till she stood beside him
that he looked up from his work.

"Benjie," she said, "come at once.  I want you to help me.
Have you been here long?"

"Since nine this mornin', lady."  Benjie's face was as impassive
as a stump of oak.

"Didn't you hear a shot?"

"I heard a gude wheen shots.  The auld man up at the Piper's Ring
has been blastin' awa."

"But close to you? Didn't you see a man--not five minutes ago?"

"Aye, I seen a man.  I seen him crossin' the water.  I thought he was
a gentleman from the Castle.  He had a gun wi' him."

"It was a poacher, Benjie," said Janet dramatically.  "The poacher I
wanted you to look out for.  He has killed a stag, too, but I
drove him away.  You must help me to get the beast home.
Can you get your cart over that knowe?"

"Fine, lady."

Without more words Benjie took the reins and started the old pony.
The cart floundered a little in a wet patch, tittuped over the tussocks,
and descended with many jolts to the neighbourhood of the stag--Janet
dancing in front of it like an Israelitish priest before the
Ark of the Covenant.

The late afternoon was very hot, for down in the haugh the wind
had died away.  The stag weighed not less than fifteen stone,
and before they finished Janet would have called them tons.
Yet the great task of transhipment was accomplished.  The pony was
taken out of the shafts and the cart tilted, and, after some strenuous
minutes, the carcase was heaved and pushed and levered on to its floor.
Janet, hanging on to the shafts, with incredible exertions pulled
them down, while Benjie--a tiny Atlas--prevented the beast
from slipping back by bearing its weight on his shoulders.
The backboard was put in its place, the mass of brooms and heather
piled on the stag, the pony restored to the shafts, and the cortege
was ready for the road.  Benjie had his face adorned with a new scratch
and a quantity of deer's blood, Janet had nobly torn her jumper and
one stocking; but these were trivial casualties for so great an action.

"Drive straight to the Castle and tell them to leave the beast
before the door.  You understand, Benjie?  Before the door--not in
the larder.  I'm going to strike home through the woods, for I'm
an awful sight."

"Ye look very bonny, lady," said the gallant Benjie as he
took up the reins.

Janet watched the strange outfit lumber from the hollow and nearly upset
over a hidden boulder.  It had the appearance of a moving peat-stack,
with a solitary horn jutting heavenwards like a withered branch.
Once again the girl subsided on the heather and laughed till she ached.

      .         .        .        .         .         .

The highway by the Larrig side slept in the golden afternoon.
Not a conveyance had disturbed its peace save the baker's cart
from Inverlarrig, which had passed about three o'clock.
About half-past five a man crossed it--a man who had descended
from the hill and used the stepping-stones where Sir Archibald Roylance
had come to grief.  He was a tall man with a rifle, hatless, untidy
and very warm, and he seemed to desire to be unobserved, for he made
certain that the road was clear before he ventured on it.
Once across, he found shelter in a clump of broom, whence he could
command a long stretch of the highway, almost from Glenraden gates
to the Bridge of Larrig.

Mr Palliser-Yeates, having reached sanctuary--for behind him lay
the broken hillsides of Crask--mopped his brow and lit a pipe.
He did not seem to be greatly distressed at the result of the afternoon.
Indeed, he laughed--not wildly like Janet, but quietly and
with philosophy.  "A very neat hold-up," he reflected.  "Gad, she came on
like a small destroying angel....That's the girl Archie's been talking
about....a very good girl.  She looked as if she'd have taken on
an army corps....Jolly romantic ending--might have come out of a novel.
Only it should have been Archie, and a prospect of wedding bells--what?..
..Anyway, we'd have won out all right but for the girl, and I don't mind
being beaten by her...."

His meditations were interrupted by the sound of furious wheels
on the lone highway, and he cautiously raised his head to see an
old horse and an older cart being urged towards him at a canter.
The charioteer was a small boy, and above the cart sides projected
a stag's horn.

Forgetting all precautions, he stood up, and at the sight of him Benjie,
not without difficulty, checked the ardour of his much-belaboured beast,
and stopped before him.

"I've gotten it," he whispered hoarsely.  "The stag's in the cairt.
The lassie and me histed him in, and she tell't me to drive to the Castle.
But when I was out o' sicht o' her, I took the auld road through the wud
and here I am.  We've gotten the stag off Glenraden ground and we can
hide him up at Crask, and I'll slip doun in the cairt afore mornin'
and leave him ootbye the Castle wi' a letter from John Macnab.
Fegs, it was a near thing!"

Benjie's voice rose into a shrill paean, his disreputable face shone
with unholy joy.  And then something in Palliser-Yeates's eyes
cut short his triumph.

"Benjie, you little fool, right about turn at once.  I'm much obliged
to you, but it can't be done.  It isn't the game, you know.
I chucked up the sponge when Miss Raden challenged me, and I can't
go back on that.  Back you go to Glenraden and hand over the stag.
Quick, before you're missed....And look here--you're a first-class
sportsman, and I'm enormously grateful to you.  Here is something
for your trouble."

Benjie's face grew very red as he swung his equipage round.  "I see,"
he said.  "If ye like to be beat by a lassie, dinna blame me.
I'm no wantin' your money."

The next moment the fish-cart was clattering in the other direction.

To a mystified and anxious girl, pacing the gravel in front of
the Castle, entered the fish-cart.  The old horse seemed in the
last stages of exhaustion, and the boy who drove it was a dejected
and sparrow-like figure.

"Where in the world have you been?" Janet demanded.

"I was run awa' wi', lady," Benjie whined.  "The auld powny didna
like the smell o' the stag.  He bolted in the wud, and I didna get
him stoppit till verra near the Larrig Bridge."

"Poor little Benjie! Now you're going to Mrs Fraser to have the best tea
you ever had in your life, and you shall also have ten shillings."

"Thank you very kindly, lady, but I canna stop for tea.  I maun awa down
to Inverlarrig for my fish."  But his hand closed readily on the note,
for he had no compunction in taking money from one who had made him
to bear the bitterness of incomprehensible defeat.



CHAPTER 6


THE RETURN OF HARALD BLACKTOOTH

Miss Janet Raden had a taste for the dramatic, which that night
was nobly gratified.  The space in front of the great door of
the Castle became a stage of which the sole furniture was a
deceased stag, but on which event succeeded event with a speed
which recalled the cinema rather than the legitimate drama.

First, about six o'clock, entered Agatha and Junius Bandicott from
their casual wardenship of Carnbeg.  The effect upon the young man
was surprising.  Hitherto he had only half believed in John Macnab,
and had regarded the defence of Glenraden as more or less of a joke.
It seemed to him inconceivable that, even with the slender staffing
of the forest, one man could enter and slay and recover a deer.
But when he heard Janet's tale he became visibly excited, and his
careful and precise English, the bequest of his New England birth,
broke down into college slang.

"The man's a crackerjack," he murmured reverentially.  "He has us all
rocketing around the mountain tops, and then takes advantage of my dad's
blasting operations and raids the front yard.  He can pull the slick stuff
all right, and we at Strathlarrig had better get cold towels round
our heads and do some thinking.  Our time's getting short, too, for he
starts at midnight the day after to-morrow....What did you say
the fellow was like, Miss Janet? Young, and big, and behaved like
a gentleman? It's a tougher proposition than I thought, and I'm going
home right now to put old Angus through his paces."

With a deeply preoccupied face Junius, declining tea, fetched his car
from the stableyard and took his leave.

At seven-fifteen Colonel Raden, bestriding a deer pony, emerged from
the beech avenue, and waved a cheerful hand to his daughters.

"It's all right, my dears.  Not a sign of the blackguard.
The men will remain on Carnmore till midnight to be perfectly safe,
but I'm inclined to think that the whole thing is a fiasco.
He has been frightened away by our precautions.  But it's been
a jolly day on the high tops, and I have the thirst of all creation."

Then his eyes fell on the stag.  "God bless my soul," he cried,
"what is that?"

"That," said Janet, "is the stag which John Macnab killed this afternoon."

The Colonel promptly fell off his pony.

"Where--when?" he stammered.

"On the Home beat,' said Janet calmly.  The situation was going to be
quite as dramatic as she had hoped.  "I saw it fall, and ran hard
and got up to it just when he was starting the gralloch.
He was really quite nice about it."

"What did he do?" her parent demanded.

"He held up his hands and laughed and cried 'Kamerad!' Then he ran away."

"The scoundrel showed a proper sense of shame."

"I don't think he was ashamed.  Why should he be, for we accepted
his challenge.  You know, he's a gentleman, papa, and quite young
and good looking."

Colonel Raden's mind was passing through swift stages from exasperation
to unwilling respect.  It was an infernal annoyance that John Macnab
should have been suffered to intrude on the sacred soil of Glenraden,
but the man had played the boldest kind of hand, and he had certainly
not tailored his beast.  Besides, he had been beaten--beaten by a girl,
a daughter of the house.  The honour of Glenraden might be considered
sacrosanct after all.

A long drink restored the Colonel's equanimity, and the thought of their
careful preparations expended in the void moved him to laughter.

"'Pon my word, Nettie, I should like to ask the fellow to dinner.
I wonder where on earth he is living.  He can't be far off, for he is
due at Strathlarrig very soon.  What did young Bandicott say the day was?"

"Midnight, the day after to-morrow.  Mr Junius feels very solemn
after to-day, and has hurried home to put his house in order."

"Nettie," said the Colonel gravely, "I am prepared to make the modest bet
that John Macnab gets his salmon.  Hang it all, if he could outwit
us--and he did it, confound him--he is bound to outwit the Bandicotts.
I tell you what, John Macnab is a very remarkable man--a man in a million,
and I'm very much inclined to wish him success."

"So am I," said Janet; but Agatha announced indignantly that she had
never met a case of grosser selfishness.  She announced, too, that she
was prepared to join in the guarding of Strathlarrig.

"If you and Junius are no more use than you were on Carnbeg to-day,
John Macnab needn't worry," said Janet sweetly.

Agatha was about to retort when there was a sudden diversion.
The elder Bandicott appeared at a pace which was almost a run,
breathing hard, and with all the appearance of strong excitement.
Fifty yards behind him could be seen the two Strathlarrig labourers,
making the best speed they could under the burden of heavy sacks.
Mr Bandicott had no breath left to speak, but he motioned to his audience
to give him time and permit his henchmen to arrive.  These henchmen he
directed to the lawn, where they dropped their sacks on the grass.
Then, with an air which was almost sacramental, he turned to Colonel Raden.

"Sir," he said, "you are privileged--WE are privileged--to assist
in the greatest triumph of modern archaeology.  I have found the coffin
of Harald Blacktooth with the dust of Harald Blacktooth inside it."

"The devil you have!" said the Colonel.  "I suppose I ought to
congratulate you, but I'm bound to say I'm rather sorry.
I feel as if I had violated the tomb of my ancestors."

"You need have no fear, sir.  The dust has been reverently restored to its
casket, and to-morrow the Piper's Ring will show no trace of the work.
But within the stone casket there were articles which, in the name of
science, I have taken the liberty to bring with me, and which will awaken
an interest among the learned not less, I am convinced, than Schliemann's
discoveries at Mycenae.  I have found, sir, incredible treasures."

"Treasures!" cried all three of his auditors, for the word has not lost
its ancient magic.

Mr Bandicott, with the air of one addressing the Smithsonian Institution,
signalled to his henchmen, who thereupon emptied the sacks on the lawn.
A curious jumble of objects lay scattered under the evening sun--two
massive torques, several bowls and flagons, spear-heads from which the
hafts had long since rotted, a sword-blade, and a quantity of brooches,
armlets, and rings.  A dingy enough collection they made to the eyes of
the onlookers as Mr Bandicott arranged them in two heaps.

"These," he said, pointing to the torques, armlets, and flagons, "are,
so far as I can judge, of solid gold."

The Colonel called upon his Maker to sanctify his soul.  "Gold! These are
great things! They must be prodigiously valuable.  Are they mine,
or yours, or whose?"

"I am not familiar with the law of Scotland on the matter of treasure
trove, but I assume that the State can annex them, paying you a percentage
of their value.  For myself, I gladly waive all claims.  I am a man of
science, sir, not a treasure-hunter....But the merit of the discovery
does not lie in those objects, which can be paralleled from many tombs
in Scotland and Norway.  No, sir, the tremendous, the epoch-making value
is to be found in these."  And he indicated some bracelets and a necklace
which looked as if they were made of queerly-marked and very dirty shells.

Mr Bandicott lifted one and fingered it lovingly.

"I have found such objects in graves as far apart as the coast of Labrador
and the coast of Rhode Island, and as far inland as the Ohio basin.
These shells were the common funerary adjunct of the primitive inhabitants
of my country, and they are peculiar to the North American Continent.
Do you see what follows, sir?"

The Colonel did not, and Mr Bandicott, his voice thrilling with
emotion, continued:

"It follows that Harald Blacktooth obtained them from the only place
he could obtain them, the other side of the Atlantic.  There is historical
warrant for believing that he voyaged to Greenland; and now we know that
he landed upon the main North American Continent.  The legends of Eric
the Red and Leif the Lucky are verified by archaeology.  In you, sir,
I salute, most reverently salute, the representative of a family to whom
belongs the credit hitherto given to Columbus."

Colonel Raden plucked feebly at his moustache, and Janet, I regret
to say, laughed.  But her untimely merriment was checked by Mr Bandicott,
who was pronouncing a sort of benediction.

"I rejoice that it has been given to me, an American, to solve this
secular riddle.  When I think that the dust which an hour ago I touched,
and which has lain for centuries under that quiet mound, was once
the man who, first of Europeans, trod our soil, my imagination staggers.
Colonel Raden, I thank you for having given me the greatest moment
of my not uneventful life."

He took off his hat, and the Colonel rather shame-facedly removed his.
The two men stood looking solemnly at each other till practical
considerations occurred to the descendant of the Viking.

"What are you going to do with the loot?" he asked.

"With your permission, I will take it to Strathlarrig, where I can
examine and catalogue it at my leisure.  I propose to announce the find
at once to the world.  To-morrow I will return with my men and remove
the traces of our excavation."

Mr Bandicott departed in his car, sitting erect at the wheel in
a strangely priest-like attitude, while the two men guarded
the treasure behind.  He had no eyes for the twilight landscape,
or he would have seen in the canal-like stretch of the Larrig belonging
to Crask, which lay below the rapids and was universally condemned
as hopeless for fish, a solitary angler, who, as the car passed,
made a most bungling amateurish cast, but who, when the coast was
once more clear, flung a line of surprising delicacy.  He could not
see the curious way in which that angler placed his fly, laying it with
a curl a yard above a moving fish, and then sinking it with a
dexterous twist: nor did he see, a quarter of an hour later,
the same angler land a fair salmon from water in which in the memory
of man no salmon had ever been taken before.

Colonel Raden and his daughters stood watching the departing archaeologist,
and as his car vanished among the beeches Janet seized her sister and
whirled her into a dance.  "Such a day," she cried, when the indignant
Agatha had escaped and was patting her disordered hair.  "Losses--one
stag, which was better dead.  Gains--defeat of John Macnab, fifty pounds
sterling, a share of the unknown value in Harald Blacktooth's treasure,
and the annexation of America by the Raden family."

"You'd better say that America has annexed us," said the still
flustered Agatha.  "They've dug up our barrow, and this afternoon
Junius Bandicott asked me to marry him."

Janet stopped in her tracks. "What did you say?"

"I said 'No' of course.  I've only known him a week."  But her tone
was such as to make her sister fear the worst.

Mr Bandicott was an archaeologist, but he was also a business man,
and he was disposed to use the whole apparatus of civilisation to
announce his discovery to the world.  With a good deal of trouble
he got the two chief Scottish newspapers on the telephone, and dictated
to them a summary of his story.

He asked them to pass the matter on to the London press, and he gave them
ample references to establish his good faith.  Also he prepared a sheaf
of telegrams and cables--to learned societies in Britain and America,
to the great New York daily of which he was the principal owner, to the
British Museum, to the Secretary for Scotland, and to friends in the same
line of scholarship.  Having left instructions that these messages should
be despatched from Inverlarrig at dawn, he went to bed in a state of
profound jubilation and utter fatigue.

Next morning, while his father was absorbed in the remains of Harald
Blacktooth, Junius summoned a council of war.  To it there came Angus,
the head-keeper, a morose old man near six-foot-four in height,
clean-shaven, with eyebrows like a penthouse; Lennox, his
second-in-command, whom Leithen had met on his reconnaisance;
and two youthful watchers, late of Lovat's Scouts, known as
Jimsie and Davie.  There were others about the place who could be
mobilised if necessary, including the two chauffeurs, an under-footman
and a valet; but, as Junius looked at this formidable quartet,
and reflected on the narrow limits of the area of danger, he concluded
that he had all the man-power he needed.

"Now, listen to me, Angus," he began.  "This poacher Macnab proposes
to start in to-morrow night at twelve o'clock, and according to his
challenge he has forty-eight hours to get a fish in--up till midnight
on the 3rd of September.  I want your advice about the best way
of checkmating him.  You've attended to my orders, and let nobody
near the river during the past week?"

"Aye, sir, and there's nobody socht to gang near it," said Angus.
"The country-side has been as quiet as a grave."

"Well, it won't be after to-morrow night.  You've probably heard that
this Macnab killed a stag on Glenraden yesterday--killed it within
half a mile of the house, and would have got away with it but for
the younger Miss Raden."

They had heard of it, for the glen had talked of nothing else all night,
but they thought it good manners to express amazement.  "Heard ye ever
the like?" said one.  "Macnab maun be a fair deevil," said another.
"If I had just a grip of him," sighed the blood-thirsty Angus.

"It's clear we're up against something quite out of the common," Junius
went on, "and we daren't give him the faintest outside chance.
Now, let's consider the river.  You say you've seen nobody near it."

"There hasn't been a line cast in the watter forbye your own, sir,"
said Angus.

"I just seen the one man fishin' a' week," volunteered Jimsie.
"It was on the Crask water below the brig.  I jaloused that he was
one of the servants from Crask, and maybe no very right in the heid.
He had no notion of it at all, at all."

"Well, that's so far good.  Now what about the river outside the park?
Our beat runs from the Larrig Bridge--what's it like between the bridge
and the lodge? You've never taken me fishing there."

"Ye wad need to be dementit before you went fishin' there," said
Angus grimly.  "There's the stretch above the brig that they ca'
the Lang Whang.  There was never man killed a saumon in it,
for the fish dinna bide, but rin through to the Wood Pule.
There's fish in the Wood Pule, but the trees are that thick that
ye canna cast a flee.  Though I'll no say," he added meditatively,
"that ye couldna cleek a fish out of it.  I'd better put a watcher
at the Wood Pule."

"You may rule that out, for the bargain says 'legitimate means,'
and from all I know of Macnab he's a sportsman and keeps his word.
Well, then, we come to the park, where we've five pools--the Duke's,
the Black Scour, Davie's Pot, Lady Maisie's, and the Minister's.
We've got to keep our eyes skinned there....What about the upper water?"

"There's no a fish in it,' said Lennox.  "They canna get past the linn
above the Minister's.  There was aye talk o' makin' a salmon ladder,
but naething was done, and there's nocht above the Minister's but
small broon troot."

"That makes it a pretty simple proposition," said Junius.  "We've just
the five pools to guard.  For the form of the thing we'll keep watchers
on all night, but we may take it that the danger lies only in the
thirty-four hours of daylight.  Now, remember, we're taking no chances.
Not a soul is to be allowed to fish on the Strathlarrig water till
after midnight on the 3rd of September.  Not even I or my father.
Macnab's a foxy fellow and I wouldn't put it past him to disguise
himself as Mr Bandicott or myself.  Do you understand? If you see a man
near the river, kick him out.  If he has a rod in his hand, lock him up
in the garage and send for me....No, better still.  Nobody's to be
allowed inside the gates--except Colonel Raden and his daughters.
You'd better tell the lodge-keeper, Angus.  If anybody comes to call,
they must come back another day.  These are my orders, you understand,
and I fire anyone who disobeys them.  If the 3rd of September passes
without accident there's twenty dollars--I mean to say, five pounds--for
each of you.  That's all I've got to say."

"Will we watch below the park, sir?" Angus asked.

"Watch every damn foot of the water from the bridge to the linns."

Thus it came about that when Janet Raden took her afternoon ride
past the Wood of Larrigmore she beheld a man patrolling the bog
like a policeman on point duty, and when she entered the park for
a gallop on the smooth turf she observed a picket at each pool.
"Poor John Macnab!" she sighed.  "He hasn't the ghost of a chance.
I'm rather sorry my family discovered America."

Next day, the 1st of September, the Scottish Press published a short
account of Mr Bandicott's discovery, and The Scotsman had a leader on it.
About noon a spate of telegrams began, and the girl who carried
them on a bicycle from Inverlarrig had a weary time of it.
The following morning the Press of Britain spread themselves
on the subject.  The Times had a leader and an interview with a
high authority at the British Museum; the Daily Mail had a portrait
of Mr Bandicott and a sketch of his past career, a photograph of what
purported to be a Viking's tomb in Norway, and a chatty article on
the law of treasure-trove.  The Morning Post congratulated the discoverer
in the name of science, but lamented in the name of patriotism that
the honour should have fallen to an alien--views which led to an
interminable controversy in its pages with the secretary of the
Pilgrim's Club and the president of the American Chamber of Commerce.
The evening papers had brightly written articles on Strathlarrig,
touching on the sport of deer-stalking, Celtic mysticism, the
crofter question, and the law dealing with access to mountains.
The previous evening, too, the special correspondents had begun to arrive
from all points of the compass, so that the little inn of Inverlarrig
had people sleeping in its one bathroom and under its dining-room table.
By the morning of the 2nd of September the glen had almost doubled
its male population.

The morning, after some rain in the night, broke in the thin fog which
promised a day of blazing heat.  Sir Edward Leithen, taking the air
after breakfast, decided that his attempt should be made in the evening,
for he wanted the Larrig waters well warmed by the sun for the type
of fishing he proposed to follow.  Benjie had faithfully reported to him
the precautions which the Bandicotts had adopted, and his meditations
were not cheerful.  With luck he might get a fish, but only by a miracle
could he escape unobserved.  His plan depended upon the Lang Whang being
neglected by the watchers as not worthy of their vigilance, but according
to Benjie's account even the Lang Whang had become a promenade.
He had now lost any half-heartedness in the business, and his
obstinate soul was as set on victory as ever it had been the case
in the Law Courts.  For the past four days he had thought of nothing
else,--his interest in Palliser-Yeates's attack on Glenraden had been
notably fainter than that of the others; every energy he had of mind
and body was centred upon killing a fish that night and carrying it off.
With some amusement he reflected that he had dissipated the last atom
of his ennui, and he almost regretted that apathy had been exchanged
for this violent pre-occupation.

Presently he turned his steps to the arbour to the east of the
garden, which forms at once a hiding-place and a watch-tower.
There he found his host busied about the preparation of his speech,
with the assistance of Lamancha, who was also engaged intermittently
in the study of the ordnance map of Haripol.

"It's a black look-out for you, Ned," said Sir Archie.  "I hear
the Bandicotts have taped off every yard of their water, and have
got a man to every three.  Benjie says the place only wants
a piper or two to be like the Muirtown Highland Gathering.
What are you going to do about it?"

"I'm going to have a try this evening.  I can't chuck in my hand,
but the thing's a stark impossibility.  I hoped old Bandicott
would be so excited at unearthing the Viking that he would forget
about precautions, but he's as active as a beaver."

"That's the young 'un.  He don't give a damn for Vikings,
but he's out to protect his fish.  You've struck the American
business mind, my lad, and it's an awful thing for us casual Britons.
I suppose you won't let me come down and watch you.  I'd give a lot
to see a scrap between you and that troglodyte Angus."

At that moment Benjie, wearing the waterproof cape of ceremony,
presented himself at the arbour door.  He bore a letter which he
presented to Sir Archie.  The young man read it with a face which was
at once perplexed and pleased.

"It's from old Bandicott.  He says he has got some antiquarian
swell--Professor Babwater I think the name is--coming to stay,
and he wants me to dine tonight--says the Radens are coming
too....This is the devil.  What had I better do, Charles?"

"Stay at home.  You'll put your foot in it somehow if you go.
The girl who held up old John will be there, and she's bound to
talk about John Macnab, and you're equally bound to give the show away."

"But I haven't any sort of an excuse.  Americans are noted for their
politeness, and here I have been shutting the door in the face of the
poor old chap when he toiled up the hill.  He won't understand it, and
people will begin to talk, and that's the quickest way to blow the gaff.
Besides, I've got to give up this lie about my ill-health if I'm to
appear at Muirtown the day after to-morrow.  What do you say, Ned?"

"I think you'd better go," Leithen answered.  "We can't have the
neighbourhood thinking you are plague-stricken.  You'll be drinking port,
while I'm being carted by the gillies into the coal-hole.
But for Heaven's sake, Archie, go canny.  That Raden girl will
turn you inside out, if you give her a chance.  And don't you try
and be clever, whatever happens.  If there's a row and you see me
being frog-marched into captivity, don't trouble to create a diversion.
Behave as if you had never seen me in your life before....You hadn't
heard of John Macnab except from Miss Raden, and you're desperately
keen to hear more, you understand.  Play the guileless innocent and
rack your brains to think who he can be.  Start any hare you like--that
he's D'Annunzio looking for excitement....or the Poet Laureate...or an
escaped lunatic.  And keep it up that you are in delicate health.
Oh, and talk politics--they're safe enough.  Babble about the Rally, and
how the great Lamancha's coming up for it all the way from the Borders."

Archie nodded, with a contented look in his eyes.  "I'm goin' to take
your advice.  Where did you get this note, Benjie? From Mactavish
at the lodge? All right, I'll give you a line to take back with
you....By the way, Ned, what's your get-up to-night? I'd better know
beforehand in case of accidents."

"I'm going to look the basest kind of poaching tramp.  I've selected
my costume from the combined wardrobes of this household, and I can tell
you it's pretty dingy.  Mrs Lithgow is at present engaged in clouting
the oldest pair of Wattie's breeks for me....My only chance is to be
a regular ragamuffin and the worst I need fear then is a rough handling
from the gillies.  Bandicott, I take it, is not the sort of fellow
to want to prosecute.  If I'm caught--which is fairly certain--I'll
probably get a drubbing and spend the night in a cellar and be given
my breakfast next morning and kicked out.  It's a different matter
for you, Charles, with the legally minded Claybody."

"What odds are you offerin'?" Sir Archie asked.  "John backed himself
and I took a tenner off him.  What about an even fiver?"

"I'll give you three to one in five-pound notes that I win," said
Leithen grimly.  "But that's pride, not conviction."

"Done with you, my lad," said Sir Archie, and departed to write
an acceptance of the invitation to dinner.

Fish Benjie remained behind, and it was clear that he had something
to communicate.  He caught Lamancha's eye, who gave him the opening
he sought by asking what was the news from Strathlarrig.
Benjie had the instinct of the ballad-maker, and would begin
his longer discourses with an epic flourish of the "Late at e'en
drinkin' the wine" style.

"It was at fower o'clock this mornin' they started," he announced,
"and they're still comin'."

"Coming? Who?" Leithen asked.

"Jornalists.  The place is crawlin' wi' them.  I seen six on bicycles
and five in cawrs and twa in the Inverlarrig dowg-cairt.
They're a wantin' to see auld Bandicott, but auld Bandicott
will no see them.  Mactavish stops them at the lodge, and speirs
what they want, and they gie him cairds wi' their names prentit,
and he sends them up to the hoose, but he'll no let them enter.
Syne the message comes back that the maister will see them the day
after the morn, but till then naebody maun put a fit inside the gates."

"What happened then?" Leithen asked with acute interest.

"It hasna happened--it's still happenin'! I never in my life heard
sic a lot o' sweer words.  Says ane, 'Does the auld dotterel think
he can defy the British Press? We'll mak his life no worth leevin'.'
Says another, 'I've come a' the gait frae London and I'll no budge
till I've seen the banes o' that Viking!' One or twa went back
to Inverlarrig, but the feck o' them just scattered like paitricks.
They clamb the wall, and they waded up the water, and they got in
by the top o' the linns.  In half an hour there was half a dizzen
o' them inside the Strathlarrig policies.  Man"--here he fixed his
glowing eye on Leithen--"if ye had been on the Lang Whang this mornin'
ye could have killed a fish and naebody the wiser."

"Good Lord! Are they there still?"

"Na.  They were huntit oot.  Every man aboot the place was huntin' them,
and Angus was roarin' like a bull.  The young Laird thocht they were
Bolshies and cam doun wi' a gun.  Syne the auld man appeared and
spoke them fair and telled them he was terribly sorry, but he couldna
see them for twa days, and if they contentit themselves that lang
he would hae them a' to their denner and show them everything.
After that they gaed awa', but there's aye mair arrivin' and I'm
expectin' mair riots.  They're forritsome lads, thae jornalists,
and a dour crop to shift.  But they're kind folk, and gie'd me
a shillin' a-piece for advisin' them."

"What did you advise?"

"I advised them to gang doun to Glenraden," said Benjie with
a goblin smile.  "I said they should gang and howk in the Piper's Ring
and they would maybe find mair treasure.  Twa-three o' them got spades
and picks and startit off.  I'm thinkin' Macpherson will be after
them wi' a whup."

Leithen's brows were puckered in thought.  "It looks as if my bet
with Archie wasn't so crazy after all.  This invasion is bound
to confuse Bandicott's plans.  And you say it's still going on?
The gillies will be weary men before night."

"They will that," Benjie assented.  "And there's no a man o' them can
rin worth a docken, except Jimsie.  Thae jornalists was far soopler."

"More power the Press.  Benjie, back you go and keep an eye
on Strathlarrig, and stir up the journalists to a sense of their rights.
Report here this afternoon at four, for we should be on the move by six,
and I've a lot to say to you."

In the course of the morning Leithen went for a walk among the scaurs
and dingles of Crask Hill.  He followed a footpath which took him down
the channel of a tiny burn and led to a little mantlepiece of a meadow
from which Wattie Lithgow drew a modest supply of bog-hay.
His mind was so filled with his coming adventure that he walked
with his head bent and at a turn of the path nearly collided with a man.

Murmuring a gruff "Fine day," he would have passed on, when he
became aware that the stranger had halted.  Then, to his
consternation, he heard his name uttered, and had perforce to turn.
He saw a young man, in knickerbockers and heavy nailed boots,
who smiled diffidently as if uncertain whether he would be recognized.

"Sir Edward Leithen, isn't it?" he said.  "I once had the pleasure
of meeting you, sir, when you lunched with the Lobby journalists.
I was then on the Lobby staff of the Monitor.  My name is Crossby."

"Of course, of course.  I remember perfectly.  Let's sit down,
Mr Crossby, unless you're in a hurry.  Where are you bound for?"

"Simply stretching my legs.  I was climbing rocks at Sligachan when
my paper wired me to come on here.  The press seem to have gone mad
about this Viking's tomb--think they've got hold of a second Tutankhamen.
So I get a fisherman to take me and my bicycle over to the mainland
and pedalled the rest of the road.  I thought I had a graft with
old Bandicott, for I used to write for his paper--The New York Bulletin,
you know--but it appears there's nothing doing.  Odd business,
for you don't often find Americans shy of the Press.  But I think
I've found out the reason, and that makes a good enough story in itself.
Perhaps you've heard it?"

"No," said Leithen, "but I'd like to, if you don't mind.
I'm not a journalist, so I won't give you away.  Let's have it."

He stole a glance at his companion, and saw a pleasant, shrewd,
boyish face, with the hard sunburnt skin of one in the prime
of physical condition.  Like many others of his type, Leithen liked
journalists as much as he disliked men of letters--the former had had
their corners smoothed by a rough life, and lacked the vanity and
spiritual pride of the latter.  Also he had acquired from experience
a profound belief in the honour of the profession, for at various times
in his public career he had put his reputation into their hands and
they had not failed him.  It was his maxim that if you tried to
bamboozle them they were out for your blood, but that if you trusted
them they would see you through.

"Let's hear it, Mr Crossby," he repeated.  "I'm deeply interested."

"Well, it's a preposterous tale, but the natives seem to believe it.
They say that some fellow, who calls himself John Macnab, has dared
the magnates in these parts to prevent his killing a stag or a salmon
in their preserves.  He had laid down pretty stiff conditions for himself,
for he has to get his beast off their ground and hand it back to them.
They say he has undertaken to pay 500 pounds to any charity the owner
names if he succeeds and 1000 pounds if he fails--so he must have money
to burn, and it appears that he has already paid the 500 pounds.
He started on Glenraden, and the old Highland chief there had every man
and boy for three days watching the forest.  Then on the third day,
when everybody was on the mountain-tops, in sails John Macnab and kills
a stag under the house windows.  He reckoned on the American's dynamite
shots in his search for the Viking to hide his shot.  And he would have
got away with it too, if one of the young ladies hadn't appeared on
the scene and cried "Desist!" So what does this bandit do but off
with his hat, makes his best bow, and says 'Madame, your servant,'
and vanishes, leaving the chief richer by a thousand pounds.
It's Bandicott's turn to-day and to-morrow, and the Strathlarrig
household is squatting along the river banks, and the hard-working
correspondent is chivvied away till the danger is past.
I'm for Macnab myself.  It warms my heart to think that there's such
a sportsman left alive.  It's pure Robin Hood."

Leithen laughed, "I back him too.  Are you going to publish that story?"

"Yes, why not? I've written most of it and it goes by the afternoon post."
Mr Crossby pulled out a note-book and fluttered the leaves.

"I call it 'The Return of Harald Blacktooth.'  Rather neat, I think.
The idea is that when they started to dig up the old fellow his spirit
reincarnated itself in John Macnab.  I hope to have a second instalment,
for something's bound to happen at Strathlarrig to-day or to-morrow.
Are you holidaying here, Sir Edward? Crask's the name of this place,
isn't it? They told me that that mad fellow Roylance owned it."

Leithen nodded.  He was bracing himself for another decision of the
same kind as he had taken when he met Fish Benjie.  Providence seemed
to be forcing him to preserve his incognito only by sharing the secret.

"But, of course," Mr Crossby went on, "my main business here is the
Viking, and I'm keen to find some way to get over Bandicott's reticence.
I don't want to wait till the day after to-morrow and then come in
with the ruck.  I wonder....would it be too much to ask you to give me
a leg up?  I expect you know the Bandicotts?"

"Curiously enough, I don't.  I am not sure how far I can help you,
Mr Crossby, but I rather think you can help me.  Are you by any
happy chance a long-distance runner?"

The journalist opened his eyes.  "Well, I used to be.  South London
Harriers, you know.  And I'm in fairly good condition at present
after ten days on the Coolin rocks."

"Well, if I can't give you a story, I think I can put you in the way
of an adventure.  Will you come up to Crask to luncheon and we'll
talk it over."



CHAPTER 7



THE OLD ETONIAN TRAMP


Sir Archie got himself into the somewhat ancient dress-coat which was
the best he had at Crask, and about half-past seven started his Hispana
(a car in which his friends would not venture with Archie as driver)
down the long hill to the gates of Strathlarrig.  He was aware that
somewhere in the haugh above the bridge was Leithen, but the only figure
visible was that of Jimsie, the Strathlarrig gillie, who was moodily
prowling about the upper end.  As he passed the Wood of Larrigmore
Benjie's old pony was grazing at tether, and the old cart rested on
its shafts; the embers of a fire still glowed among the pine-needles,
but there was no sign of Benjie.  He was admitted after a parley by
Mactavish the lodge-keeper, and when he reached the door of the house
he observed a large limousine being driven off to the back premises
by a very smart chauffeur.  Only Haripol was likely to own such a car,
and Sir Archie reflected with amusement that the host of John Macnab
was about to attend a full conclave of the Enemy.

The huge, ugly drawing-room looked almost beautiful in the yellow light
of evening.  A fire burned on the hearth after the fashion of Highland
houses even in summer, and before it stood Mr Acheson Bandicott,
with a small clean-shaven man, who was obviously the distinguished
Professor in whose honour the feast was given, and Colonel Raden,
a picturesque figure in kilt and velvet doublet, who seemed hard
put to it to follow what was clearly a technical colloquy.
Agatha and Junius were admiring the sunset in the west window,
and Janet was talking to a blond young man who seemed possessed
of a singularly penetrating voice.

Sir Archie was unknown to most of the company, and when his name
was announced everyone except the Professor turned towards him with
a lively curiosity.  Old Mr Bandicott was profuse in his welcome, Junius
no less cordial, Colonel Raden approving, for indeed it was not in human
nature to be cold towards so friendly a being as the Laird of Crask.
Sir Archie was apologetic for his social misfeasances, congratulatory
about Harald Blacktooth, eager to atone for the past by an
exuberant neighbourliness.  "Been havin' a rotten time with
the toothache," he told his host.  "I roost up alone in my little
barrack and keep company with birds....Bit of a naturalist,
you know....Yes, sir, quite fit again, but my leg will never be
much to boast of."

Colonel Raden appraised the lean, athletic figure.  "You've been
our mystery man, Sir Archibald.  I'm almost sorry to meet you,
for we lose our chief topic of discussion.  You're fond of stalking,
they tell me.  When are you coming to kill a stag at Glenraden?"

"When will you ask me?" Sir Archie laughed.  "I'm still fairly good
on the hill, but just now I'm sittin' indoors all day tuggin' at my hair
and tryin' to compose a speech."

Colonel Raden's face asked for explanations.

"Day after to-morrow in Muirtown.  Big Unionist meetin' and I've got
to start the ball.  It's jolly hard to know what to talk about,
for I've a pretty high average of ignorance about everything.
But I've decided to have a shot at foreign policy.  You see, Charles--"
Sir Archie stopped in a fright.  He had been within an ace of giving
the show away.

"Of course.  'Pon my soul I had forgotten that you were our candidate.
It's an uphill fight I'm afraid.  The people in these parts, sir,
are the most obstinate reactionaries on the face of the globe;
but they've been voting Liberal ever since the days of John Knox."

Mr Bandicott regarded Sir Archie with interest.

"So you're standing for Parliament," he said.  "Few things impress me
more in Great Britain than the way young men take up public life
as if it were the natural coping-stone to their education.
We have no such tradition, and we feel the absence of it.
Junius would as soon think of running for Congress as of keeping
a faro-saloon.  Now I wonder, Sir Archibald, what induced you
to take this step?"

But Sir Archie was gone, for he had seen the beckoning eyes
of Janet Raden.  That young woman, ever since she had heard that
the Laird of Crask was coming to dinner, had looked forward to
this occasion as her culminating triumph.  He had been her confidant
about the desperate John Macnab, and from her he must learn the tale
of her victory.  Her pleasure was increased by the consciousness
that she was looking her best, for she know that her black gown was
a good French model and well set off her delicate colouring.
She looked with eyes of friendship on him as he limped across
the room, and noted his lean distinction.  No other country,
she thought, produced this kind of slim, graceful, yet weathered
and hard-bitten youth.

"Do you know Mr Claybody?"

Mr Claybody said he was delighted to meet his neighbour again.
"It's years," he said, "since we met at Ronham.  I spend my life in
the train now, and never get more than a few days at a time at Haripol.
But I've managed to secure a month this year to entertain my friends.
I was looking forward in any case to seeing you at Muirtown on the 4th.
I've been helping to organise the show, and I consider it a great score
to have got Lamancha.  This place had never been properly worked,
and with a little efficient organisation we ought to put you in
right enough.  There's no doubt Scotland is changing, and you'll have
the tide to help you."

Mr Claybody was a very splendid person.  He looked rather like a large
edition of the great Napoleon, for he had the same full fleshy face,
and his head was set on a thickish neck.  His blond hair was beautifully
sleek and his clothes were of a perfection uncommon in September
north of the Forth.  Not that Mr Claybody was either fat or dandified;
he was only what the ballad calls "fair of flesh," and he employed
a good tailor and an assiduous valet.  His exact age was thirty-two,
and he did not look older, once the observer had got over his
curiously sophisticated eyes.

But Sir Archie was giving scant attention to Mr Claybody.

"Have you heard?" Janet broke out.  "John Macnab came, saw,
and didn't conquer.'

"I've heard nothing else in the last two days."

"And I was right! He is a gentleman."

"No? Tell me all about the fellow."  Sir Archie's interest was
perhaps less in the subject than in the animation which it woke
in Janet's eyes.

But the announcement that dinner was served cut short the tale,
though not before Sir Archie had noticed a sudden set of Mr Claybody's
jaw and a contraction of his eyebrows.  "Wonder if he means to stick
to his lawyer's letter," he communed with himself.  "In that case
it's quod for Charles."

The dining-room at Strathlarrig was a remnant of the old house
which had been enveloped in the immense sheath of the new.
It had eighteenth-century panelling unchanged since the days when
Jacobite chiefs in lace and tartan had passed their claret glasses
over the water, and the pictures were all of forbidding progenitors.
But the ancient narrow windows had been widened, and Sir Archie,
from where he sat, had a prospect of half a mile of the river,
including Lady Maisie's Pool, bathed in the clear amber of twilight.
He was on his host's left hand, opposite the Professor, with Agatha
Raden next to him: then came Junius: while Janet was between Johnson
Claybody and the guest of the occasion.

Mr Claybody still brooded over John Macnab.

"I call the whole thing infernal impertinence," he said in his loud,
assured voice.  "I confess I have ceased to admire undergraduate 'rags.'
He threatens to visit us, and my father intends to put the matter into
the hands of the police."

"That would be very kind," said Janet sweetly.  "You see, John Macnab
won't have the slightest trouble in beating the police."

"It's the principle of the thing, Miss Raden.  Here is an impudent
attack on private property, and if we treat it as a joke it will
only encourage other scoundrels.  If the man is a gentleman, as you say
he is, it makes it more scandalous."

"Come, come, Mr Claybody, you're taking it too seriously."
Colonel Raden could be emphatic enough on the rights of property,
but no Highlander can ever grow excited about trespass.
"The fellow has made a sporting offer and is willing to risk
a pretty handsome stake.  I rather admire what you call his impudence.
I might have done the same thing as a young man, if I had had the
wits to think of it."

Mr Claybody was quick to recognise an unsympathetic audience.
"Oh, I don't meant that we're actually going to make a fuss.
We'll give him a warm reception if he comes--that's all.
But I don't like the spirit.  It's too dangerous in these
unsettled times.  Once let the masses get into their heads that
landed property is a thing to play tricks with, and you take the pin
out of the whole system.  You must agree with me, Roylance?"

Sir Archie, remembering his part, answered with guile.  "Rather!
Rotten game for a gentleman, I think.  All the same, the chap seems
rather a sportsman, so I'm in favour of letting the law alone
and dealing with him ourselves.  I expect he won't have much of
a look in on Haripol."

"I can promise you he won't," said Mr Claybody shortly.

Professor Babwater observed that it would be difficult for a descendant
of Harald Blacktooth to be too hard on one who followed in Harald's steps.
"The Celt," he said, "has always sought his adventures in a fairy world.
The Northman was a realist, and looked to tangible things like land
and cattle.  Therefore he was a conqueror and a discoverer on the
terrestrial globe, while the Celt explored the mysteries of the spirit.
Those who, like you, sir"--he bowed to Colonel Raden--"have both strains
in their ancestry, should have successes in both worlds."

"They don't mix well," said the Colonel sadly.  "There was my grandfather,
who believed in Macpherson's OSSIAN and ruined the family fortunes
in hunting for Gaelic manuscripts on the continent of Europe.
And his father was in India with Clive, and thought about nothing
except blackmailing native chiefs till he made the place too hot
to hold him.  Look at my daughters, too.  Agatha is mad about pottery
and such-like, and Janet is a bandit.  She'd have made a dashed
good soldier, though."

"Thank you, papa," said the lady.  She might have objected to
the description had she not seen that Sir Archie accepted it
with admiring assent.

"I suppose," said old Mr Bandicott reflectively, "that the war
was bound to leave a good deal of unsettlement.  Junius missed it
through being too young--never got out of a training camp--but I have
noticed that those who fought in France find it difficult to
discover a groove.  They are energetic enough, but they won't 'stay put',
as we say.  Perhaps this Macnab is one of the unrooted.
In your country, where everybody was soldiering, the case must
be far more common."

Mr Claybody announced that he was sick of hearing the war blamed
for the average man's deficiencies.  "Every waster," he said,
"makes an excuse of being shell-shocked.  I'm very clear that the war
twisted nothing in a man that wasn't twisted before."

Sir Archie demurred.  "I don't know.  I've seen some pretty bad cases
of fellows who used to be as sane as a judge, and came home all
shot to bits in their mind."

"There are exceptions, of course.  I'm speaking of the general rule.
I turn away unemployables every day--good soldiers, maybe,
but unemployable--and I doubt if they were ever anything else."

Something in his tone annoyed Janet.

"You saw a lot of service, didn't you?" she asked meekly.

"No, worse luck!  They made me stick at home and slave fourteen hours
a day controlling cotton.  It would have been a holiday for me
to get into the trenches.  But what I say is, a sane man usually
remained sane.  Look at Sir Archibald.  We all know what a hectic time
he had, and he hasn't turned a hair."

"I'd like you to give me that in writing," Sir Archie grinned.
"I've known people who thought I was rather cracked."

"Anyhow, it made no difference to your nerves," said Colonel Raden.

"I hope not.  I expect that was because I enjoyed the beastly thing.
Perhaps I'm naturally a bit of a bandit--like Miss Janet."

"Perhaps you're John Macnab," said that lady.

"Well, you've seen him and can judge."

"No.  I'll be a witness for the defence if you're ever accused.
But you mustn't be offended at the idea.  I suppose poor John Macnab
is now crawling round Strathlarrig trying to find a gap between
the gillies to cast a fly."

"That's about the size of it," Junius laughed.  "And there's twenty
special correspondents in the neighbourhood cursing his name.
If they get hold of him, they'll be savager than old Angus."

Mr Bandicott, after calling his guests' attention to the merits
of a hock which he had just acquired--it was a Johannisberg with
the blue label--declared that in his belief the war would do good
to English life, when the first ferment had died away.

"As a profound admirer of British institutions," he said, "I have
sometimes thought that they needed a little shaking up and loosening.
In America our classes are fluid.  The rich man of to-day began life
in a shack, and the next generation may return to it.  It is the same
with our professions.  The man who starts in the law may pass to
railway management, and end as the proprietor of a department store.
Our belief is that it doesn't matter how often you change your trade
before you're fifty.  But an Englishman, once he settles in a profession,
is fixed in it till the Day of Judgment, and in a few years he gets
the mark of it so deep that he'd be a fish out of water in anything else.
You can't imagine one of your big barristers doing anything else.
No fresh fields and pastures new for them.  It would be a crime against
Magna Carta to break loose and try company-promoting or cornering
the meat trade for a little change."

Professor Babwater observed that in England they sometimes--in his view
to the country's detriment--became politicians.

"That's the narrowest groove of all." said Mr Bandicott with conviction.
"In this country, once you start in on politics you're fixed in a class
and members of a hierarchy, and you've got to go on, however unfitted
you may be for the job, because it's sort of high treason to weaken.
In America a man tries politics as he tries other things, and if he finds
the air of Washington uncongenial he quits, or tries newspapers,
or Wall Street, or oil."

"Or the penitentiary," said Junius.

"And why not?" asked his father.  "I deplore criminal tendencies
in any public man, but the possibility of such a downfall keeps
the life human.  It is very different in England.  The respectability of
your politicians is so awful that, when one of them backslides,
every man of you combines to hush it up.  There would be a revolution
if the people got to suspect.  Can you imagine a Cabinet Minister in
the police court on a common vulgar charge?"

Professor Babwater said he could well imagine it--it was where most
of them should be; but Colonel Raden agreed that the decencies had
somehow to be preserved, even at the cost of a certain amount of humbug.
"But, excuse me," he added, "if I fail to see what good an occasional
sentence of six months hard would do to public life."

"I don't want it to happen," said his host, who was inspired by
his own Johannisberg, "but I'd like to think it could happen.
The permanent possibility of it would supple the minds of
your legislators.  It would do this old country a power of good
if now and then a Cabinet Minister took to brawling and went to jail."

It was a topic which naturally interested Sir Archie, but the theories
of Mr Bandicott passed by him unheeded.  For his seat at the table gave
him a view of the darkening glen, and he was aware that on that stage
a stirring drama was being enacted.  His host could see nothing,
for it was behind him; he would have had to screw his head round;
to Sir Archie alone was vouchsafed a clear prospect.  Janet saw that
he was gazing abstractedly out of the window, but she did not realise
that his eyes were strained and every nerve in him excitedly alive....

For suddenly into his field of vision had darted a man.  He was on the far
side of the Larrig, running hard, and behind him, at a distance of some
forty yards, followed another.  At first he thought it was Leithen,
but even in the dusk it was plain that it was a shorter man--younger,
too, he looked, and of a notable activity.  He was gaining on
his pursuers, when the chase went out of sight....Then Sir Archie
heard a far-away whistling, and would have given much to fling open
the window and look out....

Five minutes passed and again the runner appeared--this time dripping wet
and on the near side.  Clearly not Leithen, for he wore a white sweater,
which was a garment unknown to the Crask wardrobe.  He must have been
headed off up-stream, and had doubled back.  That way lay danger,
and Sir Archie longed to warn him, for his route would bring him close
to the peopled appendages of Strathlarrig House....Even as he stared
he saw what must mean the end, for two figures appeared for one second
on the extreme left of his range of vision, and in front of the fugitive.
He was running into their arms!

Sir Archie seized his glass of the blue-labelled Johannisberg,
swallowed the wine the wrong way, and promptly choked.



When the Hispana crossed the Bridge of Larrig His Majesty's late
Attorney-General was modestly concealed in a bush of broom on
the Crask side, from which he could watch the sullen stretches
of the Lang Whang.  He was carefully dressed for the part in a pair
of Wattie Lithgow's old trousers much too short for him, a waistcoat
and jacket which belonged to Sime the butler and which had been made
about the year 1890, and a vulgar flannel shirt borrowed from Shapp.
He was innocent of a collar, he had not shaved for two days, and as he
had forgotten to have his hair cut before leaving London his locks
were of a disreputable length.  Last, he had a shocking old hat
of Sir Archie's from which the lining had long since gone.
His hands were sun-burned and grubby, and he had removed his signet-ring.
A light ten-foot greenheart rod lay beside him, already put up,
and to the tapered line was fixed a tapered cast ending in a strange
little cocked fly.  As he waited he was busy oiling fly and line.

His glass showed him an empty haugh, save for the figure of Jimsie
at the far end close to the Wood of Larrigmore.  The sun-warmed waters
of the river drowsed in the long dead stretches, curled at rare intervals
by the faintest western breeze.  The banks were crisp green turf,
scarcely broken by a boulder, but five yards from them the moss
began--a wilderness of hags and tussocks.  Somewhere in its depths
he knew that Benjie lay coiled like an adder, waiting on events.

Leithen's plan, like all great strategy, was simple.  Everything depended
on having Jimsie out of sight of the Lang Whang for half an hour.
Given that, he believed he might kill a salmon.  He had marked out
a pool where in the evening fish were usually stirring, one of those
irrational haunts which no piscatorial psychologist has ever explained.
If he could fish fine and far, he might cover it from a spot below a high
bank where only the top of his rod would be visible to watchers at
a distance.  Unfortunately, that spot was on the other side of the stream.
With such tackle, landing a salmon would be a critical business,
but there was one chance in ten that it might be accomplished;
Benjie would be at hand to conceal the fish, and he himself would
disappear silently into the Crask thickets.  But every step bristled
with horrid dangers.  Jimsie might be faithful to his post--in which case
it was hopeless; he might find the salmon dour, or a fish might break him
in the landing, or Jimsie might return to find him brazenly tethered
to forbidden game.  It was no good thinking about it.  On one thing
he was decided: if he were caught, he would not try to escape.
That would mean retreat in the direction of Crask, and an exploration
of the Crask coverts would assuredly reveal what must at all costs
be concealed.  No.  He would go quietly into captivity, and trust
to his base appearance to be let off with a drubbing.

As he waited, watching the pools turn from gold to bronze, as the sun sank
behind the Glenraden peaks, he suffered the inevitable reaction.
The absurdities seemed huge as mountains, the difficulties innumerable
as the waves of the sea.  There remained less than an hour in which
there would be sufficient light to fish--Jimsie was immovable
(he had just lit his pipe and was sitting in meditation on a big stone)
--every moment the Larrig waters were cooling with the chill of evening.
Leithen consulted his watch, and found it half-past eight.
He had lost his wrist-watch, and had brought his hunter, attached to
a thin gold chain.  That was foolish, so he slipped the chain from
his button-hole and drew it through the arm-hole of his waistcoat.

Suddenly he rose to his feet, for things were happening at the far side
of the haugh.  Jimsie stood in an attitude of expectation--he seemed
to be hearing something far upstream.  Leithen heard it too, the cry
of excited men....Jimsie stood on one foot for a moment in doubt;
then he turned and doubled towards the Wood of Larrigmore....The gallant
Crossby had got to business and was playing hare to the hounds
inside the park wall.  If human nature had not changed, Leithen thought,
the whole force would presently join the chase--Angus and Lennox
and Jimsie and Dave and doubtless many volunteers.  Heaven send fleetness
and wind to the South London Harrier, for it was his duty to occupy
the interest of every male in Strathlarrig till such time as he subsided
with angry expostulation into captivity.

The road was empty, the valley was deserted, when Leithen raced across
the bridge and up the south side of the river.  It was not two hundred
yards to his chosen stand, a spit of gravel below a high bank at the tail
of a long pool.  Close to the other bank, nearly thirty yards off,
was the shelf where fish lay of an evening.  He tested the water
with his hand, and its temperature was at least 60 degrees.
His theory, which he had learned long ago from the aged Bostonian,
was that under such conditions some subconscious memory revived
in salmon of their early days as parr when they fed on surface insects,
and that they could be made to take a dry fly.

He got out his line to the required length with half a dozen casts
in the air, and then put his fly three feet above the spot where a salmon
was wont to lie.  It was a curious type of cast, which he had been
practising lately in the early morning, for by an adroit check
he made the fly alight in a curl, so that it floated for a
second or two with the leader in a straight line away from it.
In this way he believed that the most suspicious fish would see
nothing to alarm him, nothing but a hapless insect derelict on the water.

Sir Archie had spoken truth in describing Leithen to Wattie Lithgow
as an artist.  His long, straight, delicate casts were art indeed.
Like thistledown the fly dropped, like thistledown it floated over
the head of the salmon, but like thistledown it was disregarded.
There was indeed a faint stirring of curiosity.  From where he stood
Leithen could see that slight ruffling of the surface which means
an observant fish....

Already ten minutes had been spent in this barren art.  The crisis craved
other measures.

His new policy meant a short line, so with infinite stealth and care
Leithen waded up the side of the water, sometimes treading precarious
ledges of peat, sometimes waist deep in mud and pond-weed, till he was
within twenty feet of the fishing-ground.  Here he had not the high bank
for a shelter, and would have been sadly conspicuous to Jimsie,
had that sentinel remained at his post.  He crouched low and cast
as before with the same curl just ahead of the chosen spot.

But now his tactics were different.  So soon as the fly had floated past
where he believed the fish to be, he sank it with a dexterous twist
of the rod-point, possible only with a short line.  The fly was no longer
a winged thing; drawn away under water, it roused in the salmon
early memories of succulent nymphs....At the first cast there was
a slight swirl, which meant that a fish near the surface had turned
to follow the lure.  The second cast the line straightened and moved
swiftly up-stream.

Leithen had killed in his day many hundreds of salmon--once in Norway
a notable beast of fifty-five pounds.  But no salmon he had ever hooked
had stirred in his breast such excitement as this modest fellow
of eight pounds.  "'Tis not so wide as a church-door,'" he reflected
with Mercutio, "'but 'twill suffice'--if I can only land him."
But a dry-fly cast and a ten-foot rod are a frail wherewithal
for killing a fish against time.  With his ordinary fifteen-footer
and gut of moderate strength he could have brought the little salmon
to grass in five minutes, but now there was immense risk of a break,
and a break would mean that the whole enterprise had failed.
He dared not exert pressure; on the other hand, he could not follow
the fish except by making himself conspicuous on the greensward.
Worst of all, he had at the best ten minutes for the job.

Thirty yards off an otter slid into the water.  Leithen wished he was King
of the Otters, as in the Highland tale, to summon the brute to his aid.

The ten minutes had lengthened to fifteen--nine hundred seconds of
heart-disease--when, wet to the waist, he got his pocket-gaff
into the salmon's side and drew it on to the spit of gravel where
he had started fishing.  A dozen times he thought he had lost, and once
when the fish ran straight up the pool his line was carried out to
its last yard of backing.  He gave thanks to high Heaven, when,
as he landed it, he observed that the fly had all but lost its hold
and in another minute would have been free.  By such narrow margins
are great deeds accomplished.

He snapped the cast from the line and buried it in mud.  Then cautiously
he raised his head above the bank.  The gloaming was gathering fast,
and so far as he could see the haugh was still empty.  Pushing his rod
along the ground, he scrambled on to the turf.

There he had a grievous shock.  Jimsie had reappeared, and he was in
full view of him.  Moreover, there were two men on bicycles coming up
the road, who, with the deplorable instinct of human nature,
would be certain to join in any pursuit.  He was on turf as short
as a lawn, cumbered with a tell-tale rod and a poached salmon.
The friendly hags were a dozen yards off, and before he could reach them
his damning baggage would be noted.

At this supreme moment he had an inspiration, derived from the memory
of the otter.  To get out his knife, cut a ragged wedge from the fish,
and roll it in his handkerchief was the work of five seconds.
To tilt the rod over the bank so that it lay in the deep shadow
was the work of three more....Jimsie had seen him, for a wild cry
came down the stream, a cry which brought the cyclists off their machines
and set them staring in his direction.  Leithen dropped his gaff
after the rod, and began running towards the Larrig bridge--slowly,
limpingly, like a frightened man with no resolute purpose of escape.
And as he ran he prayed that Benjie from the deeps of the moss had seen
what had been done and drawn the proper inference.

It was a bold bluff, for he had decided to make the salmon evidence for,
not against him.  He hobbled down the bank, looking over his shoulder
often as if in terror, and almost ran into the arms of the cyclists,
who, warned by Jimsie's yells, were waiting to intercept him.
He dodged them, however, and cut across to the road, for he had seen
that Jimsie had paused and had noted the salmon lying blatantly
on the sward, a silver splash in the twilight.  Leithen doubled
up the road as if going towards Strathlarrig, and Jimsie, the fleet
of foot, did not catch up with him till almost on the edge of
the Wood of Larrigmore.  The cyclists, who had remounted, arrived at
the same moment to find a wretched muddy tramp in the grip of a stalwart
but breathless gillie.

"I tell ye I was daein' nae harm,' the tramp whined.  "I was walkin' up
the water-side--there's nae law to keep a body frae walkin' up
a water-side when there's nae fence--and I seen an auld otter
killin' a saumon.  The fish is there still to prove I'm no leein'."

"There is a fush, but you wass thinkin' to steal the fush, and you would
have had it in your breeks if I hadna seen you.  That is poachin' ma man,
and you will come up to Strathlarrig.  The master said that anyone goin'
near the watter was to be lockit up, and you will be lockit up.
You can tell all the lees you like in the mornin'."

Then a thought struck Jimsie.  He wanted the salmon, for the subject
of otters in the Larrig had been a matter of dispute between him and Angus,
and here was evidence for his own view.

"Would you two gentlemen oblige me by watchin' this man while I rin back
and get the fush? Bash him on the head if he offers to rin."

The cyclists, who were journalists out to enjoy the evening air,
willingly agreed, but Leithen showed no wish to escape.  He begged a fag
in a beggar's whine, and, since he seemed peaceable, the two kept a good
distance for fear of infection.  He stood making damp streaks in the
dusty road, a pitiable specimen of humanity, for his original get-up
was not improved by the liquefaction of his clothes and a generous
legacy of slimy peat.  He seemed to be nervous, which indeed he was,
for if Benjie had not seized his chance he was utterly done,
and if Jimsie should light upon his rod he was gravely compromised.

But when Jimsie returned in a matter of ten minutes he was empty-handed.

"I never kenned the like," he proclaimed.  "That otter has come back
and gotten the fush.  Ach, the maleecious brute!"

The rest of Leithen's progress was not triumphant.  He was conducted
to the Strathlarrig lodge, where Angus, whose temper and wind had alike
been ruined by the pursuit of Crossby, laid savage hands upon him,
and frog-marched him to the back premises.  The head-keeper scarcely
heeded Jimsie's tale.  "Ach, ye poachin' va-aga-bond.  It is the jyle
ye'll get," he roared, for Angus was in a mood which could only be
relieved by violence of speech and action.  Rumbling Gaelic imprecations,
he hustled his prisoner into an outhouse, which had once been a larder
and was now a supplementary garage, slammed and locked the door, and,
as a final warning, kicked it viciously with his foot, as if to signify
what awaited the culprit when the time came to sit on his case.



Sir Archie, if not a skeleton at the feast, was no better than a shadow.
The fragment of drama which he had witnessed had rudely divorced his mind
from the intelligent conversation of Mr Bandicott, he was no longer
slightly irritated by Mr Claybody, he forgot even the attractions of Janet.
What was going on in that twilit vale?  Lady Maisie's Pool had still
a shimmer of gold, but the woods were now purple and the waterside turf
a dim amethyst, the colour of the darkening sky.  All sound had ceased
except the rare cry of a bird from the hill, and the hoot of a wandering
owl....Crossby had beyond doubt been taken, but where was Leithen?

He was recalled to his surroundings by Janet's announcement that Mr
Bandicott proposed to take them all in his car to the meeting at Muirtown.

"Oh, I say," he pleaded, "I'd much rather you didn't.  I haven't a notion
how to speak--no experience, you see--only about the third time I've
opened my mouth in public.  I'll make an awful ass of myself,
and I'd much rather my friends didn't see it.  If I know you're
in the audience, Miss Janet, I won't be able to get a word out."

Mr Bandicott was sympathetic.  "Take my advice, and do not attempt
to write a speech and learn it by heart.  Fill yourself with your subject,
but do not prepare anything except the first sentence and the last.
You'll find the words come easily when you once begin--if you have
something you really want to say."

"That's the trouble--I haven't.  I'm goin' to speak about foreign policy,
and I'm dashed if I can remember which treaty is which, and what
the French are making a fuss about, or why the old Boche can't pay.
And I keep on mixing up Poincare and Mussolini....I'm goin to write
it all down, and if I'm stuck I'll fish out the paper and read it.
I'm told there are fellows in the Cabinet who do that when
they're cornered.

"Don't stick too close to the paper," the Colonel advised.  "The Highlander
objects to sermons read to him, and he may not like a read speech."

"Whatever he does I'm sure Sir Archibald will be most enlightening,"
Mr Bandicott said politely.  "Also I want to hear Lord Lamancha.
We think rather well of that young man in America.  How do you
rate him here?"

Mr Claybody, as a habitant of the great world, replied, "Very high
in his own line.  He's the old-fashioned type of British statesman,
and people trust him.  The trouble about him and his kind is that
they're a little too far removed from the ordinary man--they've been
too cosseted and set on a pedestal all their lives.  They don't know
how to handle democracy.  You can't imagine Lamancha rubbing shoulders
with Tom, Dick and Harry."

"Oh, come!" Sir Archie broke in.  "In the war he started as a captain
in a yeomanry regiment, and he commanded a pretty rough Australian
push in Palestine.  His men fairly swore by him."

"I daresay," said the other coldly.  "The war doesn't count for
my argument, and Australians are not quite what I mean."

The butler, who was offering liqueurs, was seen to speak confidentially
to Junius, who looked towards his father, made as if to speak,
and thought better of it.  The elder Mr Bandicott was once more
holding the table.

"My archaeological studies," he said, "and my son's devotion to sport
are apt to circumscribe the interest of my visits to this country.
I do not spend more than a couple of days in London, and when I am there
the place is empty.  Sometimes I regret that I have not attempted
to see more of English society in recent years, for there are many
figures in it I would like to meet.  There are some acquaintances, too,
that I should be delighted to revive.  Do you know Sir Edward Leithen,
Mr Claybody?  He was recently, I think the British Attorney General."

Mr Claybody nodded.  "I know him very well.  We have just briefed him
in a big case."

"Sir Edward Leithen visited us two years ago as the guest of our
Bar Association.  His address was one of the most remarkable I have
ever listened to.  It was on John Marshall--the finest tribute ever
paid to that great man, and one which I venture to say no American
could have equalled.  I had very little talk with him, but what I had
impressed me profoundly with the breadth of his outlook and the powers
of his mind.  Yes, I should like to meet Sir Edward Leithen again."

The company had risen and were moving towards the drawing-room.

"Now I wonder," Mr Claybody was saying, "I heard that Leithen was
somewhere in Scotland.  I wonder if I could get him up for a few days
to Haripol.  Then I could bring him over here."

An awful joy fell upon Sir Archie's soul.  He realised anew the
unplumbed preposterousness of life.

Ere they reached the drawing-room Junius took Agatha aside.

"Look here, Miss Agatha, I want you to help me.  The gillies have been
a little too active.  They've gathered in some wretched hobo they found
looking at the river, and they've annexed a journalist who stuck his nose
inside the gates.  It's the journalist that's worrying me.  From his card
he seems to be rather a swell in his way--represents the Monitor and
writes for my father's New York paper.  He gave the gillies a fine race
for their money, and now he's sitting cursing in the garage and vowing
every kind of revenge.  It won't do to antagonise the Press, so we'd
better let him out and grovel to him, if he wants apologies....The fact is,
we're not in a very strong position, fending off the newspapers from
Harald Blacktooth because of this ridiculous John Macnab.
If you could let the fellow out it would be casting oil upon
troubled waters.  You could smooth him down far better than me."

"But what about the other?" A hobo, you say! That's a tramp, isn't it?"

"Oh, tell Angus to let him out too.  Here are the keys of both garages.
I don't want to turn this place into a lock-up.  Angus won't be pleased,
but we have to keep a sharp watch for John Macnab to-morrow,
and it's bad tactics in a campaign to cumber yourself with prisoners."

The two threaded mysterious passages and came out into a
moonlit stable-yard.  Junius handed the girl a great electric torch.
"Tell the fellow we eat dirt for our servants' officiousness.
Offer him supper, and--I tell you what--ask him to lunch the
day after to-morrow.  No, that's Muirtown day.  Find out his address
and we'll write to him and give him first chop at the Viking.
Blame it all on the gillies."

Agatha unlocked the door of the big garage and to her surprise found it
brilliantly lit with electric light.  Mr Crossby was sitting in
the driver's seat of a large motor-car, smoking a pipe and composing
a story for his paper.  At the sight of Agatha he descended hastily.

"We're so sorry," said the girl.  "It's all been a stupid mistake.
But, you know, you shouldn't have run away.  Mr Bandicott had to make
rules to keep off poachers, and you ought to have stopped and
explained who you were."

To this charming lady in the grass-green gown Mr Crossby's manner
was debonair and reassuring.

"No apology is needed.  It wasn't in the least the gillies' blame.
I wanted some exercise, and I had my fun with them.  One of the young
ones has a very pretty turn of speed.  But I oughtn't to have done it--I
quite see that--with everybody here on edge about this John Macnab.
Have I your permission to go?"

"Indeed you have.  Mr Bandicott asked me to apologise most humbly.
You're quite free unless--unless you'd like to have supper before you go."

Mr Crossby excused himself, and did not stay upon the order of his going.
He knew nothing of the fate of his colleague, and hoped that he might
pick up news from Benjie in the neighbourhood of the Wood of Larrigmore.

The other garage stood retired in the lee of a clump of pines--a rude,
old-fashioned place, which generally housed the station lorry.
Agatha, rather than face the disappointed Angus, decided to complete
the task of jail-delivery herself.  She had trouble with the lock,
and when the door opened she looked into a pit of darkness scarcely
lightened by the outer glow of moonshine.  She flashed the torch
into the interior and saw, seated on a stack of petrol tins,
the figure of the tramp.

Leithen, who had been wondering how he was to find a bed in that
stony place, beheld the apparition with amazement.  He guessed that
it was one of the Miss Radens, for he knew that they were dining
at Strathlarrig.  As he stood sheepishly before her his wits suffered
a dislocation which drove out of his head the remembrance of the part
he had assumed.

"Mr Bandicott sent me to tell you that you can go away," the girl said.

"Thank you very much," said Leithen in his ordinary voice.

Now in the scramble up the river bank and in the rough handling of Angus
his garments had become disarranged, and his watch had swung out
of his pocket.  In adjusting it in the garage he had put it back in
its normal place, so that the chain showed on Sime's ancient waistcoat.
From it depended one of those squat little gold shields which are
the badge of athletic prowess at a famous school.  As he stood in the
light of her torch Agatha noted this shield, and knew what it signified.
Also his tone when he spoke had startled her.

"Oh," she cried, "you were at Eton?"

Leithen was for a moment nonplussed.  He thought of a dozen lies,
and then decided on qualified truth.

"Yes," he murmured shamefacedly.  "Long ago I was at Eton."

The girl flushed with embarrassed sympathy.

"What--what brought you to this?" she murmured.

"Folly," said Leithen, recovering himself.  "Drink and suchlike.
I have had a lot of bad luck but I've mostly myself to blame."

"You're only a tramp now?" Angels might have envied the melting
sadness of her voice.

"At present.  Sometimes I get a job, but I can't hold it down."
Leithen was warming to his work, and his tones were a subtle study
in dilapidated gentility.

"Can't anything be done?" Agatha asked, twining her pretty hands.

"Nothing," was the dismal answer.  "I'm past helping.  Let me go, please,
and forget you ever saw me."

"But can't papa....won't you tell me your name or where we can find you?"

"My present name is not my own.  Forget about me, my dear young lady.
The life isn't so bad....I'm as happy as I deserve to be.
I want to be off, for I don't like to stumble upon gentlefolks."

She stood aside to let him pass, noting the ruin of his clothes,
his dirty unshaven face, the shameless old hat that he raised to her.
Then, melancholy and reflective, she returned to Junius.  She could not
give away one of her own class, so, when Junius asked her about the tramp,
she only shrugged her white shoulders.  "A miserable creature.
I hope Angus wasn't too rough with him.  He looked as if a puff of wind
would blow him to pieces."



Ten minutes later Leithen, having unobtrusively climbed the park wall
and so escaped the attention of Mactavish at the lodge, was trotting at
a remarkable pace for a tramp down the road to the Larrig Bridge.
Once on the Crask side, he stopped to reconnoitre.  Crossby called softly
to him from the covert, and with Crossby was Benjie.

"I've gotten the saumon," said the latter, "and your rod and gaff too.
Hae ye the bit you howkit out o' the fush?"

Leithen produced his bloody handkerchief.

"Now for supper, Benjie, my lad," he cried.  "Come along Crossby,
and we'll drink the health of John Macnab."

The journalist shook his head.  "I'm off to finish my story.
The triumphant return of Harald Blacktooth is going to convulse
these islands to-morrow."



CHAPTER 8


SIR ARCHIE IS INSTRUCTED IN THE CONDUCT OF LIFE

Early next morning, when the great door of Strathlarrig House was opened,
and the maids had begun their work, Oliphant, the butler--a stately man
who had been trained in a ducal family--crossed the hall to reconnoitre
the outer world.  There he found an under-housemaid nursing a strange
package which she averred she had found on the doorstep.
It was some two feet long, swathed in brown paper, and attached
to its string was a letter inscribed to Mr Junius Bandicott.

The Parcel was clammy and Oliphant handled it gingerly.  He cut the cord,
disentangled the letter, and revealed an oblong of green rushes
bound with string.  The wrapping must have been insecure, for something
forthwith slipped from the rushes and flopped on the marble floor,
revealing to Oliphant's disgusted eyes a small salmon, blue and
stiff in death.

At that moment Junius, always an early bird, came whistling downstairs.
So completely was he convinced of the inviolability of the Strathlarrig
waters that the spectacle caused him no foreboding.

"What are you flinging fish about for, Oliphant?" he asked cheerfully.

The butler presented him with the envelope.  He opened it and extracted
a dirty half sheet of notepaper, on which was printed in capitals
"With the compliments of John Macnab."

Amazement, chagrin, amusement followed each other on Junius's
open countenance.  Then he picked up the fish and marched out-of-doors
shouting "Angus" at the top of a notably powerful voice.
The sound brought the scared face of Professor Babwater to
his bedroom window.

Angus, who had been up since four, appeared from Lady Maisie's Pool,
where he had been contemplating the waters.  His vigil had
not improved his appearance or his temper, for his eye was red
and choleric and his beard was wild as a mountain goat's.
He cast one look at the salmon, surmised the truth, and held up
imploring hands to Heaven.

"John Macnab!" said Junius sternly.  "What have you got to say to that."

Angus had nothing audible to say.  He was handling the fish with
feverish hands and peering at its jaws, and presently under his fingers
a segment fell out.

"That fush was cleekit," observed Lennox, who had come up.
"It was never catched with a flee."

"Ye're a leear," Angus roared.  "Just tak a look at the mouth of it.
There's the mark of the huke, ye gommeril.  The fush was took
wi' a rod and line."

"You may reckon it was," observed Junius.  "I trust John Macnab
to abide by the rules of the game."

Suddenly light seemed to break in on Angus's soul.  He bellowed
for Jimsie, who was placidly making his way towards the group
at the door, lighting his pipe as he went.

"Look at that, James Mackenzie.  Aye, look at it.  Feast your een on it.
You wass tellin' me there wass otters in the Larrig and I said
there wass not.  You wass tellin' me there wass an otter had a fush
last night at the Lang Whang.  There's your otter and be damned to ye!"

Jimsie, slow of comprehension, rubbed his eyes.

"Where wass you findin' the fush?  Aye, its the one I seen last night.
That otter must be wrang in the heid.'

"It is not wrang in the heid.  It's you that are wrang in the heid,
James Mackenzie.  The otter is a ver-ra clever man, and its name
will be John Macnab."  Slowly enlightenment dawned on Jimsie's mind.

"He wass the tramp," he ingeminated.  "He wass the tramp."

"And he's still lockit up," Angus cried joyfully.  "Wait till I get
my hands on him."  He was striding off for the garage when a word
from Junius held him back.

"You won't find him there.  I gave orders last night to let him go.
You know, Angus, you told me he was only a tramp that had been seen
walking up the river."

"We will catch him yet," cried the vindictive head-keeper.  "Get you
on your bicycle, Jimsie, and away after him.  He'll be on the
Muirtown road....There's just the one road he can travel."

"No, you don't," said Junius.  "I don't want him here.  He has beaten us
fairly in a match of wits, and the business is finished."

"But the thing's no possible," Jimsie moaned.  "The skeeliest fisher
would not take a saumon in the Lang Whang with a flee....And I wasna
away many meenutes....And the tramp was a poor shilpit body--not like
a fisher or any kind of gentleman at all--at all....And he hadna
a rod....The thing's no possible.

"Well, who else could it be?"

"I think it was the Deevil."

Jimsie, cross-examined, went over the details of his evening's experience.

"The journalist may have been in league with him--or he may not,"
Junius reflected.  "Anyway, I'll tackle Mr Crossby.  I want to find out
what I can about this remarkable sportsman."

"You will not find out anything at all, at all," said Angus morosely.
"For I tell ye, sir, Jimsie is right in one thing--Macnab is not
a man--he is the Deevil."

"Then we needn't be ashamed of being beat by him....Look here, you men.
We've lost, but you've had an uncomfortable time these last
twenty-four hours.  And I'm going to give you what I promised you
if we won out.  I reckon the market price of salmon is not more
than fifty cents a pound.  Macnab has paid about thirty dollars a pound
for this fish, so we've a fair margin on the deal."

Mr Acheson Bandicott received the news with composure, if not with relief.
Now he need no longer hold the correspondents at arm's length but could
summon them to his presence and enlarge on Harald Blacktooth.
His father's equanimity cast whatever balm was needed upon Junius's
wounded pride, and presently he saw nothing in the affair but comedy.
His thoughts turned to Glenraden.  It might be well for him to announce
in person that the defences of Strathlarrig had failed.

On his way he called at the post-office where Agatha had told him
that Crossby was lodging.  He wanted a word with the journalist,
who clearly must have been particeps criminis, and as he could offer
as bribe the first full tale of Harald Blacktooth (to be unfolded
before the other correspondents arrived for luncheon) he hoped to
acquire a story in return.  But, according to the post-mistress,
Mr Crossby had gone.  He had sat up most or the night writing, and,
without waiting for breakfast, had paid his bill, strapped on his
ruck-sack and departed on his bicycle.

Junius found the Raden family on the lawn, and with them Archie Roylance.

"Got up early to go over my speech for to-morrow," the young man explained.
"I'm gettin' the dashed thing by heart--only way to avoid
regrettable incidents.  I started off down the hill repeatin'
my eloquence, and before I knew I was at Glenraden gates, so I thought
I'd come in and pass the time of day....Jolly interestin' dinner
last night, Bandicott.  I liked your old Professor....Any news
of John Macnab?"

"There certainly is.  He has us beat to a frazzle.  This morning there
was a salmon on the doorstep presented with his compliments."

The effect of this announcement was instant and stupendous.  The Colonel
called upon his gods.  "Not killed fair? It's a stark impossibility, sir.
You had the water guarded like the Bank of England."  Archie expressed
like suspicions; Agatha was sad and sympathetic, Janet amused
and covertly joyful.

"I reckon it was fair enough fishing," Junius went on.  "I've been
trying to puzzle the thing out, and this is what I made of it.
Macnab was in league with one of those pressmen, who started out
to trespass inside the park and draw off all the watchers in pursuit,
including the man at the Lang Whang.  He had them hunting for about
half an hour, and in that time Macnab killed his fish....He must be
a dandy at the game, too, to get a salmon in that dead water..
..Jimsie--that's the man who was supposed to watch the Lang
Whang--returned before he could get away with the beast,
so what does the fellow do but dig a bit out of the fish and
leave it on the bank, while he lures Jimsie to chase him.
Jimsie saw the fish and put it down to an otter, and by and by
caught the man up the road.  There must have been an accomplice
in hiding, for when Jimsie went back to pick up the salmon
it had disappeared.  The fellow, who looked like a hobo, was shut up
in a garage, and after dinner we let him go, for we had nothing
against him, and now he is rejoicing somewhere at our simplicity..
..It was a mighty clever bit of work, and I'm not ashamed to be beaten
by that class of artist.  I hoped to get hold of the pressman
and find out something, but the pressman seems to have leaked
out of the landscape."

"Was that tramp John Macnab?" Agatha asked in an agitated voice.

"None other.  You let him out, Miss Agatha.  What was he like?
I can't get proper hold of Jimsie's talk."

"Oh, I should have guessed," the girl lamented.  "For, of course,
I saw he was a gentleman.  He was in horrible old clothes, but he had
an Eton shield on his watch-chain.  He seemed to be ashamed to remember it.
He said he had come down in the world--through drink!"

Archie struggled hard with the emotions evoked by this description
of an abstemious personage currently believed to be making an income
of forty thousand pounds.

"Then we've both seen him," Janet cried.  "Describe him, Agatha.
Was he youngish and big, and fair-haired, and sunburnt?  Had he blue eyes?"

"No-o.  He wasn't like that.  He was about papa's height, and rather slim,
I think.  He was very dirty and hadn't shaved, but I should say he was
sallow, and his eyes--well, they were certainly not blue."

"Are you certain? You only saw him in the dark."

"Yes, quite certain.  I had a big torch which lit up his whole figure.
Now I come to think of it, he had a striking face--he looked like
somebody very clever--a judge perhaps.  That should have made me
suspicious, but I was so shocked to see such a downfall that I
didn't think about it"

Janet looked wildly around her.  "Then there are two John Macnabs."

"Angus thinks he is the Devil," said Junius.

"It looks as if he were a syndicate," said Archie, who felt that
some remark was expected of him.

"Well, I'm not complaining," said Junius.  "And now we're off the stage,
and can watch the play from the boxes.  I hope you won't be shocked, sir,
but I wouldn't break my heart if John Macnab got the goods from Haripol."

"By Gad, no!" cried the Colonel.  "'Pon my soul, if I could get in touch
with the fellow I'd offer to help him--though he'd probably be too much
of a sportsman to let me.  That young Claybody wants taking down
a peg or two.  He's the most insufferably assured young prig
I ever met in my life."

"He looked the kind of chap who might turn nasty," Sir Archie observed.

"How do you mean?" Junius asked.  "Get busy with a gun--that
sort of thing?"

"Lord, no.  The Claybodys are not likely to start shootin'.  But they're
as rich as Jews, and they're capable of hirin' prize-fighters
or puttin' a live wire round the forest.  Or I'll tell you what
they might do--they might drive every beast on Haripol over
the marches and keep 'em out for three days.  It would wreck
the ground for the season, but they wouldn't mind that--the old man
can't get up the hills and the young 'un don't want to."

"Agatha, my dear," said her father, "we ought to return the
Claybody's call.  Perhaps Mr Junius would drive us over there
in his car this afternoon.  For, of course, you'll stay to luncheon,
Bandicott--and you, too, Roylance."

Sir Archie stayed to luncheon; he also stayed to tea; and between
these meals he went through a surprising experience.  For, after the
others had started for Haripol, Janet and he drifted aimlessly
towards the Raden bridge and then upward through the pinewoods
on the road to Carnmore.  The strong sun was tempered by the
flickering shade of the trees, and, as the road wound itself out
of the crannies of the woods to the bare ridges, light wandering
winds cooled the cheek, and, mingled with the fragrance of heather
and the rooty smell of bogs, came a salty freshness from the sea.
The wide landscape was as luminous as April--a bad presage for the weather,
since the Haripol peaks, which in September should have been dim
in a mulberry haze, stood out sharp like cameos.  The two did not
talk much, for they were getting beyond the stage where formal
conversation is felt to be necessary.  Sir Archie limped along
at a round pace, which was easily matched by the girl at his side.
Both would instinctively halt now and then, and survey the prospect
without speaking, and both felt that these pregnant silences were
bringing them very near to one another.

At last the track ran out in screes, and from a bald summit they were
looking down on the first of the Carnmore corries.  Janet seated herself
on a mossy ledge of rock and looked back into the Raden glen, which
from that altitude had the appearance of on enclosed garden.
The meadows of the lower haugh lay green in the sun, the setting
of pines by some freak of light was a dark and cloudy blue,
and the little castle rose in the midst of the trees with a
startling brightness like carven marble.  The picture was as
exquisite and strange as an illumination in a missal.

"Gad, what a place to live in!" Sir Archie exclaimed.

The girl, who had been gazing at the scene with her chin in her hands,
turned on him eyes which were suddenly wistful and rather sad.
As contrasted with her sister's, Janet's face had a fine hard finish
which gave it a brilliance like an eager boy's.  But now a cloud-wrack
had been drawn over the sun.

"We've lived there," she said, "since Harald Blacktooth--at least
papa says so.  But the end is very near now.  We are the last
of the Radens.  And that is as it should be, you know."

"I'm hanged if I see that," Sir Archie began, but the girl interrupted.

"Yes, it is as it should be.  The old life of the Highlands is going,
and people like ourselves must go with it.  There's no reason
why we should continue to exist.  We've long ago lost our justification."

"D'you mean to say that fellows like Claybody have more right to be here?"

"Yes.  I think they have, because they're fighters and we're
only survivals.  They will disappear, too, unless they learn
their lesson....You see, for a thousand years we have been
going on here, and other people like us, but we only endured
because we were alive.  We have the usual conventional motto
on our coat of arms--Pro Deo et Rege--a Herald's College invention.
But our Gaelic motto was very different--it was 'Sons of Dogs, come and I
will give you flesh.'  As long as we lived up to that we flourished,
but as soon as we settled down and went to sleep and became rentiers
we were bound to decay....My cousins at Glenaicill were just the same.
Their motto was 'What I have I hold,' and while they remembered it
they were great people.  But when they stopped holding they went out
like a candle, and the last of them is now living in St Malo and a
Lancashire cotton-spinner owns the place....When we had to fight hard
for our possessions all the time, and give flesh to the sons of dogs
who were our clan, we were strong men and women.  There was a Raden
with Robert Bruce--he fell with Douglas in the pilgrimage to the
Holy Sepulchre--and a Raden died beside the King at Flodden--and Radens
were in everything that happened in the old days in Scotland and France.
But civilisation killed them--they couldn't adapt themselves to it.
Somehow the fire went out of the blood, and they became vegetables.
Their only claim was the right of property, which is no right at all."

"That's what the Bolsheviks say," said the puzzled Sir Archie."

"Then I'm a Bolshevik.  Nobody in the world to-day has a right
to anything which he can't justify.  That's not politics, it's the way
nature works.  Whatever you've got--rank or power or fame or
money--you've got to justify it, and keep on justifying it,
or go under.  No law on earth can buttress up a thing which nature
means to decay."

"D'you know that sounds to me pretty steep doctrine?"

"No, it isn't.  It isn't doctrine, and it isn't politics,
it's common sense.  I don't mean that we want some silly
government redistributing everybody's property.  I mean that
people should realise that whatever they've got they hold under a
perpetual challenge, and they are bound to meet that challenge.
Then we'll have living creatures instead of mummies."

Sir Archie stroked his chin thoughtfully.  "I daresay there's a
lot in that.  But what would Colonel Raden say to it?"

"He would say I was a bandit.  And yet he would probably agree with me
in the end.  Agatha wouldn't, of course.  She adores decay--sad old
memories and lost causes and all the rest of it.  She's a sentimentalist,
and she'll marry Junius and go to America, where everybody is sentimental,
and be the sweetest thing in the Western Hemisphere, and live
happy ever after.  I'm quite different.  I believe I'm kind, but I'm
certainly hard-hearted.  I suppose it's Harald Blacktooth coming out."

Janet had got off her perch, and was standing a yard from Sir Archie,
her hat in her hand and the light wind ruffling her hair.
The young man, who had no skill in analysing his feelings,
felt obscurely that she fitted most exquisitely into the picture
of rock and wood and water, that she was, in very truth, a part
of his clean elemental world of the hill-tops.

"What about yourself?" she asked.  "In the words of Mr Bandicott,
are you going to make good?"

She asked the question with such an air of frank comradeship
that Sir Archie was in no way embarrassed.  Indeed he was
immensely delighted.

"I hope so," he said.  "But I don't know....I'm a bit of a slacker.
There doesn't seem much worth doing since the war."

"What nonsense! You find a thousand things worth doing, but they're
not enough--and they're not big enough.  Do you mean to say you
want to hang up your hat at your age and go to sleep? You need
to be challenged."

"I expect I do," he murmured.

"Well, I challenge you.  You're fit and you're young, and you did
extraordinarily well in the war, and you've hosts of friends,
and--and--you're well off, aren't you?"

"There you are.  I challenge you.  You're bound to justify what you've got.
I won't have you idling away your life till you end as the kind of lean
brown old gentleman in a bowler hat that one sees at Newmarket.
It's a very nice type, but it's not good enough for you, and I
won't have it.  You must not be a dilettante pottering about with birds
and a little sport and a little politics."

Sir Archie had been preached at occasionally in his life,
but never quite in this way.  He was preposterously pleased
and also a little solemnised.

"I'm quite serious about politics."

"I wonder," said Janet, smiling.  "I don't mean scraping into Parliament,
but real politics--putting the broken pieces together, you know.
Papa and the rest of our class want to treat politics like
another kind of property in which they have a vested interest.
But it won't do--not in the world we live in to-day.  If you're going
to do any good you must feel the challenge and be ready to meet it.
And then you must become yourself a challenger.  You must be
like John Macnab."

Sir Archie stared.

"I don't mean that I want you to make poaching wagers like John.
You can't live in a place and play those tricks with your neighbours.
But I want you to follow what Mr Bandicott would call the
'John Macnab proposition.'  It's so good for everybody concerned.
Papa has never had so much fun out of his forest as in the days
he was repelling invasion, and even Mr Junius found a new interest
in the Larrig....I'm all for property, if you can defend it;
but there are too many fatted calves in the world."

Sir Archie suddenly broke into loud laughter.

"Most people tell me I'm too mad to do much good in anything.
But you say I'm not mad enough.  Well, I'm all for challengin'
the fatted calves, but I don't fancy that's the road that leads
to the Cabinet.  More like the jail, with a red flag firmly clenched
in my manly hand."

The girl laughed too.  "Papa says that the man who doesn't give
a damn for anybody can do anything he likes in the world.
Most people give many damns for all kinds of foolish things.
Mr Claybody, for example--his smart friends, like Lord Lamancha
and the Attorney-General--what is his name?--Leithen?--and his silly
little position, and his father's new peerage.  But you're not like that.
I believe that all wisdom consists in caring immensely for the few right
things and not caring a straw about the rest."

Had anyone hinted to Sir Archie that a young woman on a Scots mountain
could lecture him gravely on his future and still remain a ravishing
and adorable thing he would have dismissed the suggestion with incredulity.
At the back of his head he had that fear of women as something mysterious
and unintelligible which belongs to a motherless and sisterless childhood,
and a youth spent almost wholly in the company of men.  He had immense
compassion for a sex which seemed to him to have a hard patch to hoe
in the world, and this pitifulness had always kept him from any conduct
which might harm a woman.  His numerous fancies had been light and
transient like thistledown, and his heart had been wholly unscathed.
Fear that he might stumble into marriage had made him as shy as
a woodcock--a fear not without grounds, for a friend had once proposed
to write a book called 'Lives of the Hunted' with a chapter on Archie.
Wherefore, his hour having come, he had cascaded into love with
desperate completeness, and with the freshness of a mind unstaled
by disillusion....All he knew was that a miraculous being had suddenly
flooded his world with a new radiance, and was now opening doors
and inviting him to dazzling prospects.  He felt at once marvellously
confident, and supremely humble.  Never had mistress a more docile pupil.

They wandered back to the house, and Janet gave him tea in a room full
of faded chintzes and Chinese-Chippendale mirrors.  Then, when the sun was
declining behind the Carnmore peaks, Sir Archie at last took his leave.
His head was in a happy confusion, but two ideas rose above the surge--he
would seize the earliest chance of asking Janet to marry him, and
by all his gods he must not make a fool of himself at Muirtown.
She had challenged him, and he had accepted the challenge;
he must make it good before he could become in turn a challenger.
It may be doubtful if Sir Archie had any very clear notions on
the matter, but he was aware that he had received an inspiration,
and that somehow or other everything was now to be different....First
for that confounded speech.  He strove to recollect the sentences which
had followed each other so trippingly during his morning's walk.
But he could not concentrate his mind.  Peace treaties and German
reparations and the recognition of Russia flitted from him like a
rapid film, to be replaced by a "close-up" of a girl's face.
Besides, he wanted to sing, and when song flows to the lips
consecutive thought is washed out of the brain....

In this happy and exalted mood, dedicated to great enterprises of love
and service, Sir Archie entered the Crask smoking-room, to be brought
heavily to earth by the sordid business of John Macnab.

Leithen was there, reading a volume of Sir Walter Scott with an air
of divine detachment.  Lamancha, very warm and dishevelled,
was endeavouring to quench his thirst with a large whisky-and-soda;
Palliser-Yeates, also the worse for wear, lay in an attitude of
extreme fatigue on a sofa; Crossby, who had sought sanctuary at Crask,
was busy with the newspapers which had just arrived, while Wattie Lithgow
stood leaning on his crook staring into vacancy, like a clown
from some stage Arcadia.

"Where on earth have you been all day, Archie?" Lamancha asked sternly.

"I walked over to Glenraden and stayed to luncheon.  They're all hot
on your side there--Bandicott too.  There's a general feelin' that
young Claybody wants takin' down a peg."

"Much good that will do us.  John and Wattie and I have been crawling
all day round the Haripol marches.  It's pretty clear what they'll
do--you think so, Wattie?"

"Alan Macnicol is not altogether a fule.  Aye, I ken fine
what they'll dae."

"Clear the beasts off the ground?" Archie suggested.

"No," said Lamancha.  "Move them into the Sanctuary, and the Sanctuary
is in the very heart of the forest--between Sgurr Mor and Sgurr Dearg
at the head of the Reascuill.  It won't take many men to watch it.
And the mischief is that Haripol is the one forest where it can be
done quite simply.  It's so infernally rough that if the deer were
all over it I would back myself to get a shot with a fair chance
of removing the beast, but if every stag is inside an inner corral
it will be the devil's own business to get within a thousand yards
of them--let alone shift the carcass."

"If the wind keeps in the west," said Wattie, "It is a manifest
impossibeelity.  If it was in the north there would be a verra
wee sma' chance.  All other airts are hopeless.  We maun just
possess our souls in patience, and see what the day brings forth..
..I'll awa and mak arrangements for the morn."

Lamancha nodded after the retreating figure.

"He is determined to go to Muirtown to-morrow.  Says you promised
that he should be present when you made your first bow in public,
and that he has arranged with Shapp to drive him in the Ford..
..But about Haripol.  This idea of Wattie's--and I expect it's
right--makes the job look pretty desperate.  I had worked out
a very sound scheme to set my Lord Claybody guessing--similar to
John's Glenraden plan but more ingenious; but what's the use of bluff
if every beast is snug in an upper corrie with a cordon of Claybody's
men round it?  Wattie says that Haripol is fairly crawling with gillies."

Crossby raised his head from his journalistic researches.  "The papers
have got my story all right, I see.  The first one, I mean--the
'Return of Harald Blacktooth.'  They've featured it well, too,
and I expect the evening papers are now going large on it.
But it's nothing to what the second will be to-morrow morning.
I'm prepared to bet that our Scottish Tutankhamen drops out
of the running, and that the Press of this land thinks of nothing
for a week except the salmon Sir Edward got last night.
It's the silly season, remember!"

Lamancha's jaw dropped.  "Crossby, I don't want to dash your
natural satisfaction, but I'm afraid you've put me finally in the cart.
If the public wakes up and takes an interest in Haripol,
I may as well chuck in my hand."

"I wasn't such an ass as to mention Haripol," said the correspondent.

"No, but of course it will get out.  Some of your journalistic
colleagues will hear of it at Strathlarrig, and, finding that
the interest has departed from Harald Blacktooth, will make a
bee-line for Haripol.  Your success, which I don't grudge you,
will be my ruin.  In any case the Claybodys will be put on their mettle,
for, if they are beaten by John Macnab, they know they'll be
a public laughing-stock....What sort of fellow is young Claybody, Archie?"

"Bit shaggy about the heels.  Great admirer of yours.  Ask Ned--he said
he knew Ned very well."

Leithen raised his eyes from Redgauntlet.  "Never heard of
the fellow in my life."

"Oh, yes you have.  He said he had briefed you in a big case."

"Well, you can't expect me to know all my clients any more
than John knows the customers of his little bank."  Leithen relapsed
into Sir Walter.

"I'm going to have a bath." Lamancha rose and cautiously relaxed
his weary limbs.  "I seem to be in for the most imbecile escapade
in history with about one chance in a billion.  That's Wattie's estimate,
and he knows what a billion is, which I don't."

"What about dropping it?" Archie suggested; for, though he was sworn
to the "John Macnab proposition," he was growing very nervous about
this particular manifestation.  "Young Claybody is an ugly customer,
and we don't want the thing to end in bad blood.  Besides, you're cured
already--you told me so yesterday."

"That's true," said Lamancha, who was engaged in tossing with
Palliser-Yeates for the big bath.  "I'm cured.  I never felt keener
in my life.  I'm so keen that there's nothing on earth you could
offer me which would keep me away from Haripol....You win, John.
Gentlemen of the Guard, fire first, and don't be long about it.
I can't stretch myself in that drain-pipe that Archie calls
his second bathroom."

Dinner was a cheerful meal, for Mr Crossby had much to say,
Lamancha was in high spirits, and Leithen had the benignity of
the successful warrior.  But the host was silent and abstracted.
He managed to banish Haripol from his mind, but he thought of Janet,
he thought of Janet's sermon, and in feverish intervals he tried
to think of his speech for the morrow.  A sense of a vast insecurity
had come upon him, of a shining goal which grew brighter the more
he reflected upon it, but of some awkward hurdles to get over first.

Afterwards, when the talk was of Haripol, he turned to the newspapers
to restore him to the world of stern realities.  He did not read
that masterpiece of journalism, Crossby's story, but he found a sober
comfort in The Times' leading articles and in the political notes.
He felt himself a worker among flaneurs.

"Here's something about you, Charles," he said.  This paper says
that political circles are looking forward with great interest
to your speech at Muirtown.  Says it will be the first important
utterance since Parliament rose, and that you are expected to deal
with Poincare's speech at Rheims and a letter by a Boche whose name
I can't pronounce."

"Political circles will be disappointed," said Lamancha, "for I haven't
read them.  Montgomery is taking all the boxes and I haven't heard
from the office for three weeks.  I can't be troubled with newspapers
in the Highlands."

"Then what are you goin' to say to-morrow?" Archie demanded anxiously.

"I'll think of some rot.  Don't worry, old fellow.  Muirtown is a
second-class show compared to Haripol."

Archie was really shocked.  He was envious of a man who could treat
thus cavalierly a task which affected him with horrid forebodings,
and also scandalised at the levity of his leaders.  It seemed to him
that Lamancha needed some challenging.  Finding no comfort
in his company, he repaired to bed, where healthful sleep was slow
in visiting him.  He repeated his speech to himself, but it would
persist in getting tangled up with Janet's sermon and his own
subsequent reflections, so that, when at last he dropped off,
it was into a world of ridiculous dreams where a dreadful
composite figure--Poincarini or Mussolinare--sat heavily on his chest.



CHAPTER 9


SIR ARCHIE INSTRUCTS HIS COUNTRYMEN

Crossby was right in his forecast.  The sudden interest in the
Scottish Tutankhamen did not survive the revelation of Harald
Blacktooth's reincarnation as John Macnab.  The twenty correspondents,
after lunching heavily with Mr Bandicott, had been shown the relics
of the Viking and had heard their significance expounded by their host
and Professor Babwater; each had duly despatched his story, but before
night-fall each was receiving urgent telegrams from his paper
clamouring for news, not of Harald, but of Harald's successor.
Crossby's tale of the frustrated attempt on the Glenraden deer
had intrigued several million readers--it was the silly season,
remember--and his hint of the impending raid on the Strathlarrig salmon
had stirred a popular interest vowed to any lawless mystery and any
competitive sport.  In the doings of John Macnab were blended the
splendid uncertainty of a well-matched prize fight and the delicious
obscurity of crime.  Next morning the news of John's victory at
Strathlarrig was received by the several million readers with an
enthusiasm denied to the greater matters of public conduct.
John Macnab became a slogan for the newsboy, a flaming legend
for bills and headlines, a subject of delighted talk at
every breakfast-table.  Never had there been a more famous
eight-pound salmon since fish first swam in the sea.

It was a cold grey morning when Lamancha and Archie left Crask
in the Hispana, bound for the station of Bridge of Gair, fifty miles
distant by indifferent hill-roads.  Lamancha, who had written
for clothes, was magnificently respectable below his heavy ulster--a
respectability which was not his usual habit but a concession
to the urgent demand for camouflage.  He was also in a bad temper,
for his legs were still abominably stiff, and, though in need
of at least ten hours' sleep, he had been allowed precisely six.
At long last, his speech had begun to weigh upon him.  "Shut up, Archie,"
he had told his host.  "I must collect what's left of my wits,
or I'll make an exhibition of myself.  You say we get the morning's
papers at Bridge of Gair? They may give me a point or two.
Lord, it's like one of those beastly mornings in Switzerland
when they rake you up at two to climb Mount Blanc and you wish
you had never been born."

Sir Archie had no inclination to garrulity, for black fear had
settled on his soul.  In a few hours' time he would be doing
what he had never done before, standing before a gaping audience
which was there to be amused and possibly instructed.  He had a speech
in his pocket, carefully fashioned in consultation with Lamancha,
but he was miserably conscious that it had no relation to his
native wood-notes.  What was Poincare to him, or he to Poincare?
Why on earth had he not chosen to speak about something which touched
his interests--farming, for example, on which he held views, or the
future of the Air Force--instead of venturing in the unknown deserts
of foreign affairs? Well, he had burned his boats and must make
the best of it.  The great thing was to be sure that the confounded
speech had been transferred from paper to his memory.

But as the miles slipped behind him he realised with horror that
his memory was playing him false.  He could not get the bits to fit in;
what he had reeled off so smoothly twenty-four hours ago now came out
in idiotic shreds and patches.  He felt himself slipping into a worse
funk than he had ever known in all his tempestuous days....For a moment
he thought of throwing up the sponge  He might engineer a breakdown--it
would have to be a bad spill, for the day was yet young--and so deprive
Muirtown of the presence of both Lamancha and himself.  It was not
the thought of the Conservative cause or his own political chances
that made him reject this cowardly expedient.  Two reasons dissuaded him:
one, that though his friends continually prophesied disaster, he had
never yet had a smash with his car, and his pride was involved;
the other, that such a course would reveal Lamancha's presence
in his company too near the suspect neighbourhood and might expose
the secret of John Macnab....No, he had to go through with it, and,
conning such wretched fragments of his oratory as he could dig out
of his recollection, Sir Archie drove the Hispana over the bleak
moorlands till he was looking down on the wide strath of the Gair,
with the railway line scarring the heather and the hotel chimneys
smoking beside a cold blue-grey river.  He had glanced now and then
at his fellow orator, whose professional apathy he profoundly envied,
since for the last dozen miles Lamancha had been peacefully asleep.

They breakfasted at the hotel, and presently sought the station platform
in the quest for papers.  They were informed that papers came with
the train for which they were waiting, and when the said train arrived,
half an hour late, and Lamancha, according to arrangement, had sought
a seat in the front while Archie favoured the rear, the latter secured
a London evening paper of the previous day and that morning's Scotsman.
The compartment in which he found himself was crowded with sleepy
and short-tempered people who had made the night journey from the south.
So on a pile of three gun-cases in the corridor Archie sat himself
and gave his attention to the enlightened Press of his country.

He rubbed his eyes to make certain that he was not dreaming.
For there, in conspicuous print on a prominent page of a respected
newspaper, was the name of John Macnab.  There was other news:
of outrages in Mexico and earthquakes in the Pacific, of the
disappearance of a solicitor and the arrival in London of a cinema star,
but all seemed dwarfed and paled by Crossby's story.  There was news
of Harald Blacktooth, too, and authentic descriptions of the
treasure-trove, but this was in an unconsidered corner.
Cheek by jowl with the leading article was what clearly most
interested the editor out of all the events on the surface of
the globe--the renascence of Harald Blacktooth phoenix-like
from his ashes, and the capture of the Strathlarrig salmon.

Archie read the thing confusedly without taking much of it in.
Then he turned to the London evening paper.  It was a journal
which never objected to breaking up its front page for spicy news,
and there on the front page was a summary of the Strathlarrig exploit.
Moreover, there was a short hastily compiled article on the subject
and a number of stimulating notes.  John Macnab was becoming
a household name, and the gaze of Britain was being centred on
his shy personality.  The third act in the drama would be played
under bright light to a full gallery....Archie's eyes caught the end
of the first Scotsman leader, which contained a reference to
the Muirtown meeting, and a speculation as to what the Secretary
of State for the Dominions would say.  Archie, too, speculated
as to what Lamancha was saying at that moment at the other end
of the train.

This new complexity did something to quiet his nerves and take
his mind off his approaching ordeal.  There was no word in
the papers of the coming raid on Haripol--Crossby had had that
much sense--but, or course, whatever happened at Haripol would be
broadcast through the land.  The Claybodys, if they defeated John Macnab,
would be famous; ridiculous, if they were beaten; and, while the latter
fate might be taken with good humour by the Bandicotts, it would be gall
and wormwood to a young gentleman with strong notions on the rights
and dignities of landed property.  It was mathematically certain
that Johnson Claybody, as soon as he saw the newspapers, would devote
all the powers of a stubborn temper to the defence of Haripol.
That was bad enough, but the correspondents at Strathlarrig were likely
to have heard by this time of the third of John Macnab's wagers,
and the attempt might have to be made under their argus-eyed espionage.
Altogether, things were beginning to look rather dark for John,
and incidentally for Sir Archie.

These morose reflections occupied him till the train stopped at Frew,
the ticket-station for Muirtown.  Here, according to plan,
Sir Archie descended, for he could not arrive at the terminus
in Lamancha's company.  There was a cold gusty wind from the north-west
which promised rain, the sky was overcast, and the sea, half a mile
distant across the sand-dunes, was grey and sullen.  Sir Archie,
having two hours to fill before the official luncheon, resolved to reject
the ancient station fly and walk....Once again the shadow of his speech
descended on him.  He limped along the shore road, trying to see
the words as he had written them down, trying especially to get
the initial sentence clear for each paragraph, for he believed that
if he remembered these the rest would follow.  The thing went rather
better now.  Parts came in a cascade of glibness, and he remembered
Lamancha's injunction not to be too dapper or too rapid.
The peroration was all right, and so was the exordium; only one
passage near the middle seemed to offer a snag.  He devoted the
rest of his walk exclusively to this passage, till he was assured
that he had it by heart.

He reached Muirtown within an hour, and decided to kill time by
visiting some of his friends among the shopkeepers.  The gunmaker
welcomed him cordially, and announced his intention of coming to
hear him that afternoon.  But politics had clearly been ousted
from that worthy's head by the newspaper which lay on his counter.
"What about this John Macnab, Sir Erchibald?" he asked.

"What about him? I'm hanged if I know what to think."

"If Mr Tarras wasn't deid in Africa I would ken fine what to think.
The man will likely be a gentleman, and he must be a grand fisher.
I ken that bit o' the Larrig, and to get a salmon in it wants a
fair demon at the job.  Crask is no three miles away.  D'ye hear
nothing at Crask?"

It was the same wherever he went.  The fishmonger pointed to a fish
on his slabs, and observed that it would be about the size of the one
taken at Strathlarrig.  The bookseller, who knew his customer's
simple tastes in letters, regretted that no contemporary novel
of his acquaintance promised such entertainment as the drama now
being enacted in Wester Ross.  Tired of needless lying, Sir Archie
forsook the shops and went for a stroll beside the harbour.
But even there John Macnab seemed to pursue him.  Wherever he saw
a man with a paper he knew what he was reading, the people at the
street corners were no doubt discussing the same subject--nay, he was
sure he heard the very words spoken as he passed....The sight of a
blue poster with his name in large letters reminded him of his duties,
and he turned his steps towards the Northern Club.

He was greeted by his host, a Baillie of the town (the Provost
belonged to the enemy camp), and was presented to the other guests.
"This is our candidate for Wester Ross, my lord," and Archie was
introduced to Lamancha, who smiled urbanely and remarked that
he had had the pleasure of meeting Sir Archibald Roylance before.
The Duke of Angus would not arrive till the hour of meeting,
but Colonel Wavertree was there, a dapper red-faced gentleman
who had an interest in breweries, and Mr Murdoch of New Caledonia--
immense, grizzled and bearded, who had left the Lews as a child of three
for the climes which had given him fortune.  Also there was Lord Claybody,
who came forward at once to renew his acquaintance.

"Very glad to see you, Sir Archibald.  This is your first big meeting,
isn't it?  Good luck to you.  A straight-forward declaration
of principles is what we want from our future member, and I've no
doubt we'll get it from you.  Johnson sent his humblest apologies.
He drove me in this morning, but unfortunately a troublesome bit
of business took him back at once."

Sir Archie thought he knew what that business was.  He had always
rather liked old Claybody, and now that he had leisure to study
him the liking was confirmed.  There was much of the son's arrogance
about the eyes and mouth, but there was humour, too, which was
lacking in Johnson, and his voice had a pleasant Midland burr.
But he looked horribly competent and wide-awake.  One would,
thought Sir Archie, if one had made a great fortune oneself,
and he concluded that the owner of Haripol was probably a bad man
to get up against.

At luncheon they should have talked of the state of the nation
and the future of their party; instead they talked of John Macnab.
It was to be noted that Lord Claybody did not contribute much
to the talk; he pursed his lips when the name was mentioned,
and he did not reveal the challenge to Haripol.  Patently he shared
his son's views on the matter.  But the others made no secret
of their interest.  Colonel Wavertree, who had come in from a
neighbouring grouse-moor, was positive that the ruffian's escapades
were not over.  "He'll go round the lot of us," he said, "and though
it costs him fifty pound a time, I daresay he gets his money's worth.
I believe he is paid by the agents to put up the price of Highland
places, for if he keeps on it will mean money in the pocket of every
sporting tenant, besides the devil of a lot of fun."  Mr Murdoch said
it reminded him of the doings of one Pink Jones in New Caledonia
forty years ago, and told a long and pointless tale of that hero.
As for Lamancha, he requested to be given the whole story,
and made very good show of merriment.  "A parcel of under-graduates,
I suppose," he said.

But the Baillie, who gave him the information, was a serious man
and disapproved.  "It will get the country-side a bad name, my lord.
It is a challenge to law and order.  There's too many Bolsheviks
about as it is, without this John Macnab aidin' and abettin' them."

"Most likely the fellow is a sound Tory," said Lamancha; but the Baillie
ventured respectfully to differ.  "If your lordship will forgive me,
there's some things too serious for jokin'," he concluded sententiously.

It was a dull luncheon, but to Archie the hours passed like
fevered seconds.  Agoraphobia had seized him once more, and he felt
his tongue dry and his stomach hollow with trepidation.  Food did not
permit itself to be swallowed, so he contented himself with drinking
two whisky-and-sodas.  Towards the close of the meal that wild form
of valour which we call desperation was growing in him.
He could do nothing more about his infernal speech, and must fling
himself on fortune.  As they left the table the Baillie claimed him.
"Your agent is here, Sir Archibald.  He wanted a word with you
before the meeting."

A lean, red-haired man awaited them in the hall.

"Hullo, Mr Brodie.  How are you? Glad to see you.  Well, what's the
drill for this afternoon?"

"It's that I was wantin' to see ye about, sir.  The arrangement was
that you should speak first, then Lord Lamancha, then Colonel Wavertree,
and Mr Murdoch to finish off.  But Baillie Dorrit thinks Lord Lamancha
should open, him bein' a Cabinet Minister, and that you should follow."

"Right-o, Brodie! I'm game for anything you like.  I've been a slack
candidate up to now, and I don't profess to know the job like you."
Sir Archie spoke with a jauntiness which made his heart sink,
but the agent was impressed.

"Fine, sir.  I can see ye're in grand fettle.  Ye'll have a
remarkable audience.  There's been a demand for tickets far beyond the
capacity o' the hall, and I hear of folk comin' from fifty mile round."

Every word was like a death knell to the wretched Archie, but with
his spirits in the depths his manner took on a ghastly exhilaration.
He lit a cigar with shaking fingers, patted Brodie on the back,
linked his arm with the Baillie's, and in the short walk to the hall
chattered like a magpie.  So fevered was his behaviour that,
as they entered the building by a side-door, Lamancha whispered
in his ear, "Steady, old man.  For God's sake, keep your head,"
and Archie turned on him a face like a lost soul's.

"I'm goin' over the top," he said.

The Town Hall of Muirtown, having been built originally
for the purpose of a drill-hall, was capable of holding
inside its bare walls the better part of two thousand people.
This afternoon it was packed to the door, presumably with voters,
for the attendants had ruthlessly turned away all juvenile politicians.
As Sir Archie took his seat on the platform, while a selection
from the Muirtown Brass Band rendered "Annie Laurie," he seemed to be
looking down as from an aeroplane on a strange, unfeatured country.
The faces might have been tomb-stones for all the personality
they represented.  Some of his friends were there, no doubt,
but he could no more have recognised them than he could have picked
out the starling which haunted the Crask lawn from a flock seen
next day on the hill.  The place swam in a mist, like a corrie
viewed in the morning from the hill-tops, and he knew that the mist
came out of his own quaking soul.  He had heard of stage-fright,
but had never dreamed that it could be such a blackness of darkness.

The Duke of Angus was very old, highly respected, and almost
wholly witless.  He had never been very clever--Disraeli,
it was said, had refused him the Thistle on the ground that
he would eat it--and of late years his mind had retired into
a happy vacuity.  As a chairman he was mercifully brief.
He told a Scots story, at which he shook with laughter,
but the point of which he unfortunately left out; he repeated
very loudly the names of the speakers--Sir Archie started
at the sound of his own like a scared fawn; in a tone which
was almost a bellow he uttered the words "Lord Lamancha,"
and then he sat down.

Lamancha had the reputation which is always accorded to a man
whose name is often in the newspapers.  Most of the audience
had never seen him in the flesh, and human nature is grateful
for satisfied curiosity.  Presently he had them docile under
the spell of his charming voice.  He never attempted oratory
in the grand style, but he possessed all the lesser accomplishments.
He had nothing new to say, but he said the old things with a pleasant
sincerity and that simplicity which is the result only of a
long-practised art.  It was the kind of speech of which he had made
hundreds and would make hundreds more; there was nothing in it to
lay hold of, but it produced an impression of being at once weighty
and spontaneous, flattering to the audience and a proof of the
speaker's easy mastery of his trade.  There was a compliment
to the Duke, a warm tribute to Sir Archie, a bantering profession
of shyness on the part of a Borderer speaking north of the Forth.
Then, by an easy transition, he passed to Highland problems--land,
emigration, the ex-service men--and thence to the prime economic
needs of Britain since 1918, the relation of these needs to
world demands, the necessity of meeting them by using the full
assets of an Empire which had been a unit in war and should be
a unit in peace.  There was little to inspire, but little
to question; platitudes were so artfully linked together
as to give the impression of a rounded and stable creed.
Here was one who spoke seriously, responsibly, and yet with optimism;
there was character here, said the ordinary man, and yet obviously
a mind as well.  Even the stern critics on the back benches had
no fault to find with a statement from which they could only
dissent with respect.  None recognised that it was the manner
that bewitched them.  Lamancha, who on occasion could be profound,
was now only improvising.  The matter was a mosaic of bits of old
speeches and answers to deputations, which he put together cynically
with his left hand.  But the manner was superb--the perfect production
of a fine voice, the cunning emphasis, the sudden halts, the rounded
cadences, the calculated hesitations.  He sat down after forty minutes
amid a tempest of that applause which is the tribute to professional
skill and has nothing to do with conviction.

Sir Archie had listened with awe.  Knowing now from bitter experience
the thorny path of oratory, he was dumbfounded by this spectacle
of a perfection of which he had never dreamed.  What a fiasco would
his halting utterance be in such company!  He glanced at the notes
in his hand, but could not read them; he strove to remember his
opening sentences, and discovered them elusive.  Then suddenly
he heard his name spoken, and found himself on his feet.

He was scarcely aware of the applause with which he was greeted.
All he knew was that every word of his speech had fled from his memory
and would never return.  The faces below him were a horrid white blur
at which he knew he was foolishly grinning....In his pocket was an
oration carefully written out.  If he were to pluck it forth,
and try to read it, he knew that he could not make sense of a word,
for his eyes had lost the power of sight....Profound inertia
seized him; he must do something, but there was a dreadful temptation
to do nothing, just to go on grinning, like a man in a nightmare
who finds himself in the track of an express train.

Nevertheless, such automata are we, he was speaking.  He did not know
what he was saying, but as a matter of fact he was repeating the words
with which the chairman had introduced him.  "Ladies and gentlemen,
we are fortunate in the privilege of having heard so stirring and
statesmanlike an address as that which His Majesty's Secretary of State
for the Dominions has just delivered.  Now we are to hear what our
gallant and enterprising friend, the prospective candidate for Wester
Ross, has to say to us about the problems which confront the nation."

He repeated this exordium like a parrot.  The audience scented
a mild joke, and laughed....Then in a twittering falsetto he repeated
it again--this time in silence.  There was a vague sense that something
had gone wrong.  He was about to repeat it a third time, and then
the crash would have come, and he would have retired gibbering
from the field.

The situation was saved by Wattie Lithgow.  Seated at the back
of the hall, Wattie saw that his master was in deadly peril,
and took the only way to save him.  He had a voice of immense compass,
and he used it to the full.

"Speak up, man," he roared.  "I canna hear a word ye're sayin'."

There were shouts of "Order," and the stewards glared angrily
at Wattie, but the trick had been done.  Sir Archie's eyes opened,
and he saw the audience no longer like turnips in a field,
but as living and probably friendly human beings.  Above all,
he saw Wattie's gnarled face and anxious eyes.  Suddenly his brain
cleared, and, had he desired it, he could have reeled off the speech
in his pocket as glibly as he had repeated it in the solitude of Crask.
But he felt that that was no longer possible.  The situation required
a different kind of speech, and he believed he could make it.
He would speak direct to Wattie, as he had often lectured him
in the Crask smoking-room.

"Ladies and gentlemen," he said--and his voice had become full
and confident--"your 'gallant and enterprising friend' is not much
of a hand in public speaking.  I have still my job to learn,
and with your help I hope soon to learn it.  What I have to say
to you this afternoon is the outcome of my first amateurish study
of public questions.  You may take it that my views are honest and my own.
I am not a gramophone."

In this last sentence he lied, for what he said was for the most part
not his own; it was the sermon which Janet Raden had preached him
the day before in the clear air of the Carnmore tops.  Mixed up with it
were fragments of old discourses of his own to Wattie, and reflections
which had come to him in the last ten years of a variegated life.
The manner was staccato, the style was slangy and inelegant, but it
was not a lesson learned and recited, but words spoken direct to those
into whose eyes he was looking.  He had found touch with his audience,
and he held their attention in a vice.

It was a strange, inconsequent speech, but it had a curious appeal
in it--the appeal of youth and candour and courage.  It was philosophy
rather than politics, and ragged but arresting philosophy.
He began by confessing that the war had left the world in a muddle,
a muddle which affected his own mind.  The only cure was to be
honest with oneself, and to refuse to accept specious nonsense
and conventional jargon.  He told the story from Andersen of the
Emperor's New Suit.  "Our opponents call us Tories," he said;
"they can call us anything they jolly well please.  I am proud
to be called a Tory.  I understand that the name was first given
by Titus Oates to those who disbelieved in his Popish Plot.
What we want to-day is Toryism--the courage to give the lie
to impudent rogues."

That was a memory of Leithen's table talk.  The rest was all
from Janet Raden.  He preached the doctrine of Challenge;
of no privilege without responsibility, of only one right of man--
the right to do his duty; of all power and property held on sufferance.
These were the thoughts which had been growing in his head since
yesterday afternoon.  He spoke of the changing face of the land--
the Highlands ceasing to be the home of men and becoming the mere
raw material of picture post-cards, the old gentry elbowed out
and retiring with a few trinkets and pictures and the war medals
of their dead to suburban lodgings.  It all came of not meeting
the challenge....What was Bolshevism but a challenge, perhaps a
much-needed challenge, to make certain of the faith that was in a man?
He had no patience with the timorous and whining rich.  No law could
protect them unless they made themselves worth protecting.
As a Tory, he believed that the old buildings were still sound,
but they must be swept and garnished, that the ancient weapons
were the best, but they must be kept bright and shining and
ready for use.  So soon as a cause feared inquiry and the light
of day that cause was doomed.  The ostrich, hiding its head
in the sand, left its rump a fatal temptation to the boot
of the passer-by.

Sir Archie was not always clear, he was often ungrammatical,
and he nobly mixed his metaphors, but he held his audience tight.
He did more, when at the close of his speech he put his case
in the form of an apologue--the apologue of John Macnab.
The mention of the name brought laughter and loud cheering.
John Macnab, he said, was abroad in the world to-day, like a catfish
among a shoal of herrings.  He had his defects, no doubt, but he was
badly wanted, for he was at bottom a sportsman and his challenge
had to be met.  Even if the game went against them the challenged
did not wholly lose, for they were stirred out of apathy into life.

No queerer speech was ever made by a candidate on his first
public appearance.  It had no kind of success with the Baillie,
nor, it may be presumed, with Lord Claybody; indeed, I doubt if any
of the distinguished folk on the platform quite approved of it,
except Lamancha.  But there was no question of its appeal to
the audience, and the applause which had followed Lamancha's
peroration was as nothing to that amid which Sir Archie resumed his seat.

At the back of the hall a wild-eyed man sitting near Wattie Lithgow
had been vociferous in his plaudits.  "He ca's himsel' a Tory.
By God, it's the red flag that he'll be wavin' soon."

"If you say that again," said Wattie fiercely, "I'll smash your heid."

"Keep your hair on," was the reply.  "I'm for the young ane,
whatever he ca's himsel'."

Archie sat down with his brain in a whirl, for he had tasted
the most delicious of joys--the sense of having moved a multitude.
He had never felt happier in his life--or, let it be added,
more truly amazed.  A fiery trial was over, and brilliantly over.
He had spoken straightforwardly to his fellow mortals with ease
and acceptance.  The faces below him were no longer featureless,
but human and friendly and interesting.  He did not listen closely
to Colonel Wavertree's remarks, which seemed to be mostly about
taxation, or to the Ex-Premier of New Caledonia, who was heavily
rhetorical and passionately imperial.  Modest as he was, he had
a pleased consciousness that, though he might have talked a good
deal of rot, he had gripped his hearers as not even Lamancha
had gripped them.  He searched through the hall for faces to recognise.
Wattie he saw, savagely content; the Colonel, too, who looked flushed
and happy, and Junius, and Agatha.  But there was no sign of Janet,
and his failure to find her threw a dash of cold water on his triumph.

The next step was to compass an inconspicuous departure.
Lamancha would be escorted in state to the four-fourty-five train,
and he must join it at Frew.  While "God save the King" was being sung,
Sir Archie escaped by a side-door, followed by an excited agent.
"Man, ye went down tremendous," Brodie gasped.  "Ye changed
your mind--ye told me ye were goin' to deal wi' foreign policy.
Anyway, ye've started fine, and there'll be no gettin' inside
the hall the next time ye speak in Muirtown."

Archie shook him off, picked up a taxi-cab at the station,
and drove to Frew.  There, after lurking in the waiting-room,
he duly entered a third-class carriage in the rear of the
south-going train.  At six o'clock he emerged on to the platform
at Bridge of Gair, and waited till the train had gone before
he followed Lamancha to the hotel.  He found his friend thinking
only of Haripol.  "I had a difficult job to get rid of Claybody,
and had to tell a lot of lies.  Said I was going to stay with Lanerick
and that my man had gone on there with my luggage.  We'd better be off,
for we've a big day before us to-morrow."

But, as the Hispana started up the road to the pass, Lamancha smiled
affectionately on the driver and patted his shoulder.  "I've often
called you an idiot, Archie, but I'm bound to say to-day you were
an inspired idiot.  You may win this seat or not--it doesn't matter--
but sooner or later you're going to make a howling success
in that silly game."

Beyond the pass the skies darkened for rain, and it was in a deluge
that the car, a little after eight o'clock, crossed the Bridge of Larrig.
Archie had intended to go round by one of the peat-roads, but the
wild weather had driven everyone to shelter, and it seemed safe
to take the straight road up the hill.  Shapp, who had just arrived
in the Ford, took charge of the car, and Archie and Lamancha sprinted
through the drizzle to the back-door.

To their surprise it was locked, and when, in reply to their hammering,
Mrs Lithgow appeared, it was only after repeated questions through
the scullery-window that she was convinced of their identity
and permitted them to enter.

"We've been fair fashed wi' folk," was her laconic comment,
as she retired hastily to the kitchen after locking the door behind them.

In the smoking-room they found the lamps lit, the windows shuttered,
Crossby busy with the newspapers, Palliser-Yeates playing patience,
and Leithen as usual deep in the works of Sir Walter Scott.
"Well," was the unanimous question, "how did it go off?"

"Not so bad," said Archie.  "Charles was in great form.
But what on earth has scared Mrs Lithgow?"

Leithen laid down his book.  "We've had the devil of a time.
Our base has been attacked.  It looks as if we may have a rearguard
action to add to our troubles.  We're practically besieged.
Two hours ago I was all for burning our ciphers and retiring."

"Besieged? By whom?"

"By the correspondents.  Ever since the early afternoon.
I fancy their editors have been prodding them with telegrams.
Anyhow, they've forgotten all about Harald Blacktooth and are hot
on the scent of John Macnab."

"But what brought them here?"

"Method of elimination, I suppose.  Your journalist is a sharp fellow.
They argued that John Macnab must have a base near by, and,
as it wasn't Strathlarrig or Glenraden, it was most likely here.
Also they caught sight of Crossby taking the air, and gave chase.
Crossby flung them off--happily they can't have recognised him--
but they had him treed in the stable loft for three hours."

"Did they see you?"

"No.  Some got into the hall and some glued their faces to this window,
but John was under the table and I was making myself very small
at the back of the sofa....Mrs Lithgow handled them like Napoleon.
Said the Laird was away and wouldn't be back till midnight,
but he'd see them at ten o'clock to-morrow.  She had to promise that,
for they are determined ruffians.  They'd probably still be hanging
about the place if it hadn't been for this blessed rain."

"That's not all," said Palliser-Yeates.  "We had a visit from a lunatic.
We didn't see him, for Mrs Lithgow lured him indoors and has him
shut up in the wine-cellar."

"Good God! What kind of lunatic?" Sir Archie exlaimed.

"Don't know.  Mrs Lithgow was not communicative.  She said
something about smallpox.  Maybe he's a fellow-sufferer looking
for Archie's company.  Anyhow, he's in the wine-cellar for Wattie
to deal with."

Sir Archie rose and marched from the room, and did not return
till the party were seated at a late supper.  His hair was harassed,
and his eyes were wild.

"It wasn't the wine-cellar," he groaned, "it was the coal-hole.
He's upstairs now having a bath and changing into a suit of my clothes.
Pretty short in the temper, too, and no wonder.  For Heaven's sake,
you fellows, stroke him down when he appears.  We've got to bank
on his being a good chap and tell him everything.  It's deuced hard luck.
Here am I just making a promising start in my public career,
and you've gone and locked up the local Medical Officer of Health
who came to inquire into a reputed case of smallpox."




CHAPTER 10


IN WHICH CRIME IS ADDED TO CRIME

By the mercy of Providence Doctor Kello fulfilled Archie's definition
of a "good chap."  He was a sandy-haired young man from Dundee,
who had been in the Air Force, and on his native dialect had grafted
the intricate slang of that service.  Archie had found him half-choked
with coal-dust and wrath, and abject apologies had scarcely mollified him.
But a hot bath and his host's insistence that he should spend the night
at Crask--Dr Kello knew very well that at the inn he would get no more
than a sofa--had worked a miracle, and he appeared at the supper-table
prepared to forgive and forget.  He was a little awed by the company
in which he found himself, and nervously murmured, "Pleased to meet ye"
in response to the various introductions.  A good meal and Archie's
Veuve Clicquot put him into humour with himself and at ease
with his surroundings.  He exchanged war reminiscences, and told stories
of his professional life--"Ye wouldn't believe, I tell ye, what queer
folk the Highlanders are" and when later in the evening Archie,
speaking as to a brother airman, made a clean breast of the John
Macnab affair, he received the confession with obstreporous hilarity.
"It's the best stunt I ever heard tell of," he roared, slapping his knee.
"Ye may depend on me to back ye up, too.  Is it the journalists
that's worrying ye?  You leave the merchants to me.  I'll shut their
mouths for them.  Ten o'clock to-morrow, is it?  Well, I'll be there
with a face as long as my arm, and I'll guarantee to send them down
the hill like a kirk emptying."

All night it rained in bucketfuls, and the Friday morning broke with
the same pitiless deluge.  Lamancha came down to breakfast in a suit
of clothes which would have been refused by a self-respecting tramp,
but which, as a matter of fact, had been his stalking outfit
for a dozen years.  The Merklands were not a dressy family.
He studied the barograph, where the needle was moving ominously
downward, and considered the dissolving skies and the mist which rose
like a wall beyond the terrace.

"It's no good," he told his host.  "You might as well try to
stalk Haripol in a snow blizzard.  To-day must be washed out,
and that leaves us only to-morrow.  We'll have to roost indoors,
and we're terribly at the mercy of that hive of correspondents."

The hive came at ten, a waterproofed army defying the weather
in the cause of duty.  But in front of the door they were met
by Dr Kello, with a portentous face.

"Good morning, boys," he said.  "Sir Archibald Roylance asked me
to see ye on his behalf.  My name's Kello--I'm Medical Officer
of Health for this part of the world.  I'm very sorry, but ye can't
see Sir Archibald this morning.  In fact, I want ye to go away
and not come near the place at all."

He was promptly asked for his reason.

"The fact is that a suspected case of smallpox has been reported
from Crask.  That's why I'm here.  I say 'suspected,' for,
in my opinion, it's nothing of the sort.  But I'm bound to take
every precaution, and, for your own sakes, I can't let a man-jack
of ye a step nearer."

The news was received in silence, and added to the depression
of the dripping weather.  A question was asked.

"No, it's not Sir Archibald.  He's as disappointed as you are at not
being able to welcome ye.  He says if ye come back in forty-eight
hours--that's the time when I hope to give the place a clean bill
of health--he would like to stand ye drinks and have a crack with ye."

Five minutes later the doctor returned to the smoking-room.
"They're off like good laddies, and I don't think they'll trouble ye
for the next two days.  Gosh! They're as feared of infectious diseases
as a Highlander.  I'll give them a wee while to go down the hill,
and then I'll start off home on my motor-bike.  I'm very much obliged
to you gentlemen for your good entertainment....Ye may be sure I'll
hold my tongue about the confidence ye've honoured me with.
Not a cheep from me! But I can tell ye, I'll be keeping my ears open
for word of John Macnab.  Good luck to ye, gentlemen!"

The departure of Doctor Kello was followed by the appearance of
Wattie Lithgow, accompanied by Benjie, whose waterproof cape of ceremony
had now its uses.

"I've got bad news from this laddie," said the former, lugging Benjie
forward by the ear.  "He was at Haripol early this morning and a' the
folk there was speakin, about it.  Macnicol tell't him--"

"No, he didna," put in Benjie.  "Macnicol's ower prood to speak to me.
I heard it frae the men in the bothy and frae ane o' the lassies
up at the big hoose."

"Weel, what a'body kens is maistly true.  Ye'll no guess what yon
auld Claybody is daein'.  Ye ken he's a contractor, forbye ither things,
and he's got the contrack for makin' the big dam at Kinlochbuie.
There's maybe a thousand navvies workin' there, and he's bringin' ower
a squad o' them--Benjie says mair nor a hundred--to guaird the forest."

"Ass!" exclaimed Palliser-Yeates.  "He'll drive every beast
into Caithness."

"Na, na.  Macnicol is not entirely wantin' in sense.  The navvies will
no be allowed inside the forest.  They'll be a guaird outside--what's that
they ca' it?--an outer barrage.  Macnicol will see that a' the deer are in
the Sanctuary, and in this kind o' weather it will no be that deeficult.
But it will be verra deeficult for his lordship to get inside the forest,
and it will be verra near an impossibeelity to get a beast out."

Archie looked round the room.  "Dashed unsportin' I call it.
I bet it's the young 'un's idea."

"Look here, Charles," said Leithen.  "Isn't it about time to consider
whether you shouldn't cry off this Haripol affair? It was different
at the start.  John and I had a fair sporting chance.  Our jobs were
steep enough, but yours is absolutely perpendicular....The Claybodys
are not taking any chances, and a hundred able-bodied navvies
is a different-sized proposition to a few gillies.  The confounded
Press has blazoned the thing so wide that if you're caught
you'll be a laughing-stock to the whole civilised world.
Don't you see that you simply can't afford to lose, any more than
the Claybodys? Then, to put the lid on it, our base is under a
perpetual threat from those newspaper follows.  I'd rather have
all Scotland Yard after me than the Press--you agree, Crossby?
I'm inclined to think that John Macnab has done enough 'pour chauffer
la gloire'.  It's insanity to go on."

Lamancha shook his head.  "It's all very well for you--you won.
I tell you frankly that nothing on earth will prevent me having a try
at Haripol.  All you say is perfectly true, but I don't choose
to listen to it.  This news of Wattie's only makes me more determined."

Leithen subsided into his book, observing--"I suppose that is because
you're a great man.  You're a sober enough fellow at most times,
but you're able now and then to fling your hat over the moon.
You can damn the consequences, which I suppose is one of the
tests of greatness.  John and I can't, but we admire you,
and we'll bail you out."

It was Sir Archie, strangely enough, who now abetted Lamancha's obstinacy.
"I grant you the odds are stiff," he declared, "but that only means
that we must find some way to shorten them.  Nothing's impossible
after yesterday.  There was I gibbering with terror and not a notion
in my head, and yet I got on fairly well, didn't I, Wattie?"

"Ye made a grand speech, sir.  There was some said it was the best
speech they ever heard in a' their days.  There was one man said
ye was haverin', but"--fiercely--"he didna say it twice."

"We've the whole day to make a plan," Archie went on.  "Hang it all,
there must be some way to diddle the Claybodys.  We've got a pretty
good notion of the lie of the land, and Wattie's a perfect Red Indian
at getting up to deer.  We muster four and a half able-bodied men,
counting me as half.  And there's Benjie.  Benjie, you're a demon
at strategy.  Have you anything to say?"

"Aye," said Benjie, "I've a plan.  But ye're ower particular here,
and maybe ye wadna like it."  This with a dark glance at Palliser-Yeates,
who was leaving the room to get more tobacco.

"We'll have it, all the same.  Let's sit down to business.
Stick the ordnance map on that table, Charles, and you, Ned,
shut that book and give us the benefit of your powerful mind."

Leithen rose, yawning.  "I've left my pipe in the dining-room.
Wait a moment till I fetch it."

Now Dr Kello, on his departure, had left the front-door of
the house open, and the steady downpour of rain blanketed all
other sounds from outside.  So it came to pass that when Archie's
quick ear caught the noise of footsteps on the gravel and he bounded
into the hall, he was confronted with the spectacle of Colonel Raden
and his daughters already across the doorstep.  Moreover, as luck
would have it, at that moment Leithen from the dining-room and
Palliser-Yeates from his bedroom converged on the same point.

"Hullo, Roylance," the Colonel cried.  "This is a heathenish hour
for a visit, but we had to have some exercise, and my daughters
wanted to come up and congratulate you on your performance yesterday.
A magnificent speech, sir! Uncommon good sense! What I--"

But the Colonel stopped short in mystification at the behaviour
of his daughters, who were staring with wide eyes at two unknown
figures who stood shamefacedly behind Sir Archie.  This last,
having no alternative, was trying to carry off things with a high hand.

"Let me introduce," he was proclaiming,  "Sir Edward Leithen--
Mr Palliser-Yeates--Miss Raden, Miss Janet Raden, Colonel--"

But he was unheeded.  Agatha was looking at Leithen and Janet
at Palliser-Yeates, and simultaneously the two ejaculated, "John Macnab!"

Archie saw that it was all up.  Shouting for Mrs Lithgow,
he helped his visitors to get out of their mackintoshes,
and ordered his housekeeper to have these garments dried.
Then he ushered them into the smoking-room where were Lamancha
and Crossby and Benjie and a good peat-fire.  Wattie, at the first
sound of voices, had discreetly retired.

"Come along, Colonel, I'll explain.  Very glad to see you--have that
chair...what about dry stockings?....."

But his hospitable bustle was unheeded.  The Colonel, hopelessly at sea,
was bowing to a tall man who in profound embarrassment was clearing
books and papers out of chairs.

"Yes, that's Lord Lamancha.  You heard him yesterday.  Charles, this is
Colonel Raden, and Miss Agatha and Miss Janet.  That is Mr Crossby,
the eminent journalist.  That little scallywag is Fish Benjie,
whom I believe you know....Sit down, please, all of you.
We're caught out and are going to confess.  Behold the lair
of John Macnab."

Colonel Raden was recovering himself.

"I read in the papers," he said, "that John Macnab is the reincarnation
of Harald Blacktooth.  In that case we are related.  With which of these
gentlemen have I the honour to claim kin?"

The words, the tone, convinced Sir Archie that the danger was past,
and his nervousness fled.

"Properly speakin', you've found three new relatives.  There they are.
Not bad follows, though they've been givin' me a hectic time.
Now I retire--shoes off, feet fired, and turned out to grass.
Ned, you've a professional gift of exposition.  Fire away,
and tell the whole story."

Sir Edward Leithen obeyed, and it may be said that the tale
lost nothing in his telling.  He described the case of three gentlemen,
not wholly useless to their country, who had suddenly fallen into ennui.
He told of a cure, now perfected, but of a challenge not yet complete.
"I've been trying to persuade Lord Lamancha to drop the thing,"
he said, "but the Claybodys have put his back up, and I'm not sure
that I blame him.  It didn't matter about you or Bandicott,
for you took it like sportsmen, and we should have felt no disgrace
in being beaten by you.  But Claybody is different."

"By Gad, sir, you are right," the Colonel shouted, rising to his feet
and striding about the room.  "He and his damned navvies are an insult
to every gentleman in the Highlands.  They're enough to make
Harald Blacktooth rise from the dead.  I should never think anything
of Lord Lamancha again--and I've thought a devilish lot of him up
to now--if he took this lying down.  Do you know, sir"--turning to
Lamancha--"that I served in the Scots Guards with your father--we called
them the Scots Fusilier Guards in those days--and I am not going
to fail his son."

Sir Edward Leithen was a philosopher, with an acute sense of the
ironies of life, and as he reflected that here was a laird, a Tory,
and a strict preserver of game working himself into a passion over the
moral rights of the poacher, he suddenly relapsed into helpless mirth.
Colonel Raden regarded him sternly and uncomprehendingly, but Janet
smiled, for she too had an eye for comedy.

"I'm tremendously grateful to you," Lamancha said.  "You know more
about stalking than all of us put together, and we want your advice."

"Janet," commanded her parent, "you have the best brain in the family.
I'll be obliged if you'll apply it to this problem."

For an hour the anxious conclave surrounded the spread-out ordnance map.
Wattie was summoned, and with a horny finger expounded the probable
tactics of Macnicol and the presumable disposition of the navvy guard.
At the end of the consultation Lamancha straightened his back.

"The odds are terribly steep.  I can see myself dodging the navvies,
and with Wattie's help getting up to a stag.  But if Macnicol and
the gillies are perched round the Sanctuary they are morally certain
to spot us, and, if we have to bolt, there's no chance of getting
the beast over the march.  That's a hole I see no way out of."

"Janet," said the Colonel, "do you?"

Janet was looking abstractedly out of the window.  "I think it is going
to clear up," she observed, disregarding her father's question.
"It will be a fine afternoon, and then, if I am any judge of the weather,
it will rain cats and dogs in the evening."

"We had better scatter after luncheon," said Lamancha, "and each of us
go for a long stride.  We want to be in training for to-morrow."

After the Colonel had suggested half a dozen schemes, the boldness
of which was only matched by their futility, the Radens rose to go.
Janet signalled to Benjie, who slipped out after her, and the two
spoke in whispers in the hall, while Archie was collecting
the mackintoshes from the kitchen.

"I want you to be at Haripol this afternoon.  Wait for me a little
on this side of the lodge about half-past three."

Benjie grinned and nodded.  "Aye, lady, I'll be there."  He, too,
had a plan for shortening the odds, and he had so great a respect
for Janet's sagacity that he thought it probable that she might
have reached his own conclusion.


As Janet had foretold, it was a hot afternoon.  The land
steamed in the sun, but every hill-top was ominously clouded.
While the inhabitants of Crask were engaged in taking stealthy
but violent exercise among the sinuosities of Sir Archie's estate,
Janet Raden mounted her yellow pony and rode thoughtfully towards
Haripol by way of Inverlarrig and the high road.  There were various
short-cuts, suitable for a wild-cat like Benjie, but after the
morning's torrential rains she had no fancy for swollen bogs and streams.
She found Benjie lurking behind a boulder near the lodge, and in the
shelter of a clump of birches engaged him in earnest conversation.
Then she rode decorously through the gates and presented herself
at the castle door.

Haripol was immense, new, and, since it had been built by a good
architect out of good stone, not without its raw dignity.
Janet found Lady Claybody in a Tudor hall which had as much connection
with a Scots castle as with a Kaffir kraal.  There was a wonderful
jumble of possessions--tapestries which included priceless
sixteenth-century Flemish pieces, and French fakes of last year;
Ming treasures and Munich atrocities; armour of which about a third
was genuine; furniture indiscriminately Queen Anne, Sheraton, Jacobean,
and Tottenham Court Road; and pictures which ranged from a Sir Joshua
(an indifferent specimen) to a recent Royal Academy portrait
of Lord Claybody.  A feature was the number of electric lamps to
illumine the hours of darkness, the supports of which varied
from Spanish altar-candlesticks to two stuffed polar bears and
a turbaned Ethiopian in coloured porcelain.

Lady Claybody was a heavily handsome woman still in her early fifties.
The purchase of Haripol had been her doing, for romance lurked in her
ample breast, and she dreamed of a new life in which she should be an
unquestioned great lady far from the compromising environment where
the Claybody millions had been won.  Her manner corresponded to her
ambition, for it was stately and aloof, her speech was careful English
seasoned with a few laboriously acquired Scots words, and in her
household her wish was law.  A merciful tyrant, she rarely resorted
to ultimata, but when she issued a decree it was obeyed.

She was unaffectedly glad to see Janet, for the Radens were the sort
of people she desired as friends.  Two days before she had been at her
most urbane to Agatha and the Colonel, and now she welcomed the younger
daughter as an ambassador from that older world which she sought to make
her own.  A small terrier drowned her greetings with epileptic yelps.

"Silence, Roguie," she enjoined.  "You must not bark at a
fellow-countrywoman.  Roguie, you know, is so high-strung that
he reacts to any new face.  You find me quite alone, my dear.
Our daughters do not join us till next week, when we shall have
a houseful for the stalking.  Now I am having a very quiet, delicious
time drinking in the peace of this enchanted glen."

She said no word of John Macnab, who was doubtless the primary cause
of this solitude.  Lord Claybody and Johnson, it appeared, were out
on the hill.  Janet chattered on the kind of topics which she felt
suitable--hunting in the Midlands, the coming Muirtown Gathering,
the political meeting of yesterday.  "Claybody thought Sir Archie
Roylance rather extravagant," said the lady, "but he was greatly
impressed with Lord Lamancha's speech.  Surely it is absurd that
this part of the Highlands, which your sister says was so
loyal to Prince Charlie, should be a hot-bed of radicalism.
Claybody thinks that that can all be changed, but not with a
candidate who truckles to socialist nonsense."

Janet was demure and acquiescent, sighing when her hostess sighed,
condemning when she condemned.  Presently the hot sun shining through
the windows suggested the open air to Lady Claybody, who was
dressed for walking.

"Shall we stroll a little before tea?" she asked.  "Wee Roguie has
been cooped indoors all morning, and he loves a run, for he comes
of a very sporting breed."

They set forth accordingly, into gardens bathed in sunshine, and thence
to the coolness of beechwoods.  The Reascuill, after leaving its
precipitous glen, flows, like the Raden, for a mile or two in haughlands,
which are split by the entry of a tributary, the Doran, which in
its upper course is the boundary between Haripol and Crask.
Between the two streams stands a wooded knoll which is a chief
pleasaunce of the estate.  It is a tangle of dwarf birches, bracken
and blaeberry, with ancient Scots firs on the summit, and from its
winding walks there is a prospect of the high peaks of the forest
rising black and jagged above the purple ridges.

At its foot they crossed the road which followed the river into the
forest, and Janet caught sight of a group of men lounging by the bridge.

"Have you workmen on the place just now?" she asked.

"Only wood-cutters, I think," said Lady Claybody.

Wee Roguie plunged madly into the undergrowth, and presently could be
heard giving tongue, as if in pursuit of a rabbit.  "Dear little fellow!"
said his mistress.  "Hear how he loves freedom!"

The ladies walked slowly to the crest of the knoll, where they halted
to admire the view.  Janet named the different summits, which looked
ominously near, and then turned to gaze on the demesne of Haripol
lying green and secure in its cincture of wood and water.
"I think you have the most beautiful place in the Highlands,"
she told her hostess.  "It beats Glenraden, for you have the sea."

"It is very lovely," was the answer.  "I always think of it as
a fortress, where we are defended against the troubles of the world.
At Ronham one might as well be living in London, but here there
are miles of battlements between us and dull everyday things....Listen
to Roguie! How happy he is!"

Roguie's yelps sounded now close at hand, and now far off, as the
scent led him.  Presently, as the ladies moved back to the house,
the sound grew fainter.  "He will probably come out on the main avenue,"
his mistress said.  "I like him to feel really free, but he always
returns in good time for his little supper."

They had tea in the tapestried hall, and then Janet took her leave.
"I want to escape the storm," she explained, "for it is certain to
rain hard again before night."  As it chanced she did not escape it,
but after a wayside colloquy with a small boy, arrived at Glenraden
as wet as if she had swum the Larrig.  She had sent by Benjie a message
to Crask, concerning her share in the plans of the morrow.

That night after dinner, while the rain beat on the windows, John Macnab
was hard at work.  The map was spread out on the table, and Lamancha
prepared the orders for the coming action.  If we would understand
his plan, it is necessary to consider the nature of the terrain.
The hill behind Crask rises to a line of small cliffs not unlike
a South African Kranz, and through a gap in the line runs a moorland
track which descends by the valley of the Doran till it joins the
main road from Inverlarrig almost at Haripol gates.  The Doran glen--the
Crask march is the stream--is a wide hollow of which the north side
is the glacis of the great Haripol peaks.  These are, in order from west
to east, Stob Ban, Stob Coire Easain, Sgurr Mor, and the superb tower
of Sgurr Dearg.  Seen from the Crask ridge the summits rise in cones
of rock from a glacis which at the foot is heather and scrub and
farther up steeps of scree and boulders.  Between each peak there is
a pass leading over to the deep-cut glen of the Reascuill, which glen
is contained on the north by the hills of Machray forest.

It was certain that the navvy cordon would be an outer line of defence,
outside the wilder ground of the forest.  Wattie expounded it with an
insight which the facts were to justify.  "The men will be posted
along the north side o' the Doran, maybe halfway up the hill--syne round
the west side o' Stob Ban and across the Reascuill at the new fir
plantin'--syne up the Machray march along the taps o' Clonlet and
Bheinn Fhada.  They can leave out Sgurr Dearg, for ye'd hae to be
a craw to get ower that side o't.  By my way o' thinkin', they'll want
maybe three hundred to mak a proper ring, and they'll want them thickest
on the Machray side where the ground is roughest.  North o' the Doran
it's that bare that twa-three men could see the whole hill-side,
and Macnicol's no the ane to waste his folk.  The easy road intil
the Sanctuary is frae Machray up the Reascuill, and the easy way to get
a beast out wad be by the way o' the Red Burn.  But the navvies will be
as thick as starlin's there, so it's no place for you and me, my lord."

The Haripol Sanctuary lay at the headwater of the Reascuill, between what
was called the Pinnacle Ridge of Sgurr Dearg and the cliff of Sgurr Mor.
As luck would have it, a fairly easy path, known generally as the
Beallach, led from it to the glen of the Doran.  It was clear that
Lamancha must enter from the south, and, if he got a stag, remove it
by the same road.

"I'll get ye into the Sanctuary, never fear," said Wattie grimly,
"There's no a navvy ever whelpit wad keep you and me out.  But when
we're there, God help us, for we'll hae Macnicol to face.
And if Providence is mercifu' and we get a beast, we've the navvies
to get it through, and that's about the end o't.  Ye canna mak
yoursel' inconspicuous when ye're pu'in at a muckle stag."

"True," said Lamancha, "and that's just where Mr Palliser-Yeates comes
in....John, my lad, your job is to be waiting on the Doran side
of the Beallach, and if you see Wattie and me with a beast,
to draw off the navvies in that quarter.  You had better move west
towards Haripol, for there's better cover on that side.
D'you think you can do it?  You used to have a pretty gift of speed,
and you've always had an uncommon eye for ground."


Palliser-Yeates said modestly that he thought he was up to the job,
provided Lamancha did not attract the prior notice of the watchers.
Once the pack got on his trail, he fancied he could occupy their
attention for an hour or two.  The difficulty lay in keeping Lamancha
in view, and for that purpose it would be necessary to ensconce himself
at the very top of the Beallach, where he could have sight of the
upper Sanctuary.

To Leithen fell the onerous task of creating a diversion on the other
side of the forest.  He must start in the small hours and be somewhere
on the Machray boundary when Lamancha was beginning operations.
There lay the most obvious danger-point, and there the navvies would
probably be thickest on the ground.  At all costs their attention--and
that of any Haripol gillies in the same quarter--must be diverted from
what might be happening in the Sanctuary.  This was admittedly
a hard duty, but Leithen was willing to undertake it.  He was not
greatly afraid of the navvies, who are a stiff-jointed race, but the
Haripol gillies were another matter.  "You simply must not get caught,"
Lamancha told him.  "If you're hunted, make a bee-line north to Machray
and Glenaicill--the gillies won't be keen to be drawn too far away
from Haripol.  You won the school mile in your youth, and you're
always in training.  Hang it all, you ought to be able to keep Claybody's
fellows on the run.  I never yet knew a gillie quick on his feet."

"That's a pre-war notion," said Palliser-Yeates.  "Some of the young
fellows are uncommon spry.  Ned may win all right, but it won't be
by much of a margin."

The last point for decision was the transport of the stag.
The moor-road from Crask was possible for a light car with a
high clearance, and it was arranged that Archie should take the Ford
by that route and wait in cover on the Crask side of the Doran.
It was a long pull from the Beallach to the stream, but there were
tributary ravines where the cover was good--always presuming that
Palliser-Yeates had decoyed away the navvy guard.

"Here's the lay-out, then," said Lamancha at last.  "Wattie and I
get into the Sanctuary as best we can and try for a stag.  If we get him,
we bring him through the Beallach; John views us and shows himself,
and draws off the navvies, whom we assume to be few at that point.
Then we drag the beast down to the Doran and sling it into Archie's car.
Meanwhile Ned is on the other side of the forest, doing his damndest
to keep Macnicol busy....That's about the best we can do, but I needn't
point out to you that every minute we're taking the most almighty chances.
We may never get a shot.  Macnicol may be in full cry after us long
before we reach the Beallach.  The navvies may refuse to be diverted
by John, or may come back before we get near Archie's car....Ned may pipe
to heedless ears, or, worse still, he may be nobbled and lugged off to
the Haripol dungeons....It's no good looking for trouble before it comes,
but I can see that there's a big bank of it waiting for us.
What really frightens me is Macnicol and the gillies at the
Sanctuary itself.  This weather is in our favour, but even then
I don't see how they can miss hearing our shot, and that of course
puts the lid on it."

A time-table was drawn up after much discussion.  Leithen was to start
for Machray at 3 a.m., and be in position about 8.  Lamancha and Wattie,
about the latter hour, would be attempting to enter the Sanctuary
by the Beallach.  Palliser-Yeates must be at his post not later than 9,
and Archie with the car should reach the Doran by 10.  The hour of
subsequent happenings depended upon fate; the thing might be over
for good or ill by noon, or it might drag on till midnight.

When the last arrangements had been settled Lamancha squared his back
against the mantelpiece and looked round on the company.

"Of course we're all blazing idiots--the whole thing is insanity--but
we've done the best we can in the way of preparation.  The great
thing is for each of us to keep his wits about him and use them,
for everything may go the opposite way to what we think.
There's no 'according to Cocker' in this game."

Archie was wrinkling his brows.

"It's all dashed ingenious, Charles, but do you think you have
any real chance?"

"Frankly, I don't," was the answer.  "The best we can hope for is
to fail without being detected.  I think there would be a far-away
sporting chance if Macnicol could be tied up.  That's what sticks
in my gizzard.  I don't see how it's possible to get a shot in the
Sanctuary without Macnicol spotting it."

Wattie Lithgow had returned, and caught the last words.
He was grinning broadly.

"I'm no positeeve but that Macnicol wull be tied up," he observed.
"Benjie's here, and he's brocht something wi' him."

He paused for effect.

"It's a dog--a wee yelpin' dog."

"Whose dog?"

"Leddy Claybody's.  It seems that at Haripol her leddyship wears
the breeks--that the grey mear is the better horse there--and it seems
that she's fair besottit on that dog.  Benjie was sayin' that if it
were lost Macnicol and a'body about the place wad be set lookin' for't,
and naething wad be thought of at Haripol till it was fund."

Archie rose in consternation.

"D'you mean to say--How on earth did the beast come here?"

"It cam here wi' Benjie.  It's fine and comfortable in a box in
the stable....I'm no just clear about what happened afore that,
but I think Miss Janet Raden and Benjie gae'd ower to Haripol
this afternoon and fund the puir wee beast lost in the wuds."

Archie did not join in the laughter.  His mind held no other emotion
than a vast and delighted amazement.  The lady who two days before
had striven to lift his life to a higher plane, who had been the sole
inspiration of his successful speech of yesterday, was now discovered
conspiring with Fish Benjie, to steal a pup.




CHAPTER 11



HARIPOL--THE MAIN ATTACK


Some men begin the day with loose sinews and a sluggish mind,
and only acquire impetus as the hours proceed; others show a declining
scale from the vigour of the dawn to the laxity of evening.
It was fortunate for Lamancha that he belonged to the latter school.
At daybreak he was obstinate, energetic, and frequently ill-tempered,
as sundry colleagues in France and Palestine had learned to their cost;
and it needed an obstinate man to leave Crask between the hours of
five and six in the morning on an enterprise so wild and in weather
so lamentable.  For the rain came down in sheets, and a wind from
the north-east put ice into it.  He stopped for a moment on the summit
of the Crask ridge, to contemplate a wall of driving mist where should
have been a vista of the Haripol peaks.  "This wund will draw beasts
intil the Sanctuary without any help from Macnicol," said Wattie morosely.
"It's ower fierce to last.  I wager it will be clear long afore night."

"It's the weather we want," said Lamancha, cowering from the violence
of the blast.

"For the Sanctuary--maybe.  Up till then I'm no sae sure.
It's that thick we micht maybe walk intil a navvy's airms."

The gods of the sky were in a capricious mood.  All down the Crask
hill-side to the edge of the Doran the wet table-cloth of the fog
clung to every ridge and hollow.  The stream was in roaring spate,
and Lamancha and Wattie, already soaked to the skin, forded it knee-high.
They had by this time crossed the moor-road from Crask to Haripol,
and marked the nook where in the lee of rocks and birches Archie
was to be waiting with the Ford car.  Beyond lay the long lift of land
to the Haripol peaks.  It was rough with boulders and heather,
and broken with small gullies, and on its tangled face a man might
readily lose himself.  Wattie disliked the mist solely because it
prevented him from locating the watchers, since his experience of life
made him disinclined to leave anything to chance; but he had no trouble
in finding his way in it.  The consequence was that he took Lamancha
over the glacis at the pace of a Gurkha, and in half an hour from
the Doran's edge had him panting among the screes just under the Beallach
which led to the Sanctuary.  Somewhere behind them were the vain
navvy pickets, happily evaded in the fog.

Then suddenly the weather changed.  The wind shifted a point to the east,
the mist furled up, the rain ceased, and a world was revealed from which
all colour had been washed, a world as bleak and raw as at its
first creation.  The grey screes sweated grey water, the sodden herbage
was bleached like winter, the crags towering above them might have
been of coal.  A small fine rain still fell, but the visibility was
now good enough to show them the ground behind them in the style
of a muddy etching.

The consequence of this revelation was that Wattie shuffled into cover.
He studied the hill-side behind him long and patiently with his glass.
Then he grunted: "There's four navvies, as I mak out, but no verra
well posted.  We cam gey near ane o' them on the road up.  Na, they canna
see us here, and besides they're no lookin' this airt."  Lamancha tried to
find them with his telescope, but could see nothing human in the wide
sopping wilderness.

Wattie grumbled as he led the way up a kind of nullah, usually as dry
as Arabia but now spouting a thousand rivulets, right into the throat
of the Beallach.  "It's clearin' just when we wanted it thick.
The ways o' Providence is mysteerious....Na, na, there's nae road there.
That's a fox's track, and it's the deer's road we maun gang.
Stags will no climb rocks, sensible beasts....The wind's gone,
but I wish the mist wad come down again."

At the top of the pass was a pad of flat ground, covered thick with
the leaves of cloudberries.  On the right rose the Pinnacle Ridge
of Sgurr Dearg, in its beginning an easy scramble which gave no hint
of the awesome towers which later awaited the traveller; on the left
Sgurr Mor ran up in a steep face of screes.  "Keep doun," Wattie enjoined,
and crawled forward to where two boulders made a kind of window
for a view to the north.

The two looked down into three little corries which, like the fingers
of a hand, united in the palm of a larger corrie, which was the upper
glen of the Reascuill.  It was a sanctuary perfectly fashioned by nature,
for the big corrie was cut off from the lower glen by a line of
boiler-plates like the wall of a great dam, down which the stream
plunged in cascades.  The whole place was loud with water--the distant
roar of the main river, the ceaseless dripping of the cliffs,
the chatter and babble of a myriad hidden rivulets.  But the noise
seemed only to deepen the secrecy.  It was a world in monochrome,
every detail clear as a wet pebble, but nowhere brightness or colour.
Even the coats of the deer had taken on the dead grey of the slaty crags.

Never in his life had Lamancha seen so many beasts together.
Each corrie was full of them, feeding on the rough pastures or among
the boulders, drifting aimlessly across the spouts of screes below
the high cliffs, sheltering in the rushy gullies.  There were groups
of hinds and calves, and knots of stags, and lone beasts on knolls
or in mud-baths, and, since all were restless, the numbers in each corrie
were constantly changing.

"Ye gods, what a sight!" Lamancha murmured, his head at Wattie's elbow.
"We won't fail for lack of beasts."

"The trouble is," said Wattie, "that there's ower mony."  Then he added
obscurely that "it might be the day o' Pentecost."

Lamancha was busy with his glass.  Just below him, not three hundred
yards off, where the ravine which ran from the Beallach opened out
into the nearest corrie, there was a group of deer--three hinds,
a little stag, and farther on a second stag of which only the head
could be seen.

"Wattie," he whispered excitedly, "there's a beast down
there--a shootable beast.  It's just what we're looking for...close
to the Beallach."

"Aye, I see it," was the answer.  "And I see something mair.
There's a man ayont the big corrie--d'ye see yon rock shapit
like a puddock-stool?....Na, the south side o' the waterfall....Well,
follow on frae there towards Bheinn Fhada--have ye got him?"

"Is that a man?" asked the surprised Lamancha.

"Where's your een, my lord? It's a man wi' grey breeks and
a brown jaicket--an' he's smokin' a pipe.  Aye, it's Macqueen.
I ken by the lang legs o' him."

"Is he a Haripol gillie?"

"He's the second stalker.  He's under notice, for him and young
Mr Claybody doesna agree.  Macqueen comes frae the Lowlands, and has
a verra shairp tongue.  They was oot on the hill last week,
and Mr Johnson was pechin' sair gaun up the braes, an' no wonder, puir man.
He cries on Macqueen to gang slow, and says, apologetic-like,
'Ye see, Macqueen, I've been workin' terrible hard the past year,
and it's damaged my wund.'  Macqueen, who canna bide the sight of him,
says, 'I'm glad to hear it, sir.  I was feared it was maybe the drink.'
Gey impident!"

"Shocking."

"Weel, he's workin' off his notice....I'm pleased to see him yonder,
for it means that Macnicol will no be there.  Macnicol"--Wattie chuckled
like a dropsical corncrake--"Is maist likely beatin' the roddydendrums
for the wee dog.  Macqueen is set there so as he can watch this Beallach
and likewise the top of the Red Burn on the Machray side, which I was
tellin' ye was the easiest road.  If ye were to kill that stag doun below
he could baith see ye and hear ye, and ye'd never be allowed to shift it
a yaird....Na, na.  Seein' Macqueen's where he is, we maun try the wee
corrie right under Sgurr Dearg.  He canna see into that."

"But we'll never get there through all those deer."

"It will not be easy."

"And if we get a stag we'll never be able to get it over this Beallach."

"Indeed it will tak a great deal of time.  Maybe a' nicht.
But I'll no say it's not possible....Onyway, it is the best plan.
We will have to tak a lang cast roond, and we maunna forget Macqueen.
I'd give a five-pun-note for anither blatter o' rain."

The next hour was one of the severest bodily trials which Lamancha had
ever known.  Wattie led him up a chimney of Sgurr Mor, the depth of which
made it safe from observation, and down another on the north face,
also deep, and horribly loose and wet.  This brought them to the floor
of the first corrie at a point below where the deer had been observed.
The next step was to cross the corrie eastwards towards Sgurr Dearg.
This was a matter of high delicacy--first because of the number of deer,
second because it was all within view of Macqueen's watch-tower.

Lamancha had followed in his time many stalkers, but he had never seen
an artist who approached Wattie in skill.  The place was littered with
hinds and calves and stags, the cover was patchy at the best,
and the beasts were restless.  Wherever a route seemed plain the large
ears and spindle shanks of a hind appeared to block it.  Had he been alone
Lamancha would either have sent every beast streaming before him in
full sight of Macqueen, or he would have advanced at the rate of one
yard an hour.  But Wattie managed to move both circumspectly and swiftly.
He seemed to know by instinct when a hind could be bluffed and when
her suspicions must be laboriously quieted.  The two went for the most
part on their bellies like serpents, but their lowliness of movement
would have been of no avail had not Wattie, by his sense of the subtle
eddies of air, been able to shape a course which prevented their wind
from shifting deer behind them.  He well knew that any movement of beasts
in any quarter would bring Macqueen's vigilant glasses into use.

Their task was not so hard so long as they were in hollows on
the corrie floor.  The danger came in crossing the low ridge to
that farther corrie which was beyond Macqueen's ken, for, as they ascended,
the wind was almost bound to carry their scent to the deer through which
they had passed.  Wattie lay long with his chin in the mire and his eyes
scanning the ridge till he made up his mind on his route.
Obviously it was the choice of the least among several evils,
for he shook his head and frowned.

The ascent of the ridge was a slow business, and toilful.
Wattie was clearly following an elaborate plan, for he zigzagged
preposterously, and would wait long for no apparent reason in places
where Lamancha was held precariously by half a foothold and the pressure
of his nails.  Anxious glances were cast over his shoulder at the post
where Macqueen was presumably on duty.  The stalker's ears seemed of an
uncanny keenness, for he would listen hard, hear something, and then
utterly change his course.  To Lamancha it was all inexplicable,
for there appeared to be no deer on the ridge, and the place was so much in
the lee that not a breath of wind seemed to be abroad to carry their scent.
Hard as his condition was, he grew furiously warm and thirsty,
and perhaps a little careless, for once or twice he let earth and stones
slip under his feet.  Wattie turned on him fiercely.  "Gang as if ye
was growin'," he whispered.  "There's beasts on a' sides."

Sobered thereby, Lamancha mended his ways, and kept his thoughts rigidly
on the job before him.  He crept docilely in Wattie's prints, wondering why
on a little ridge they should go through exertions that must be equivalent
to the ascent of the Matterhorn.  At last his guide stopped.
"Put your head between thae rushes," he enjoined.  "Ye'll see her."

"See what?" Lamancha gasped.

"That sour devil o' a hind."

There she was, a grey elderly beldame, with her wicked puck-like ears,
aware and suspicious, not five yards off.

"We canna wait," Wattie hissed.  "It's ower dangerous.  Bide you here
like a stone."

He wriggled away to his right, while Lamancha, hanging on a heather root,
watched the twitching ears and wrinkled nozzle....Presently from farther
up the hill came a sharp bark, which was almost a bleat.  The hind flung up
her head and gazed intently....Five minutes later the sound was repeated,
this time from a lower altitude.  The beast sniffed, shook herself,
and stamped with her foot.  Then she laid back her ears, and trotted
quietly over the crest.

Wattie was back again by Lamancha's side.  "That puzzled the auld bitch,"
was his only comment.  "We can gang faster now, and God kens we've
nae time to lose."

As Lamancha lay panting at last on the top of the ridge he looked down
into the highest of the lesser corries, tucked right under the black
cliffs of Sgurr Dearg.  It was a little corrie, very steep, and threaded
by a burn which after the rain was white like a snow-drift.
Vast tumbled masses of stone, ancient rockfalls from the mountain,
lay thick as the cottages in a hamlet.  At first sight the place seemed
to be without deer.  Lamancha, scanning it with his glass, could detect
no living thing among the debris.

Wattie was calling fiercely on his Maker.

"God, it's the auld hero," he muttered, his eyes glued to his telescope.

At last Lamancha got his glasses adjusted, and saw what his companion saw.
Far up the corrie, on a patch of herbage--the last before the desert
of the rocks began--stood three stags.  Two were ordinary beasts,
shootable, for they must have weighed sixteen or seventeen stone,
but with inconsiderable heads.  The third was no heavier, but he had
a head like a blasted pine--going back fast, for the beast was old,
but still with thirteen clearly marked points and a most noble
spread of horn.

"It's him," Wattie crooned.  "It's the auld hero.  Fine I ken him,
for I seen him on Crask last back-end rivin' at the stacks.
There's no a forest hereaways but they've had a try for him,
but the deil's in him, for the grandest shots aye miss.  What's your will,
my lord?  Dod, if John Macnab gets yon lad, he can cock his bonnet."

"I don't know, Wattie.  Is it fair to kill the best beast in the forest?"

"Keep your mind easy about that.  Yon's no a Haripol beast.
He's oftener on Crask than on Haripol.  He's a traiveller, and in one
season will cover the feck o' the Hielands.  I've heard that oreeginally
he cam oot o' Kintail.  He's terrible auld--some says a hundred year--and
if ye dinna kill him he'll perish next winter, belike, in a snaw-wreath,
and that's a puir death to dee."

"It's a terrible pull to the Beallach."

"It will be that, but there's the nicht afore us.  If we don't take
that beast--or one o' the three--I doubt we'll no get anither chance."

"Push on, then, Wattie.  It looks like a clear coast."

"I'm no so sure.  There's that deevil o' a hind somewhere afore us."

Down through the gaps of the Pinnacle Ridge blew fine streams of mist.
They were the precursors of a new storm, for long before the two men
had wormed their way into the corrie the mountain before them was blotted
out with a curtain of rain, and the wind, which seemed for a time to have
died away, was sounding a thousand notes in the Pan's-pipes of the crags.

"Good," said Lamancha.  "This will blanket the shot."

"Ba-ad too," growled Wattie, "for we'll be duntin' against the auld bitch."

Lamancha believed he had located the stags well enough to go to them
in black darkness.  You had only to follow the stream to its head,
and they were on the left bank a hundred yards or so from the rocks.
But when he reached the burn he found that his memory was useless.
There was not one stream but dozens, and it was hard to say which
was the main channel.  It was a loud world again, very different from
the first corrie, but, when he would have hastened, Wattie insisted
on circumspection.  "There's the hind," he said, "and maybe since we're
out o' Macqueen's sicht there's nae need to hurry."

His caution was justified.  As they drew themselves up the side
of a small cascade the tops of a pair of antlers were seen over
the next rise.  Lamancha thought they were those of one of the
three stags, but Wattie disillusioned him.  "We're no within
six hundred yards o' yon beasts," he said.

A long circuit was necessary, happily in good cover, and the stream
was not rejoined till at a point where its channel bore to the south,
so that their wind would not be carried to the beasts below the knoll.
After that it seemed advisable to Wattie to keep to the water,
which was flowing in a deep-cut bed.  It was a job for a merman rather
than for breeched human beings, for Wattie would permit of no rising
to a horizontal or even to a kneeling position.  The burn entered at
their collars and flowed steadily through their shirts to an exit at
their knees.  Never had men been so comprehensively and continuously wet.
Lamancha's right arm ached with pulling the rifle along the bank--he always
insisted on carrying his weapon himself--while his body was submerged
in the icy outflow of Sgurr Dearg's springs.

The pressure of Wattie's foot in his face halted him.  Blinking through
the spray, he saw his leader's head raised stiffly to the alert in the
direction of a little knoll.  Even in the thick weather he could detect
a pair of bat-like ears, and he realised that these ears were twitching.
It did no need Wattie's whisper of "the auld bitch" to reveal the enemy.

The two lay in the current for what seemed to Lamancha at least
half an hour.  He had enough hill-craft to recognise that their one
hope was to stick to the channel, for only thus was there a chance
of their presence being unrevealed by the wind.  But the channel
led them very close to the hind.  If the brute chose to turn her foolish
head they would be within view.

With desperate slowness, an inch at a time, Wattie moved upwards.
He signed to Lamancha to wait while he traversed a pool where only his cap
and nose showed above the water.  Then came a peat wallow, when his face
seemed to be ground into the moss, and his limbs to be splayed like
a frog's and to move with frog-like jerks.  After that was a little
cascade, and, beyond, the shelter of a big boulder which would get him out
of the hind's orbit.  Lamancha watched this strange progress with one eye;
the other was on the twitching ears.  Mercifully all went well,
and Wattie's stern disappeared round a corner of rock.

He laboured to follow with the same precision.  The pool was easy enough
except for the trailing of the rifle.  The peat was straightforward going,
though in his desire to follow his leader's example he dipped his face
so deep in the black slime that his nostrils were plugged with it,
and some got into his eyes which he dared not try to remove.
But the waterfall was a snag.  It was no light task to draw himself up
against the weight of descending water, and at the top he lay panting
for a second, damming up the flow with his body....Then he moved on;
but the mischief had been done.

For the sound of the release of the pent-up stream had struck a foreign
note on the hind's ear.  It was an unfamiliar noise among the many
familiar ones which at the moment filled the corrie.  She turned her head
sharply, and saw something in the burn which she did not quite understand.
Lamancha, aware of her scrutiny, lay choking, with the water running
into his nose; but the alarm had been given.  The hind turned her head,
and trotted off up-wind.

The next he knew was Wattie at his elbow making wild signals to him to rise
and follow.  Cramped and staggering, he lumbered after him away from
the stream into a moraine of great granite blocks.  "We're no twa hundred
yards from the stags," the guide whispered.  "The auld bitch will move
them, but please God we'll get a shot."  As Lamancha ran he marvelled at
Wattie's skill, for he himself had not a notion where in the wide world
the beasts might be.

They raced to a knoll, and Wattie flung himself flat on the top.

"There," he cried.  "Steady, man.  Tak the nearest.  A hundred yards.
Nae mair."

Lamancha saw through the drizzle three stags moving at a gentle trot
to the south--up-wind, for in the corrie the eddies were coming oddly.
They were not really startled, but the hind had stirred them.
The big stag was in the centre of the three, and the proper shot
was the last--a reasonable broadside.

Wattie's advice had been due to his loyalty to John Macnab, and not to his
own choice, and this Lamancha knew.  The desire of the great stag was
on him, as it was on the hunter in Homer, and he refused to be content with
the second-best.  It was not an easy shot in that bad light, and it is
probable that he would have missed; but suddenly Wattie gave an
unearthly bark, and for a second the three beasts slowed down and turned
their heads towards the sound.

In that second Lamancha fired.  The great head seemed to bow itself,
and then fling upwards, and all three disappeared at a gallop
into the mist.

"A damned poor tailoring shot!"  Lamancha groaned.

"He's deid for all that, but God kens how far he'll run afore he drops.
He's hit in the neck, but a wee thing ower low....We can bide here a while
and eat our piece.  If ye wasna John Macnab I could be wishin' we had
brought a dog."

Lamancha, cold, wet, and disgusted, wolfed his sandwiches, had a stiff dram
from his flask, and smoked a pipe before he started again.  He cursed his
marksmanship, and Wattie forbore to contradict him; doubtless Jim Tarras
had accustomed him to a standard of skill from which this was
a woeful declension.  Nor would he hold out much hope.  "He'll gang into
the first corrie and when he finds the wund different there he'll turn back
for the Reascuill.  If this was our ain forest and the weather wasna
that thick, we might get another chance at him there....Oh, aye, he might
gang for ten mile.  The mist is a good thing, for Macqueen will no see
what's happenin', but if it was to lift, and he saw a' the stags in
the corrie movin', you and me wad hae to find a hidy-hole till
the dark....Are ye ready, my lord?"

They crossed the ridge which separated them from the first corrie, close
to the point where it took off from the massif of Sgurr Dearg.
It was a shorter road than the one they had come by, and they could
take it safely, for they were now moving up-wind, owing to the curious
eddy from the south.  Over the ridge it would be a different matter,
for there the wind would be easterly as before.  But it was a stiff climb
and a slow business, for they had to make sure that they were on the track
of the stag.

Wattie trailed the blood-marks like an Indian, noticing splashes on stones
and rushes which Lamancha would have missed.  "He's sair hit," he observed
at one point.  "See! He tried that steep bit and couldna manage it.
There's the mark o' his feet turnin'....He's stoppit here....Aye, here's
his trail, and it'll be the best for you and me.  There's nothing like a
wounded beast for pickin' the easiest road."

At the crest the air stirred freely, and, as it seemed to Lamancha, with a
wet chill.  Wattie gave a grunt of satisfaction, and sniffed it like
a pointer dog.  He moistened his finger and held it up; then he plucked
some light grasses and tossed them into the air.

"That's a mercifu' dispensation!  Maybe that shot that ye think ye bauchled
was the most providential shot ye ever fired....The wund is shiftin'.
I looked for it afore night, but no that early in the day.  It's wearin'
round to the south.  D'ye see what that means?"

Lamancha shook his head.  Disgust had made his wits dull.

"Yon beast, as I telled ye, was a traiveller.  There's nothing to keep him
in Haripol forest.  But he'll no leave it unless the wund will let him.
Now it looks as if Providence was kind to us.  The wund's blawin' from
the Beallach, and he's bound to gang up-wund."

The next half-hour was a period of swift drama.  Sure enough,
the blood-marks turned up the first corrie in the direction from which
the two had come in the morning.  As the ravine narrowed the stag had
evidently taken to the burn, for there were splashes on the rocks
and a tinge of red in the pools.

"He's no far off," Wattie croaked.  "See, man, he's verra near done.
He's slippin' sair."

And then, as they mounted, they came on a little pool where the water
was dammed as if by a landslip.  There, his body half under the cascade,
lay the stag, stone dead, his great horns parting the fall like a pine
swept down by a winter spate.

The two regarded him in silence, till Wattie was moved to
pronounce his epitaph.

"It's yersel, ye auld hero, and ye've come by a grand end.
Ye've had a braw life traivellin' the hills, and ye've been a braw beast,
and the fame o' ye gaed through a' the country-side.  Ye micht have
dwined awa in the cauld winter and dee'd in the wame o' a snaw-drift.
Or ye might have been massacred by ane o' the Haripol sumphs wi' ten
bullets in the big bag.  But ye've been killed clean and straucht
by John Macnab, and that is a gentleman's death, whatever."

"That's all very well," said Lamancha, "but you know I tailored the shot."

"Ye're a fule," cried the rapt Wattie.  "Ye did no siccan thing.
It was a verra deeficult shot, and ye put it deid in the only place
ye could see.  I will not have seen many better shots at all, at all.'

"What about the gralloch?" Lamancha asked.

"No here.  If the mist lifted Macqueen micht see us.  It's no fifty yards
to the top o' the Beallach, and we'll find a place there for the job."

Wattie produced two ropes and bound the fore-feet and the
hind-feet together.  Then he rapidly climbed to the summit,
and reported on his return that the mist was thick there, and
that there were no tracks except their own of the morning.
It was a weary business dragging the carcass up a nearly
perpendicular slope.  First with difficulty they raised it out
of the burn channel, and then drew it along the steep hill-side.
They had to go a long way up the hill-side to avoid the rock curtain
on the edge of the Beallach, but eventually the top was reached,
and the stag was deposited behind some boulders on the left of
the flat ground.  Here, even if the mist lifted, they would be hid
from the sight of Macqueen, and from any sentries there might be
on the Crask side.

Wattie flung off his coat and proceeded with gusto to his gory task.
The ravens, which had been following them for the past hour, came nearer
and croaked encouragement from the ledges of Sgurr Dearg and Sgurr Mor.
Wattie was in high spirits, for he whistled softly at his work; but
Lamancha, after his first moment of satisfaction, was restless
with anxiety.  He had still to get his trophy out of the forest,
and there seemed many chances of a slip between his lips and that cup.
He was impatient for Wattie to finish, for the air seemed to
him lightening.  An ominous brightness was flushing the mist towards
the south, and the rain had declined to the thinnest of drizzles.
He told Wattie of his fears.

"Aye, it'll be a fine afternoon.  I foresaw that, but that's maybe not
a bad thing, now that we're out o' Macqueen's sight."

Wattie completed his job, and hid the horrid signs below a pile of
sods and stones.  "Nae poch-a-bhuie for me the day," he grinned.
"I've other things to think of besides my supper."  He wiped his arms
and hands in the wet heather and put on his coat.  Then he produced a
short pipe, and, as he turned away to light it, a figure suddenly stood
beside Lamancha and made his heart jump.

"My hat!" said Palliser-Yeates, "what a head!  That must be about
a record for Wester Ross.  I never got anything as good myself.
You're a lucky devil, Charles."

"Call me lucky when the beast is safe at Crask.  What about your
side of the hill?"

"Pretty quiet.  I've been here for hours and hours, wondering where
on earth you two had got to....There's four fellows stuck at intervals
along the hill-side, and I shouldn't take them to be very active citizens.
But there's a fifth who does sentry-go, and I don't fancy the look of him
so much.  Looks a keen chap, and spry on his legs.  What's the orders
for me?  The place has been playing hide-and-seek, and half the time
I've been sitting coughing in a wet blanket.  If it stays thick
I suppose my part is off."

Wattie, stirred again into fierce life, peered into the thinning fog.

"Damn!  The mist's liftin'.  I'll get the beast ower the first screes
afore it's clear, and once I'm in the burn I'll wait for ye.
I can manage the first bit fine mysel'--I could manage it a',
if there was nae hurry....Bide you here till I'm weel startit,
for I don't like the news o' that wandering navvy.  And you sir"--this to
Palliser-Yeates--"be ready to show yourself down the hill-side as soon
as it's clear enough for the folk to see ye.  Keep well to the west,
and draw them off towards Haripol.  There's a man posted near the burn,
but he's the farthest east o' them, and for God's sake keep them
to the west o' me and the stag.  Ye're an auld hand at the job,
and should hae nae deeficulty in ficklin' a wheen heavy-fitted navvies.
Is Sir Erchibald there wi' the cawr?"

"I suppose so.  The time he was due the fog was thick.  I couldn't pick
him up from here with the glass when the weather cleared, but that's
as it should be, for the place he selected was absolutely hidden
from this side."

"Well, good luck to us a'."  Wattie tossed off a dram from the socket
of Lamancha's flask, and, dragging the stag by the horns, disappeared
in two seconds from sight.

"I'll be off, Charles," said Palliser-Yeates, "for I'd better get down-hill
and down the glen before I start."  He paused to stare at his friend.
"By Gad, you do look a proper blackguard.  Do you realise that you've
a face like a nigger and a two-foot rent in your bags?  It would be good
for Johnson Claybody's soul to see you!"




CHAPTER 12



HARIPOL--TRANSPORT


It may be doubted whether in clear weather Sir Archie could ever
have reached his station unobserved by the watchers on the hill.
The place was cunningly chosen, for the road, as it approached
the Doran, ran in the lee of a long covert of birch and hazel,
so that for the better part of a mile no car on it could be seen from
beyond the stream, even from the highest ground.  But as the car descended
from the Crask ridge it would have been apparent to the sentinels,
and its non-appearance beyond the covert would have bred suspicion.
As it was the clear spell had gone before it topped the hill,
for Sir Archie was more than an hour behind the scheduled time.

This was Janet's doing.  She had started off betimes on the yellow
pony for Crask, intending to take the by-way from the Larrig side,
but before she reached the Bridge of Larrig she had scented danger.
One of the correspondents, halted by the roadside with a motor bicycle,
accosted her with great politeness and begged a word.  She was Miss Raden,
wasn't she? and therefore knew all about John Macnab.  He had heard
gossip in the glen of the coming raid on Haripol, and understood that
this was the day.  Would Miss Raden advise him from her knowledge
of the country-side?  Was it possible to find some coign of vantage
from which he might see the fun?

Janet stuck to the simple truth.  She had heard the some story,
she admitted, but Haripol was a gigantic and precipitous forest,
and it was preserved with a nicety unparalleled in her experience.
To go to Haripol in the hope of finding John Macnab would be like
a casual visit to England on the chance of meeting the King.
She advised him to go to Haripol in the evening.  "If anything has
happened there," she said, "you will hear about from the gillies.
They'll either be triumphant or savage, and in either case they'll talk."

"We've got to get a story, Miss Raden," the correspondent
observed dismally, "and in this roomy place it's like looking for
a needle in a hayfield.  What sort of people are the Claybodys?"

"You won't get anything from them," Janet laughed.  "Take my advice
and wait till the evening."

When he was out of sight she turned her pony up the hill and arrived
at Crask with an anxious face.  "If these people are on the loose all day,"
she told Sir Archie, "they're bound to spoil sport.  They may stumble on
our car, or they may see more of Mr Palliser-Yeates's doings than we want.
Can nothing be done? What about Mr Crossby?"

Crossby was called into consultation and admitted the gravity of
the danger.  When his help was demanded, he hesitated.  "Of course I know
most of them, and they know me, and they're a very decent lot of fellows.
But they're professional men, and I don't see myself taking on the job
of gulling them.  Esprit de Corps, you know....No, they don't suspect me.
They probably think I left the place after I got off the Strathlarrig
fish scoop, and that I don't know anything about the Haripol business.
I daresay they'd be glad enough to see me if I turned up....I might link on
to them and go with them to Haripol and keep them in a safe place."

"That's the plan," said Sir Archie.  "You march them off to Haripol--say
you know the ground--which you do a long sight better than they.
Some of the gillies will be hunting the home woods for Lady Claybody's pup.
Get them mixed up in that show.  It will all help to damage Macnicol's
temper, and he's the chap we're most afraid of....Besides, you might
turn up handy in a crisis.  Supposin' Ned Leithen--or old John--has a
hard run at the finish you might confuse the pursuit....That's the game,
Crossby my lad, and you're the man to play it."

It was after eleven o'clock before the Ford car, having slipped over
the pass from Crask in driving sleet, came to a stand in the screen
of birches with the mist wrapping the world so close that the foaming
Doran six yards away was only to be recognised by its voice.
All the way there Sir Archie had been full of forebodings.

"We're givin' too much weight away, Miss Janet," he croaked.
"All we've got on our side is this putrid weather.  That's a bit of luck,
I admit.  Also we've two of the most compromisin' objects on earth,
Fish Benjie and that little brute Roguie....Claybody has a hundred navvies,
and a pack of gillies, and every beast will be in the Sanctuary,
which is as good as inside a barb-wire fence....The thing's too ridiculous.
We've got to sit in this car and watch an eminent British statesman
bein' hoofed off the hill, while old John tries to play the decoy-duck,
and Ned Leithen, miles off, is hoppin' like a he-goat on the mountains..
..It's pretty well bound to end in disaster.  One of them will be
nobbled--probably all three--and when young Claybody asks,
'Wherefore this outrage?'  I don't see what the cowerin' culprit
is goin' to answer and say unto him."

But when the car stopped in the drip of the birches, and Archie had
leisure to look at the girl by his side, he began to think less of
impending perils.  The place was loud with wind and water, and yet
curiously silent.  The mist had drawn so close that the two seemed
to be shut into a fantastic, secret world of their own.  Janet was
wearing breeches and a long riding-coat covered by a grey oilskin,
the buttoned collar of which framed her small face.  Her bright hair,
dabbled with raindrops, was battened down under an ancient felt hat.
She looked, thought Sir Archie, like an adorable boy.  Also for the
last half-hour she had been silent.

"You have never spoken to me about your speech," she said at last,
looking away from him.

"Yours, you mean," he said.  "I only repeated what you said that afternoon
on Carnmore.  But you didn't hear it.  I looked for you everywhere in
the hall, and I saw your father and your sister and Bandicott, but I
couldn't see you."

"I was there.  Did you think I could have missed it?  But I was too nervous
to sit with the others, so I found a corner at the back below the gallery.
I was quite near Wattie Lithgow."

Archie's heart fluttered.  "That was uncommon kind.  I don't see why you
should have worried about that--I mean I'm jolly grateful.  I was just
going to play the ass of all creation when I remembered what you had
said--and--well, I made a speech instead of repeating the rigmarole
I had written.  I owe everything to you, for, you see, you started
me out--I can never feel just that kind of funk again....Charles thinks
I might be some use in politics....But I can tell you when I sat down
and hunted through the hall and couldn't see you it took all the gilt
off the gingerbread."

"I was gibbering with fright," said the girl, "when I thought you were
going to stick.  If Wattie hadn't shouted out, I think I would have
done it myself."

After that silence fell.  The rain poured from the trees on to the cover
of the Ford, and from the cover sheets of water cascaded to the
drenched heather.  Wet blasts scourged the occupants and whipped
a high colour into their faces.  Janet arose and got out.

"We may as well be properly wet," she said.  "If they get the stag as far
as the Doran, they must find some way across.  There's none at present.
Hadn't we better build a bridge?"

The stream, in ordinary weather a wide channel of stones where a slender
current falls in amber pools, was now a torrent four yards wide.
But it was a deceptive torrent with more noise than strength, and save in
the pools was only a foot or two deep.  There were many places where
a stag could have been easily lugged through by an able-bodied man.
But the bridge-building proposal was welcomed, since it provided relief
for both from an atmosphere which had suddenly become heavily charged.
At a point where the channel narrowed between two blaeberry-thatched rocks
it was possible to make an inclined bridge from one bank to the other.
The materials were there in the shape of sundry larch-poles brought
from the lower woods for the repair of a bridge on the Crask road.
Archie dragged half a dozen to the edge and pushed them across.
Then Janet marched through the water, which ran close to the top
of her riding-boots, and prepared the abutment on the farther shore,
weighting the poles down with sods broken from an adjacent bank.

"I'm coming over," she cried.  "If it will bear a stag, it will bear me."

"No, you're not," Archie commanded.  "I'll come to you."

"The last time I saw you cross a stream you fell in," she reminded him.

Archie tested the contrivance, but it showed an ugly inclination to behave
like a see-saw, being insufficiently weighted on Janet's side.

"Wait a moment.  We need more turf," and she disappeared from sight
beyond a knoll.  When she returned she was excessively muddy as to
hands and garments.

"I slipped in that beastly peat-moss," she explained.  "I never saw
such hags, and there's no turf to be got except with a spade....No,
you don't!  Keep off that bridge, please.  It isn't nearly safe yet.
I'm going to roll down stones."

Roll down stones she did till she had erected something very much
like a cairn at her end, which would have opposed a considerable barrier
to the passage of any stag.  Then she announced that she must get clean,
and went a few yards down-stream to one of the open shallows, where she
proceeded to make a toilet.  She stood with the current flowing almost
to her knees, suffering it to wash the peat from her boots and the skirts
of her oilskin and at the same time scrubbing her grimy hands.
In the process her hat became loose, dropped into the stream,
and was clutched with one hand, while with the other she restrained
the efforts of the wind to uncoil her shining curls.

It was while watching the moving waters at their priest-like task
that crisis came upon Sir Archie.  In a blinding second he
realised with the uttermost certainty that he had found his mate.
He had known it before, but now came the flash of supreme conviction..
..For swelling bosoms and pouting lips and soft curves and languishing
eyes Archie had only the most distant regard.  He saluted them
respectfully and passed by the other side of the road--they did not
belong to his world.  But that slender figure splashing in the tawny eddies
made a different appeal.  Most women in such a posture would have looked
tousled and flimsy, creatures ill at ease, with their careful allure
beaten out of them by weather.  But this girl was an authentic creature
of the hills and winds--her young slimness bent tensely against
the current, her exquisite head and figure made more fine and delicate
by the conflict.  It is a sad commentary on the young man's education,
but, while his soul was bubbling with poetry, the epithet which kept
recurring to his mind was "clean-run."....More, far more.
He saw in that moment of revelation a comrade who would never fail him,
with whom he could keep on all the roads of life.  It was that which
all his days he had been confusedly seeking."

"Janet," he shouted against the wind, "will you marry me?"

She made a trumpet of one hand.

"What do you say?" she cried.

"Will you marry me?"

"Yes," she turned a laughing face, "of course I will."

"I'm coming across," he shouted.

"No.  Stay where you are.  I'll come to you."

She climbed the other bank and made for the bridge of larch-poles,
and before he could prevent her she had embarked on that crazy structure.
Then that happened which might have been foreseen, since the poles on
Archie's side of the stream had no fixed foundation.  They splayed out,
and he was just in time to catch her in his arms as she sprang.

"You darling girl," he said, and she turned up to him a face
smiling no more, but very grave.

Archie, his arms full of dripping maiden, stood in a happy trance.

"Please put me down," she said.  "See, the mist is clearing.
We must get into cover."

Sure enough the haze was lifting from the hill-side before them and long
tongues of black moorland were revealed stretching up to the crags.
They found a place among the birches which gave them a safe prospect
and fetched luncheon from the car.  Hot coffee from a thermos was the
staple of the meal, which they consumed like two preoccupied children.
Archie looked at his watch and found it after two-o'clock.
"Something must begin to happen soon," he said, and they took up position
side by side on a sloping rock, Janet with her Zeiss glasses and Archie
with his telescope.

His head was a delicious merry-go-round of hopes and dreams.
It was full of noble thoughts--about Janet, and himself, and life.
And the thoughts were mirthful too--a great, mellow, philosophic
mirthfulness.  John Macnab was no longer an embarrassing hazard,
but a glorious adventure.  It did not matter what happened--nothing
could happen wrong in this spacious and rosy world.  If Lamancha
succeeded, it was a tremendous joke, if he failed a more tremendous,
and, as for Leithen and Palliser-Yeates, comedy had marked them
for its own....He wondered what he had done to be blessed
with such happiness.

Already the mist had gone from the foreground, and the hills
were clear to half-way up the rocks of Sgurr Mor and Sgurr Dearg.
He had his glass on the Beallach, on the throat of which a stray sun-gleam
made a sudden patch of amethyst.

"I see someone," Janet cried.  "On the edge of the pass.  Have you
got it?--on the left-hand side of that spout of stones."

Archie found the place.  "Got him....By Jove, it's Wattie....And--and--yes,
by all the gods, I believe he's pullin' a stag down....Wait a second..
..Yes, he's haulin' it into the burn....Well done, our side!
But where on earth is Charles?"

The two lay with their eyes glued on the patch of hill, now lit everywhere
by the emerging sun.  They saw the little figure dip into a hollow, appear
again and then go out of sight in the upper part of a long narrow scaur
which held the headwaters of a stream--they could see the foam of the
little falls farther down.  Before it disappeared Archie had made out
a stag's head against a background of green moss.  "That's that," he cried.
"Charles must be somewhere behind protectin' the rear.  I suppose Wattie
knows what he's doin' and is certain he can't be seen by the navvies.
Anyhow, he's well hidden at present in the burn, but he'll come into view
lower down when the ravine opens out.  He's a tough old bird to move
a beast at that pace....The question now is, where is old John?
It's time he was gettin' busy."

Janet, whose glass made up in width of range what it lacked in power,
suddenly cried out: "I see him.  Look! up at the edge of the rocks--three
hundred yards west of the Beallach.  He's moving down-hill.  I think it's
Palliser-Yeates--he's the part of John Macnab I know best."

Archie found the spot.  "It's old John right enough, and he's doin'
his best to make himself conspicuous.  Those yellow breeks of his
are like a flag.  We've got a seat in the stalls and the curtain
is goin' up.  Now for the fun."

Then followed for the better part of an hour a drama of almost
indecent sensation.  Wattie and his stag were forgotten in watching
the efforts of an eminent banker to play hare to the hounds of
four gentlemen accustomed to labour rather with their hands than
with their feet.  It was the navvy whose post was almost directly
opposite Janet and Archie who first caught sight of the figure
on the hill-side.  He blew a whistle and began to move uphill,
evidently with the intention of cutting off the intruder's retreat
to the east and driving him towards Haripol.  But the quarry showed
no wish to go east, for it was towards Haripol that he seemed to
be making, by a long slant down the slopes.

"I've got Number Two," Janet whispered.  "There--above the patch
of scrub--close to the three boulders....Oh, and there's Number Three.
Mr Palliser-Yeates is walking straight towards him.  Do you think
he sees him?"

"Trust old John.  He's the wiliest of God's creatures, and he hasn't
lost much pace since he played outside three-quarters for England.
Wait till he starts to run."

But Mr Palliser-Yeates continued at a brisk walk apparently oblivious
of his foes, who were whistling like curlews, till he was very near
the embraces of Number Three.  Then he went through a very creditable
piece of acting.  Suddenly he seemed to be stricken with terror,
looked wildly around to all the points of the compass, noted his pursuer,
and, as if in a panic, ran blindly for the gap between Numbers
Two and Three.  Number Four had appeared by this time, and Number Four
was a strategist.  He did not join in the pursuit, but moved rapidly
down the glen towards Haripol to cut off the fugitive, should he
outstrip the hunters.

Palliser-Yeates managed to get through the gap, and now appeared running
strongly for the Doran, which at that point of its course--about
half a mile down-stream from Janet and Archie--flowed in a deep-cut
but not precipitous channel, much choked with birch and rowan.
Numbers Two and three followed, and also Number One, who had by now
seen that there was no need of a rearguard.  For a little all four
disappeared from sight, and Janet and Archie looked anxiously
at each other.  Cries, excited cries, were coming up-stream,
but there was no sign of human beings.

"John can't have been such a fool as to get caught," Archie grumbled.
"He has easily the pace of those heavy-footed chaps.  Wish he'd
show himself."

Presently first one, then a second, then a third navvy appeared on the high
bank of the Doran, moving aimlessly, like hounds at fault.

"They've lost him," Archie cried.  "Where d'you suppose the leery old bird
has got to? He can't have gone to earth."

That was not revealed for about twenty minutes.  Then a cry from one of
the navvies called the attention of the others to something moving high up
on the hill-side.


"It's John," Archie muttered.  "He must have crawled up one of
the side-burns.  Lord, that's pretty work."

The navvies began heavily to follow, though they had a thousand feet
of lee-way to make up.  But it was no part of Palliser-Yeates's plan to
discourage them, since he had to draw them clean away from the danger zone.
Already this was almost achieved, for Wattie and his stag, even if
he had left the ravine, were completely hidden from their view by a
shoulder of hill.  He pretended to be labouring hard, stumbling often,
and now and then throwing himself on the heather in an attitude of
utter fatigue, which was visible to the pursuit below.

"It's a dashed shame," murmured Archie.  "Those poor fellows haven't a
chance with John.  I only hope Claybody is payin' them well for this job."

The hare let the hounds get within a hundred yards of him.
Then he appeared to realise their presence and to struggle to
increase his pace, but, instead of ascending, he moved horizontally
along the slope, slipping and sprawling in what looked like a
desperate final effort.  Hopes revived in the navvies' hearts.
Their voices could be heard--"You bet they're usin' shockin' language,"
said Archie--and Number One, who seemed the freshest, put on a
creditable spurt.  Palliser-Yeates waited till the man was almost
upon him, and then suddenly turned downhill.  He ran straight
for Number Two, dodged him with that famous swerve which long ago on
the football field had set forty thousand people shouting, and went down
the hill like a rolling stone.  Once past the navvy line, he seemed
to slide a dozen yards and roll over, and when he got up he limped.

"Oh, he has hurt himself," Janet cried.

"Not a bit of it," said Archie.  "It's the old fox's cunning.
He's simply playin' with the poor fellows.  Oh, it's wicked!"

The navvies followed with difficulty, for they had no gift of speed on
a steep hill-face.  Palliser-Yeates waited again till they were very
near him, and then, like a hen partridge dragging its wing,
trotted down the more level ground by the stream side.  The pursuit was
badly cooked, but it lumbered gallantly along, Number Four now making
the running.  A quarter of a mile ahead was the beginning of the big
Haripol woods which clothed the western skirts of Stob Ban, and
stretched to the demesne itself.

Suddenly Palliser-Yeates increased his pace, with no sign of a limp,
and, when he passed out of sight of the two on the rock, was
going strongly.

Archie shut up his glass.  "That's a workmanlike show, if you like.
He'll tangle them up in the woods, and slip out at his leisure
and come home.  I knew old John was abso-lute-ly safe.  If he doesn't
run slap into Macnicol--"

He broke off and stared in front of him.  A figure like some ancient
earth-dweller had appeared on the opposite bank.  Hair, face, and beard
were grimed with peat, sweat made furrows in the grime, and two fierce eyes
glowered under shaggy eyebrows.  Bumping against its knees were the antlers
of a noble stag.

"Wattie," the two exclaimed with one voice.

"You old sportsman," cried Archie.  "Did you pull that great brute
all the way yourself?  Where is Lord Lamancha?"

The stalker strode into the water dragging the stag behind him,
and did not halt till he had it high on the bank and close to the car.
Then he turned his eyes on the two, and wrung the moisture from his beard.

"You needn't worry," Archie told him.  "Mr Palliser-Yeates has all
the navvies in the Haripol woods."

"So I was thinkin'.  I got a glisk of him up the burn.  Yon's the
soople one.  But we've no time to loss.  Help me to sling the beast
into the cawr.  This is a fine hidy-hole."

"Gad, what a stag!"

"It's the auld beast we've seen for the last five years.  Ye mind me
tellin' ye that he was at our stacks last winter.  Come on quick,
for I'll no be easy till he's in the Crask larder."

"But Lord Lamancha?"

"Never heed him.  He's somewhere up the hill.  It maitters little
if he waits till the darkenin' afore he comes hame.  The thing is
we've got the stag.  Are ye ready?"

Archie started the car, which had already been turned in the
right direction.  Coats and wraps and heather were piled on
the freight, and Wattie seated himself on it like an ancient raven.

"Now, tak a spy afore ye start.  Is the place clear?"

Archie, from the rock, reported that the hill-side was empty.

"What about the Beallach?"

Archie spied long and carefully.  "I see nothing there, but of course
I only see the south end.  There's a rock which hides the top."

"No sign o' his lordship?"

"Not a sign."

"Never heed.  He can look after himsel' braw and weel.  Push on wi'
the cawr, sir, for it's time we were ower the hill."

Archie obeyed, and presently they were climbing the long zigzag
to the Crask pass.  Wattie on the back seat kept an anxious look-out,
issuing frequent bulletins, and Janet swept the glen with her glasses.
But no sign of life appeared in the wide sunlit place except a buzzard
high in the heavens and a weasel slipping into a cairn.  Once the watershed
had been crossed Wattie's heart lightened.

"Weel done, John Macnab," he cried.  "Dod, ye're the great lad.
Ye've beaten a hundred navvies and Macnicol and a', and ye've gotten
the best heid in the country-side....Hae ye a match for my pipe,
Sir Erchie? Mine's been in ower mony bogholes to kindle."

It was a clear, rain-washed world on which they looked, and the sky
to the south was all an unbroken blue.  The air was not sticky and
oppressive like yesterday, but pure and balmy and crystalline.
When Crask was reached the stag was decanted with expedition,
and Archie addressed Janet with a new authority.

"I'm goin' to take you straight home in the Hispana.  You're drippin' wet
and ought to change at once."

"Might I change here?" the girl asked.  "I told them to send over
dry things, for I was sure it would be a fine afternoon.
You see, I think we ought to go to Haripol."

"Whatever for?"

"To be in at the finish--and also to give Lady Claybody her dog back.
Wee Roguie is rather on my conscience."

"That's a good notion," Archie assented.  So Janet was handed over
to Mrs Lithgow, who admitted that a suitcase had indeed arrived
from Glenraden.  Archie repaired to the upper bathroom, which Lamancha
had aforetime likened to a drain-pipe, and, having bathed rapidly,
habited himself in a suit of a reasonable newness and took special
pains with his toilet.  And all the while he whistled and sang,
and generally comported himself like a madman.  Janet was under
his roof--Janet would soon always be there--the most miraculous of
fates was his!  Somebody must be told, so when he was ready he went out
to seek the Bluidy Mackenzie and made that serious-minded beast the
receptacle of his confidences.

He returned to find a neat and smiling young woman conversing with
Fish Benjie, whose task had been that of comforter and friend to Roguie.
It appeared that the small dog had been having the morning of his life
with the Crask rats and rabbits.  "He's no a bad wee dog," Benjie reported,
"if they'd let him alane.  They break his temper keepin' him indoors
and feedin' him ower high."

"Benjie must come too," Janet announced.  "It would be a shame to
keep him back.  You understand--Benjie found Roguie in the woods--which
is true, and handed him over to me--which is also true.  I don't like
unnecessary fibbing."

"Right-o!  Let's have the whole bag of tricks.  But, I say, you've got
to stage-manage this show.  Benjie and I put ourselves in your hands,
for I'm hanged if I know what to say to Lady Claybody."

"It's quite simple.  We're just three nice clean people--well, two clean
people--who go to Haripol on an errand of mercy.  Get out the Hispana,
Archie dear, for I feel that something tremendous may be happening there."

As they started--Benjie and Roguie on the back seat--Bluidy Mackenzie came
into view, hungrily eyeing an expedition from which he seemed to be barred.

"D'you mind if we take Mackenzie," Archie begged.  "We'll go very slow,
and he can trollop behind.  The poor old fellow has been havin' a lonely
time of it, and there's likely to be such a mix-up at Haripol that an
extra hound won't signify."

Janet approved, and they swung down the hill and on to the highway,
as respectable an outfit as the heart could wish, except for the
waterproof-caped urchin on the back seat.  The casual wayfarer would have
noted only a very pretty girl and a well-appointed young man driving an
expensive car at a most blameless pace.  He could not guess what a cargo
of dog-thieves and deer-thieves was behind the shining metal and
spruce enamel....Benjie talked to Wee Roguie in his own tongue,
and what Janet and Archie said in whispers to each other is no concern
of this chronicle.  The sea at Inverlarrig was molten silver running to the
translucent blue of the horizon, the shore woods gleamed with a thousand
jewels, the abundant waters splashing in every hollow were channels
of living light.  The world sang in streams and soft winds, the cries
of plover and the pipe of shore-birds, and Archie's heart sang
above them all.

Close to Haripol gates a tall figure rose from the milestone as
the car slowed down.

"Well, John, my aged sportsman, you did your part like a man.
We saw it all."

"How are things going?"

"Famously."

"The stag?"

"In the Crask larder."

"And Charles?"

"Lost.  Believed to be still lurkin' in the hills.  Look here, John,
get in beside Benjie.  We are goin' to Haripol and restore the pup.
You'll be a tower of strength to us, and old Claybody will be tremendously
bucked to meet a brother magnate....Really, I mean it."

"I'm scarcely presentable," said Palliser-Yeates, taking off an old cap
and looking at it meditatively.

"Rot!  You're as tidy as you'll ever be.  Rather dandified for you.
In you get, and don't tread on the hound....Bloody, you brute, don't you
know a pal when you see him?"




CHAPTER 13



HARIPOL-AUXILIARY TROOPS


Half-way down the avenue, Archie drew up sharply.

"I forgot about Mackenzie.  We can't have him here--he'll play
the fool somehow.  Benjie, out you go.  You're one of the few
that can manage him.  Here's his lead--you tie him up somewhere
and watch for us, and we'll pick you up outside the gates when we
start home....Don't get into trouble on your own account.
I advise you to cut round to the bothies, and try to find out
what is happenin'."

On the massive doorstep of Haripol stood Lady Claybody, parasol in
one hand and the now useless dog-whip in the other.

She made a motion as if to retreat, but thought better of it.
Her face was flushed, and her air had abated something of its serenity.
The sight of Janet--for she looked at Archie without recognition--seemed
to awake her to the duties of hospitality, and she advanced with
outstretched hand.  Then a yelp from the side of Palliser-Yeates wrung
from her an answering cry.  In a trice Wee Roguie was in her arms.

"Yes," Janet explained sweetly, "it's Roguie quite safe and well.
There's a boy who sells fish at Strathlarrig--Benjie they call him--he
found him in the woods and brought him to me.  I hope you haven't
been worried."

But Lady Claybody was not listening.  She had set the dog on his feet
and was wagging her forefinger at him, a procedure which seemed to rouse
all the latent epilepsy of his nature.  "Oh, you naughty, naughty Roguie!
Cruel, cruel doggie! He loved freedom better than his happy home.
Master and mistress have been so anxious about Wee Roguie."

It was an invocation which lasted for two and a half minutes,
till the invoker realised the presence of the men.  She graciously
shook hands with Sir Archie.

"I drove Miss Janet over," said the young man, explaining the obvious.
"And I took the liberty of bringin' a friend who is stayin' with me--Mr
Palliser-Yeates.  I thought Lord Claybody might like to meet him, for I
expect he knows all about him."

The lady beamed on both.  "This is a very great pleasure,
Mr Palliser-Yeates, and I'm sure Claybody will be delighted.
He ought to be in for tea very soon."  As it chanced, Lady Claybody
had an excellent memory and a receptive ear for talk, and she
was aware that in her husband's conversation the name of
Palliser-Yeates occurred often, and always in dignified connections.
She led the way through the hall to a vast new drawing-room which commanded
a wide stretch of lawns and flower-beds as far as the woods which muffled
the mouth of the Reascuill glen.  When the party were seated and butler
and footman had brought the materials for tea, Lady Claybody--Roguie on
a cushion by her side--became confidential.

"We've had such a wearing day, my dear."  She turned to Janet.
"First, the ruffian who calls himself John Macnab is probably trying
to poach our forest.  The rain yesterday kept him off, but we have
good reason to believe that he will come to-day.  Poor Johnson has been
on the hill since breakfast.  Then, there was the anxiety about Roguie.
I've had our people searching the woods and shrubberies, for the little
darling might have been caught in a trap....Macnicol says there are
no traps, but you never can tell.  And then, on the top of it all, we've
been besieged since quite early in the morning by insolent journalists.
No.  They hadn't the good manners to come to the house--I should have
sent them packing--but they have been over the grounds and buttonholing
our servants.  They want to hear about John Macnab, but we can't
tell them anything, for as yet we know nothing ourselves.
I gave orders that they should be turned out of the place--no violence,
of course, for it doesn't do to offend the Press--but quite firmly,
for they were trespassing.  Would you believe it, my dear?
they wouldn't go.  So our people had simply to drive them out,
and it has taken nearly all day, and they may be coming back any
moment....Something should really be done, Mr Palliser-Yeates,
to restrain the license of the modern Press, with its horrid,
vulgar sensationalism and its invasion of all the sanctities
of private life."

Palliser-Yeates cordially agreed.  The lady had not looked to Archie
for assent, and her manner towards him was a trifle cold.
Perhaps it was the memory of her visit a fortnight before when he was
sickening for smallpox; perhaps it was her husband's emphatic condemnation
of his Muirtown speech.

At this point Lord Claybody entered, magnificent in a kilt of fawn-coloured
tweed and a ferocious sporran made of the mask of a dog-otter.
The garments, which were aggressively new, did not become his short,
square figure.

"I don't think you have met my husband, Miss Raden," said his wife.
Then to Lord Claybody: "You know Sir Archibald Roylance.
And this is Mr Palliser-Yeates, who has been so kind as to
come over to see us."

Palliser-Yeates was greeted with enthusiasm.  "Delighted to meet you, sir.
I heard you were in the North.  Funny that we've had so much to do with
each other indirectly and have never met....You've been having a long walk?
Well, I know what you need.  Cold tea for you.  We'll leave the ladies
to their gossip and have a whisky-and-soda in the library.
I've just had a letter from Dickinson on which I'd like your views.
Busy folk like you and me can never make a clean cut of their holiday.
There's always something clawing us back to the mill."

The two men were led off to the library, and Janet was left to entertain
her hostess.  That lady was in an expansive mood, which may have been
due to the restoration of Roguie, but also owed something to the visit
of Palliser-Yeates.   "My heart is buried here," she told the girl.
"Every day I love Haripol more--its beauty and poetry and its--its
wonderful traditions.  My dream is to make it a centre for all the nicest
people to come and rest.  Everybody comes to the Highlands now, and we have
so much to offer them here....Claybody, I may as well admit, is apt to be
restless when we are alone.  He is not enough of a sportsman to be happy
shooting and fishing all day and every day.  He has a wonderful mind, my
dear, and he wants a chance of exercising it.  He needs to be stimulated.
Look how his eye brightened when he saw Mr Palliser-Yeates....And then,
there are the girls....I'm sure you see what I mean."

Janet saw, and set herself to cherish the innocent ambition of her hostess.
In view of what might befall at any moment, it was most needful to have
the Claybodys in a good humour.  Then Lady Claybody, one of whose virtues
was a love of fresh air, proposed that they should walk in the gardens.
Janet would have preferred to remain in the house, had she been able
to think of any kind of excuse, for the out-of-doors at the moment
was filled with the most explosive material--Benjie, Mackenzie,
an assortment of fugitive journalists, and Leithen and Lamancha
somewhere in the hinterland.  But she assented with a good grace,
and, accompanied by Roguie, who after a morning of liberty had cast
the part of lap-dog contemptuously behind him, they sauntered into
the trim parterres.

The head-gardener at Haripol was a man of the old school.
He loved fantastically shaped beds and geometrical patterns,
and geraniums and lobelias and calceolarias were still dear to
his antiquated soul.  On the lawns he had been given his head,
but Lady Claybody, who had accepted new fashions in horticulture
as in other things, had constructed a pleasaunce of her own,
which with crazy-paving and sundials and broad borders was a very fair
imitation of an old English garden.  She had a lily-pond and a rosery
and many pergolas, and what promised in twenty years to be a fine yew-walk.
The primitive walled garden, planted in the Scots fashion a long way
from the house, was now relegated to fruit and vegetables.

Lady Claybody was an inaccurate enthusiast.  She poured into Janet's ear
a flow of botanical information and mispronounced Latin names.
Each innovation was modelled on what she had seen or heard of in some
famous country house.  The girl approved, for in that glen the environment
of hill and wood was so masterful that the artifices of man were
instantly absorbed.  The gardens exhausted, they wandered through
the rhododendron thickets, which in early summer were towers of flame,
crossed the turbid Reascuill by a rustic bridge, and found themselves
in a walk which skirted the stream through a pleasant wilderness.
Here an expert from Kew had been turned loose, and had made a wonderful
wild garden, in which patches of red-hot pokers and godetia and
Hyacinthus candicans shone against the darker carpet of the heather.
Roguie led the way, and where Roguie's yelps beckoned his
mistress followed.  Soon the two were nearly a mile from the house,
approaching the portals of the Reascuill glen.

Sir Edward Leithen left Crask just as the wet dawn was breaking.
He had a very long walk before him, but at that he was not dismayed;
what perplexed him was how it was going to end.  To the first part,
a struggle with wind and rain and many moorland miles, he looked forward
with enthusiasm.  Long, lonely expeditions had always been his habit,
for he was the kind of man who could be happy with his own thoughts.
Before it became the fashion he had been a pioneer in guideless climbing
in the Alps, and the red-letter days in his memory were for the most part
solitary days.  He was always in hard condition, and his lean figure
rarely knew fatigue; weather he minded little, and he had long ago taught
himself how to find his road, even in mist, with map and compass.

So it was with sincere enjoyment that his legs covered the rough
miles--along the Crask ridge till it curved round at the head of
the Doran and led him to the eastern skirts of Sgurr Dearg.
He knew from the map that the great eastern precipice of that
mountain was towering above him, but he saw only the white wall
of fog a dozen yards off.  His aim was to make a circuit of the
massif and bear round to the pass of the Red Burn, which made a road
between Haripol and Machray.  He would then be nearly north of
the Sanctuary and exactly opposite where Lamancha proposed to
make his entrance.....A fortnight earlier, when he first came to Crask,
he had gone for a walk in far pleasanter weather, and had been
acutely bored.  Now, with no prospect but a wet blanket of mist,
and with no chance of observing bird or plant, he was enjoying
every moment of it.  More, his thoughts were beginning to turn
pleasantly towards the other side of his life--his books and hobbies,
the intricacies of politics, the legal practice of which he was a master.
He reflected almost with exhilaration on a difficult appeal which would
come on in the autumn, when he hoped to induce the House of Lords
to upset a famous judgement.  He had begun to relish his competence again,
even to take a modest pride in his fame; what had been dust and ashes
in his mouth a few weeks ago had now an agreeable flavour.
Palliser-Yeates was of the same way of thinking.  Had he not declared
last night that he wanted to give orders again and be addressed as "sir,"
instead of being chivvied about the countryside?  And Lamancha?
Leithen seriously doubted if Lamancha had ever suffered from quite
the same malady.  The trouble with him was that he had always a large
streak of bandit in his composition, and must now and then give it play.
That was what made him the bigger man, perhaps.  Charles might take
an almighty toss some day, but if he did not he would be first at the post,
for he rode more gallantly to win.

"I suppose I may regard myself as cured," Leithen reflected, as he munched
a second breakfast of cheese-sandwiches and raisins somewhere under
the north-eastern spur of Sgurr Dearg.  But he reflected, too, that he had
a horribly difficult day ahead of him, for which he felt a strong distaste.
He realised the shrewdness of Acton Croke's diagnosis; he was longing
once more for the flesh-pots of the conventional.

His orders had been to get somewhere on the Machray side by eight
o'clock, and he saw by his watch that he was ahead of his time.
Once he had turned the corner of Sgurr Dearg the wind was shut off
and the mist wrapped him closer.  He had acquired long ago a fast
but regular pace on the hills, and, judging from the time and the
known distance, he knew that he must now be very near the Machray march.
Presently he had topped a ridge which was clearly a watershed,
for the plentiful waters now ran west.  Then he began to descend,
and soon was brought up by a raging torrent which seemed to be
flowing north-west.  This must be the Red Burn, coming down from
the gullies of Sgurr Dearg, and it was his business to cross it
and work his way westward along the edge of the great trough
of the Reascuill.  But he must go warily, for he was very near the pass,
by which, according to the map, a road could be found from Corrie Easain
in the Machray forest to the Haripol Sanctuary--the road which according
to Wattie Lithgow, gave the easiest access and would most assuredly
be well watched.  He crossed the stream, not without difficulty,
and climbed another ridge, beyond which the ground fell steeply.
These must be the screes on the Reascuill side, he concluded,
so he bore to the right and found, as he expected, that here there
was a re-entrant corrie, and that he was on the very edge of
the great trough.  It was for him to keep this edge, but to go
circumspectly, for at any moment he might stumble upon some
of Claybody's sentries.  His business was to occupy their attention,
but he did not see what good he could do.  The mist was distraction enough,
for in it no man could see twenty yards ahead of him.  But it might clear,
and in that case he would have his work cut out for him.  Meanwhile he must
avoid a premature collision.

He avoided it only by a hairsbreadth.  Suddenly that happened which at
the moment was perplexing Wattie Lithgow and Lamancha a mile off.
Corridors opened in the air--dark corridors of dizzy space and black rock
seamed with torrents.  Leithen found himself looking into a cauldron
of which only the bottom was still hid, and at the savage splinters
of the Pinnacle Ridge.  He was looking at something less welcome,
for thirty yards off, on the edge of the scarp, was a group of five men.

They had been boiling tea in billies in the lee of a rock and had been
stirred to attention by the sudden clearing of the air.  They saw him
as soon as he saw them, and in a moment were on their feet and spreading
out in his direction.  He heard a cry, and then a babble of tongues.
Leithen did the only thing possible.  He strode towards them with a
magisterial air.  They were the real navvy, the hardiest race in the land,
sleeping in drainpipes, always dirty and wet, forgetting their sodden
labours now and then in sordid drink, but tough, formidable,
and resourceful.

"What the devil are you fellows doing here?" he shouted angrily.

At first they took him for a gillie.

"What the hell's your business?" one of them replied, but the advance
had halted.  As he came nearer, they changed their minds, for Leithen
had not the air of a gillie.

"My business is to know what you're doing here--on my land?"

Now Machray forest was not let that season, and this Leithen knew.
If any arrangement had been come to with Haripol it could only have been
made between the stalkers.  It was for him to play the part of the owner.

The men looked nonplussed, for the navvy, working under heavy-handed
foremen, is susceptible to the voice of authority.

"We were sent up here to keep a look out," one answered.

"Look out for what? Who sent you?"

"It was Lord Claybody--we took our orders from Mr Macnicol."

Leithen sat down on a stone and lit his pipe.

"Well, you're trespassing on Machray--my ground.  I don't know what
on earth Lord Claybody means.  I have heard nothing of it."

"There's a man trying to poach, sir.  We were telled to wait here and
keep a look-out for him."

Leithen smiled grimly.  "A pretty look-out you can keep in this weather.
But that doesn't touch the point that you're in a place where you've no
right to be....You poor devils must have been having a rotten time
roosting up here."

He took out his flask.

"Here's something to warm you.  There's just enough for a tot apiece."

The flask was passed round amid murmurs of satisfaction, while Leithen
smoked his pipe and surveyed the queer party.  "I call it cruelty
to animals," he said, "to plant you fellows in a place like this.
I hope you're well paid for it."

"We're gettin' a pound a day, and the man that grips the poacher
gets a five-pund note.  The name o' the poacher is Macnab."

"Well, I hope one of you will earn the fiver.  Now, look here.
I can't have you moving a yard north of this.  You're on Machray ground
as it is, for my march is the edge of the hill.  I don't mind you
squatting here, and of course it's no business of mine what you do
on Haripol, but you don't stir a foot into Machray.  With this wind
you'll put all the beasts out of the upper corries."

He rose and strolled away.  "I must be off.  See that you mind what
I've said.  If you move, it must be into Haripol.  A poacher!
I never heard such rubbish.  Better my job than yours, anyway.
Still, I hope you get that fiver!"

Leithen departed in an atmosphere of general good will, and as
soon as possible put a ridge between himself and the navvies.
It had been a narrow escape, but mercifully no harm was done.
He must keep well below the skyline on the Machray side, for there would
be watchers elsewhere on the Haripol ground and he was not ready as yet
to play the decoy-duck.  For it had occurred to him that he was still
too far east for his purpose.  Those navvies were watching the pass
from the Red Burn, and had no concern with what might be happening
in the Sanctuary.  Indeed, they could not see into it because of the spur
which Sgurr Dearg flung out toward the Reascuill.  He must be further down
the stream before he tried to interest those who might interfere
with Lamancha; so he mended his pace, and, keeping well on the
Machray side, made for the hill called Bheinn Fhada, which faced
Sgurr Mor across the Reascuill.

Then the mist came down again, and in driving sleet Leithen scrambled
among the matted boulders and screes of Bheinn Fhada's slopes.
Here he knew he was safe enough, for he was inside the Machray march
and out of any possible prospect from the Reascuill.  But it was
a useless labour, and the return of the thick weather began to
try his temper.  The good humour of the morning had gone, when it was
a delight to be abroad in the wilds alone and to pit his strength
against storm and distance.  He was growing bored with the whole
business and at the same time anxious to play the part which
had been set him.  As it was, wandering on the skirts of Bheinn Fhada,
he was as little use to John Macnab as if he had been reading
Sir Walter Scott in the Crask smoking-room.

It took him longer than he expected to pass that weariful mountain,
and it was noon before he ate the remnants of the food he had brought
in the hollow which lies at the head of the second main Machray corrie,
Corrie na Sidhe.  Here he observed that sight which at the same moment
was perturbing Lamancha on the Beallach looking over to Crask.
The mist was thinning--not breaking into gloomy corridors, but lightening
everywhere with the sun behind it.  The wind, too, had shifted; it was
blowing in his face from the south.  Suddenly the top of Stob Coire Easain
in front of him stood clear and bright, and its upper crags, jewelled
with falling waters, rose out of a rainbow haze.  Far out on the right
he saw a patch of silver which he knew for the sea.  Nearer, and far below,
was an olive-green splash which must be the Haripol woods.
And then, as if under a wizard's wand, the glen below him,
from a pit of vapour, became an enamelled cup, with the tawny Reascuill
looped in its hollows.

It was time for Leithen to be up and doing.  He crawled to a point
which gave him cover and a view into the glen, and searched the place
long and carefully with his glasses.  There must be navvy posts close
at hand, but from where he lay he could not command the sinuosities
of the hill-side below him.  He saw the nest of upper corries which
composed the Sanctuary, but not the Beallach, which was hidden by
the ridge of Sgurr Mor....He lay there for half an hour, uncertain
what he should do next.  If he descended into the glen it meant
certain capture, for he would be cut off by some lower post.
The only plan seemed to be to show himself on the upper slopes
and then try to draw the pursuit off towards Machray, but he did not
see how such a course was going to help Lamancha in the Sanctuary.
The plan of campaign, he decided, had been a great deal too elaborate,
and his part looked like a wash-out.

He made his way along the hill-side towards the Machray peak which bore
the name of Clonlet and the wide skirts of which made one side of the glen
above Haripol, the opposite sentinel to Stob Ban.  He had got well on to
the slopes of that mountain when he detected something in the glen below.
Men seemed to be moving down the stream--three at least--and to be
moving fast.  His sense of duty revived, for here seemed a task
to his hand....He showed himself on an outjutting knoll and waited.
The men below had their eyes about them, for he was almost
instantly observed.  He heard cries, he saw a hand waved, then
he heard a whistle blown....After that he began to run.



At this point the chronicler must retrace his steps and follow the doings
of Mr Johnson Claybody.  That young gentleman had taken the threat of
John Macnab most seriously to heart: he felt his honour involved, his sense
of property outraged, and he saw the pride of the Claybodys lowered if
the scoundrel were victorious on Haripol as he had been at Strathlarrig.
Above all he feared the Press, which was making a holiday feature of this
monstrous insolence.  He it was who had devised the plan of defence,
a plan which did credit to his wits.  Not only had he placed his sentries
with care, but he had arranged for peripatetic gillies to patrol between
the stations and form an intelligence service for head-quarters.
His poste de commandement was at Macnicol's cottage just beyond the gorge
of the Reascuill and some two miles from the house.

All morning his temper had been worsening.  The news of the journalistic
invasion of Haripol, brought to him about ten o'clock by a heated
garden-boy, had been the first shock.  He had sent a message to his
father, handing over to him that problem, with the results which
we have seen.  Also he was lamentably short of the force he had
hoped to muster, owing to his mother's insistence on keeping Macnicol
and two of the gillies behind to look for her dog.  It was not until
close on midday that, after a furious journey to the house in a
two-seater car, he was able to recover the services of the head-stalker.
Macnicol, he felt, should have been on the edge of the Sanctuary
at daybreak; instead he had had to send Macqueen, a surly ruffian
whom he had dismissed for insolence, but whose hillcraft he knew to be
of the first order.  Johnson's plan was that towards midday he himself,
with a posse, should patrol the upper forest, so that, if John Macnab
should be lurking there, he might drive him north or south against
the navvy garrison.  East, Sgurr Dearg shut the way, and west lay
the grounds of Haripol, where escape would be impossible, since every
living thing there was on the watch.  Johnson's blood was up.
If John Macnab had made his venture, he wanted to share directly in
the chase and to be in at the death.

It was after midday before the flying column started.  It was composed
of Macnicol, Cameron the third stalker, two selected gillies, and three
of the navvies who were more mobile than their fellows.  Macnicol had
prophesied that the weather would clear in the afternoon, so, though
the mist was thick at the start, they took the road with confidence.
Sure enough, it began to lift before they were half a mile up the glen,
and Macnicol grunted his satisfaction.

"Macnab cannot escape noways," he said.  "But I do not think he has
come at all, unless he's daft.  He would not get in, but, if he is in,
he will never get out."

Johnson's one fear now was that the assault might not have been made.
It would be a poor ending to his strategy if the pool were dragged
and no fish were found in it.  But presently he was reassured,
for at the foot of Bheinn Fhada he met one of the patrolling gillies
with tremendous news.  A man had been seen that morning by the navvies
at the Red Burn.  He had passed as the Laird of Machray, and had
given them whisky.  The gillie knew that the Laird of Machray
was a child of three dwelling at Bournemouth, and he had demanded
a description of the visitor.  It was a tallish man, they said, lean
and clean-shaven, rather pale, and with his skin very tight over
his cheek-bones.  He had looked like a gentleman and had behaved as such.
Now the only picture of John Macnab known to the gillies was that which
had been broadcast in talk by Angus and Jimsie of Strathlarrig,
and that agreed most startlingly with the navvies account.
"A long, lean dog," Angus had said," and whitish in the face."
Wherefore the gillie had hastened with his tidings to head-quarters.

The news increased Johnson's pace.  John Macnab was veritably
in the forest, and at the thought he grew both nervous and wroth.
There was something supernatural, he felt, about the impudence
of a man who could march quietly up to a post of navvies and bluff them.
Were all his subtle plans to be foiled?  Then, half a mile on,
appeared Macqueen, just descended from his eyrie.

Macqueen had to report that half an hour before, when the mist cleared
and he could get a view of the corries, he had seen the deer moving.
The wind at the same time had shifted to the south, and the beasts in
the corrie below Beallach were frightened.  He had seen nothing with
his telescope--the beasts had been moved some time before, he thought,
for they were well down the hill.  In his opinion, if John Macnab was
in the forest, he was on or beyond the Beallach.

Johnson considered furiously.  "The fellow was at the Red Burn
just before nine o'clock.  He must have gone through the Sanctuary
to be at the Beallach half an hour ago.  Is that possible, Macnicol?"

"I don't ken," Macnicol scratched his head.  "Macqueen says that only
the beasts in the corrie below the Beallach were moved, but if he
had gone through the Sanctuary they would have been all rinnin' oot.
I'm fair puzzled, sir, unless he cam' doun the water and worked up
by Sgurr Mor.  That Macnab's a fair deevil."

"We'll get after him," said Johnson, and then he stopped short.
He had a sudden memory of what had happened at Glenraden.
Why should not John Macnab have sent a confederate to gull them into
the belief that he was busy in the Sanctuary, while he himself killed
a stag in the woods around the house?  There were plenty of beasts there,
and it would be like his infernal insolence to poach one under the very
windows of Haripol.  It was true that the woodland stags were not easy
to stalk, but Macnab had shown himself a mighty artist.

Johnson had a gift of quick decision.  He briefly explained to his
followers his suspicions.  "The man at the Beallach may not be the man
whom the navvies saw at the Red Burn.  The Red Burn fellow may have
gone down the Machray side, and be now in the woods....Cameron,
you take Andrew and Peter, and get down the glen in double-quick time.
If you see anybody on Clonlet or in the woods, hunt him like hell.
I'll skin you if you let him escape.  Drive him right down to the gardens,
and send word to the men there to be on the look-out.  You'll be a dozen
against one.  Macnicol, you come with me, and you, Macqueen, and you
three fellows, and we'll make for the Beallach.  We'll cut up through
the Sanctuary, for it don't matter a damn about the deer if we only
catch that swine.  He's probably lying up there till he can slip out
in the darkness....And, Cameron, tell them to send a car up the Doran road.
I may want a lift home."



It was Cameron and his posse who spied Leithen on the side of Clonlet.
All three were young men; they had the priceless advantage of
acquaintance with the ground, while Leithen knew no more than
the generalities of the map.  As soon as he saw that he was pursued
he turned up-hill with the purpose of making for Machray.
He had had a long walk, but he felt fresh enough for another
dozen miles or so, and he remembered his instructions to go north,
if necessary even into Glenaicill.

But in this he had badly miscalculated.  For the whistle of Cameron
had alarmed a post of navvies in a nook of hill behind Leithen
and at a greater altitude, who had missed him earlier for the simple
reason that they had been asleep.  Roused now to a sudden attention,
they fanned out on the slope and cut him off effectively from any
retreat towards Corrie na Sidhe.  There were only two courses open
to him--to climb the steep face of Clonlet or to go west towards the woods.
The first would be hard, he did not even know whether the rock was
climbable, and if he stuck there he would be an easy prey.
He must go west, and trust to find some way to Machray round
the far skirts of the mountain.

Cameron did not hurry, for he knew what would happen.  So long as
the navvies cut off retreat to the east the victim was safe.
Leithen did not realise his danger till he found himself above
the woods on a broad grassy ledge just under the sheer rocks of Clonlet.
It was the place called Crapnagower, which ended not in a hill-side
by which the butt of Clonlet could be turned, but in a bold promontory
of rock which fell almost sheer to the meadows of Haripol.
Long before he got to the edge he had an uncomfortable suspicion
of what was coming, but when he peered over the brink and saw
cattle at grass far below him, he had an ugly shock.  It looked as if
he were cornered, and cornered too in a place far from the main scene
of action, where his misfortunes could not benefit Lamancha.

He turned and plunged downward through the woods direct for Haripol.
There was still plenty of fight in him, and his pursuers would have a run
for their money.  These pursuers were not far off.  Andrew had climbed
the hill and had been moving fast parallel to Leithen, but farther down
among the trees.  Cameron was on the lower road, a grassy aisle among
the thickets, and Peter, the swifter, had gone on ahead to watch
the farther slopes.  It was not long before Leithen was made aware
of Andrew, and the sight forced him to his right in a long slant
which would certainly have taken him into the arms of Peter.

But at this moment the Fates intervened in the person of Crossby.

That eminent correspondent, having inspired his fellow-journalists with
the spirit of all mischief and thereby sadly broken the peace of Haripol,
was now lying up from further pursuit in the woods, confident that
he had done his best for the cause.  Suddenly he became aware of the
ex-Attorney-General descending the hill in leaps and bounds, and a
gillie not fifty yards behind on his trail....Crossby behaved like
Sir Philip Sidney and other cavaliers in similar crises.  "Thy need is
the greater," was his motto, and as Leithen passed he whispered hoarsely
to him to get into cover.  Leithen, whose head was clear enough
though his legs were aching, both heard and saw.  He clapped down
like a woodcock in a patch of bracken, while Crossby, whose garb
and height were much the same as his, became the quarry in his stead.

The chase was not of long duration.  The correspondent did not know
the ground, nor did he know of the waiting Peter.  Left to himself
he might have outdistanced Andrew, but he was turned to his right,
and rounded a corner to be embraced firmly and affectionately
by the long arms of the gillie.  "That's five pund in our pockets,
Andra, ma man," the latter observed when the second gillie arrived.
"If this is no John Macnab, it's his brither, and anyway we've done
what we were telled."  So, strongly held by the two men, the
self-sacrificing Crossby departed into captivity.

Of these doings Leithen knew nothing.  He did not believe that Crossby
could escape, but the hunt had gone out of his ken.  Now it is the nature
of man that, once he is in flight, he cannot be content till he finds an
indisputable place of refuge.  This wood was obviously unhealthy,
and he made haste to get out of it.  But he must go circumspectly,
and the first need was for thicker cover, for this upper part was
too open for comfort. Below he saw denser scrub, and he started
to make his way to it.

The trouble was that presently he came into Cameron's view.
The stalker had heard the crash of Crossby's pursuit, and had not
hurried himself, knowing the strategic value of Peter's position.
He proposed to wait, in case the fugitive doubled back.  Suddenly he caught
sight of Leithen farther up the hill, and apparently unfollowed.
Had the man given the two gillies the slip?....Cameron performed a very
creditable piece of stalking.  He wormed his way up-hill till he was
above the bushes where Leithen was now sheltering.  The next thing
that much-enduring gentleman knew was that a large hand had been
outstretched to grip his collar.

Like a stag from covert Leithen leaped forth, upsetting Cameron
with his sudden bound.  He broke through the tangle of hazel
and wild raspberries, and stayed not on the order of his going.
His pace downhill had always been remarkable, and Cameron's was
no match for it.  Soon he had gained twenty yards, then fifty,
but he had no comfort in his speed, for somewhere ahead were more
gillies and he was being forced straight on Haripol, which was
thick with the enemy.

The only plan in his head was to make for the Reascuill, which as he
was aware flowed at this part of its course in a deep-cut gorge.
He had a faint hope that, once there, he might find a place to
lie up in till the darkness, for he knew that the Highland gillie
is rarely a rock-climber.  But the place grew more horrible as
he continued.  He was among rhododendrons now, and well-tended grass walks.
Yes, there was a rustic arbour and what looked like a summer-seat.
The beastly place was a garden.  In another minute he would be among
flower-pots and vineries with twenty gardeners at his heels.
But the river was below--he could hear its sound--so, like a
stag hard pressed by hounds, he made for the running water.
A long slither took him down a steep bank of what had once been
foxgloves, and he found his feet on a path.

And there, to his horror, were two women.

By this time his admirable wind was considerably touched, and the sweat
was blinding his eyes, so that he did not see clearly.  But surely one of
the two was known to him.

Janet rose to the occasion like a bird.  As he stood blinking before her
she laughed merrily:

"Sir Edward," she cried, "where in the world have you been?
You've taken a very rough road."  Then she turned to Lady Claybody.
"This is Sir Edward Leithen.  He is staying with us and went out for
an enormous walk this morning.  He is always doing it.  It was lucky
you came this way, Sir Edward, for we can give you a lift home."

Lady Claybody was delighted, she said, to meet one of whom she had
heard so much.  He must come back to the house at once and have tea
and see her husband, "I call this a real romance," she cried.
"First Mr Palliser-Yeates--and then Sir Edward Leithen dropping
like a stone from the hill-side."

Leithen was beginning to recover himself, "I'm afraid I was trespassing,"
he murmured.  "I tried a short cut and got into difficulties.
I hope I didn't alarm you coming down that hill like an avalanche.
I find it the easiest way."

The mystified Cameron stood speechless, watching his prey vanishing
in the company of his mistress.




CHAPTER 14



HARIPOL--WOUNDED AND MISSING


Lamancha watched Palliser-Yeates disappear along the hill-side,
and then returned to the hollow top of the Beallach, which was completely
cut off from view on either side.  All that was now left of the mist
was a fleeting vapour twining in scarves on the highest peaks,
and the cliffs of Sgurr Dearg and Sgurr Mor towered above him
in gleaming stairways.  The drenched cloudberries sparkled in the sunlight,
and the thousand little rivulets, which in the gloom had been hoarse
with menace, made now a pleasant music.  Lamancha's spirits rose
as the world brightened.  He proposed to wait for a quarter of an hour
till Wattie with the stag was well down the ravine and Palliser-Yeates
had secured the earnest attention of the navvies.  Then he would join
Wattie and help him with the beast, and within a couple of hours he
might be wallowing in a bath at Crask, having bidden John Macnab
a long farewell.

Meantime he was thirsty, and laid himself on the ground for a long drink
at an icy spring, leaving his rifle on a bank of heather.

When he rose with his eyes dim with water he had an unpleasing surprise.
A man stood before him, having in his hands his rifle, which he pointed
threateningly at the rifle's owner.

"'Ands up," the man shouted.  He was a tall fellow in navvy's clothes,
with a shock head of black hair, and a week's beard--an uncouth figure
with a truculent eye.

"Put that down," said Lamancha. "You fool, it's not loaded.
Hand it over.  Quick!"

For answer the man swung it like a cudgel.

"'Ands up," he repeated.  "'Ands up, you---, or I'll do you in."

By this time Lamancha had realised that his opponent was the
peripatetic navvy, whom Palliser-Yeates had reported.  An ugly customer
he looked, and resolute to earn Claybody's promised reward.

"What do you want?" he asked.  "You're behaving like a lunatic."

"I want you to 'ands up and come along o' me."

"Who on earth do you take me for?"

"You're the poacher--Macnab.  I seen you, and I seen the old fellow
and the stag.  You're Macnab, I reckon, and you're the ---- I'm after.
Up with your 'ands and look sharp."

Mendacity was obviously out of the question, so Lamancha
tried conciliation.

"Supposing I am Macnab--let's talk a little sense.  You're being paid
for this job, and the man who catches me is to have something substantial.
Well, whatever Lord Claybody has promised you I'll double it if you
let me go."

The man stared for a second without answering, and then his face crimsoned.
But it was not with avarice but with wrath.

"No, you don't," he cried.  "By ----, you don't come over me that way.
I'm not the kind as sells his boss.  I'm a white man, I am,
and I'll ---- well let you see it. 'Ands up, you ---, and march.
I've a ---- good mind to smash your 'ead for tryin' to buy me."

Lamancha looked at the fellow, his shambling figure contorted by
hard toil out of its natural balance, his thin face, his hot, honest eyes,
and suddenly felt ashamed.  "I beg your pardon," he grunted.
"I oughtn't to have said that.  I had no right to insult you.
But of course I refuse to surrender.  You've got to catch me."

He followed his words by a dive to his right, hoping to get between
the man and the Sgurr Mor cliffs.  But the navvy was too quick for him,
and he had to retreat baffled.  Lamancha was beginning to realise
that the situation was really awkward.  This fellow was both active
and resolved; even if he gave him the slip he would be pursued
down to the Doran, and the destination of the stag would be
revealed....But he was by no means sure that he could give him the slip.
He was already tired and cramped, and he had never been noted
for his speed, like Leithen and Palliser-Yeates....He thought
of another way, for in his time he had been a fair amateur middle-weight.

"You're an Englishman.  What about settling the business with our fists?
Put the rifle down, and we'll stand up together."

The man spat sarcastically. "Ain't it likely?" he sneered.
"Thank you kindly, but I'm takin' no risks this trip.  You've to 'ands up
and let me tie 'em so as you're safe and then come along peaceable.
If you don't I'll 'it you as 'ard as Gawd 'll let me."

There seemed to be nothing for it but a scrap, and Lamancha,
with a wary eye on the clubbed rifle, waited for his chance.
He must settle this fellow so that he should be incapable of
pursuit--a nice task for a respectable Cabinet Minister getting
on in life.  There was a pool beside his left foot, which was
the source of one of the burns that ran down into the Sanctuary.
Getting this between him and his adversary, he darted towards one end,
checked, turned, and made to go round the other.  The navvy struck at him
with the rifle, and narrowly missed his head.  Then he dropped the weapon,
made a wild clutch, gripped Lamancha by the coat, and with a sound of
rending tweed dragged him to his arms.  The next moment the two men
were locked in a very desperate and unscientific wrestling bout.

It was a game Lamancha had never played in his life before.
He was a useful boxer in his way, but of wrestling he was utterly
ignorant, and so, happily, was the navvy.  So it became a mere contest
of brute strength, waged on difficult ground with boulders, wells,
and bog-holes adjacent.  Lamancha had an athletic, well-trained body,
the navvy was powerful but ill-trained; Lamancha was tired with eight
or nine hours' scrambling, his opponent had also had a wearing morning;
but Lamancha had led a regular and comfortable life, while the navvy
had often gone supperless and had drunk many gallons of bad whisky.
Consequently the latter, though the heavier and more powerful man,
was likely to fail first in a match of endurance.

At the start, indeed, he nearly won straight away by the vigour
of his attack.  Lamancha cried out with pain as he felt his arm
bent almost to breaking-point and a savage knee in his groin.
The first three minutes it was anyone's fight; the second three
Lamancha began to feel a dawning assurance.  The other's breath
laboured, and his sudden spasms of furious effort grew shorter
and easier to baffle.  He strove to get his opponent on to the
rougher ground, while that opponent manouevred to keep the fight
on the patch of grass, for it was obvious to him that his right
course was to wear the navvy down.  There were no rules in this game,
and it would be of little use to throw him; only by reducing him
to the last physical fatigue could he have him at his mercy,
and be able to make his own terms.

Presently the early fury of the man was exchanged for a sullen defence.
Lamancha was getting very distressed himself, for the navvy's great boots
had damaged his shins and torn away strips of stocking and skin, while his
breath was growing deplorably short.  The two staggered around the patch
of grass, never changing grips, but locked in a dull clinch into which they
seemed to have frozen.  Lamancha would fain have broken free and tried
other methods, but the navvy's great hands held him like a vice, and it
seemed as if their power, in spite of the man's gasping, would
never weaken.

In this preposterous stalemate they continued for the better part
of ten minutes.  Then the navvy, as soldiers say, resumed the initiative.
He must have felt his strength ebbing, and in a moment of violent disquiet
have decided to hazard everything.  Suddenly Lamancha found himself forced
away from the chosen ground and dragged into the neighbouring moraine.
They shaved the pool, and in a second were stumbling among slabs and screes
and concealed boulders.  The man's object was plain: if he could make his
lighter antagonist slip he might force him down in a place from which
it would not be easy to rise.

But it was the navvy who slipped.  He lurched backward, tripping over
a stone, and the two rolled into a cavity formed by a boulder which
had been split by its fall from Sgurr Mor in some bygone storm.
It was three or four feet of a fall, and Lamancha fell with him.
There was a cry from the navvy, and the grip of his arms slackened.

Lamancha scrambled out and looked back into the hole where the man lay
bunched up as if in pain.

"Hurt?" he asked, and the answer came back, garnished with much profanity,
that it was his ----- leg.

"I'm dashed sorry.  Look here, this fight is off.  Let me get you out
and see what I can do for you."

The man, sullen but quiescent, allowed himself to be pulled out and laid
on a couch of heather.  Lamancha had feared for the thigh or the pelvis
and was relieved to find that it was a clean break below the knee,
caused by the owner's descent, weighted by his antagonist, on an ugly,
sharp-edged stone.  But, as he looked at the limp figure, haggard with toil
and poor living, and realised that he had damaged it in the pitiful capital
which was all it possessed, its bodily strength, he suffered from a pang
of sharp compunction.  He loathed John Macnab and all his works for
bringing disaster upon a poor devil who had to earn his bread.

"I'm most awfully sorry," he stammered.  "I wouldn't have had this happen
for a thousand pounds...."  Then he broke off, for in the face now solemnly
staring at him he recognised something familiar.  Where had he seen that
long crooked nose before and that cock of the eyebrows?

"Stokes," he cried, "You're Stokes, aren't you?" He recalled now
the man who had once been his orderly, and whom he had last known
as a smart troop sergeant.

The navvy tried to rise and failed.  "You've got my name right, guv'nor,"
he said, but it was obvious that in his eyes there was no recognition.

"You remember me--Lord Lamancha?" He had it all now--the fellow who
had been a son of one of Tommy Deloraine's keepers--a decent fellow
and a humorous, and a good soldier.  It was like the cussedness of things
that he should go breaking the leg of a friend.

"Gawd!" gasped the navvy, peering at the shameful figure of Lamancha,
whose nether garments were now well advanced in raggedness and whose
peat-begrimed face had taken on an added dirtiness from the heat
of the contest.  "I can't 'ardly believe it's you, sir."  Then, with many
tropes of speech, he explained what, had he known, would have happened
to Lord Claybody, before he interfered with the game of a gentleman
as he had served under.

"What brought you to this?" Lamancha asked.

"I've 'ad a lot of bad luck, sir.  Nothing seemed to go right with me
after the war.  I found the missus 'ad done a bunk, and I 'ad two kids
on my 'ands, and there weren't no cushy jobs goin' for the likes of me.
Gentlemen everywhere was puttin' down their 'osses, and I 'ad to take
what I could get.  So it come to the navvyin' with me, like lots of
other chaps.  The Gov'ment don't seem to care what 'appens to us poor
Gawd-forgotten devils, sir."

The navvy stopped to cough, and Lamancha did not like the sound of it.

"How's your health?" he asked.

"Not so bad, barrin' a bit of 'oarseness."

"That explains a lot.  You'll have consumption if you don't look out.
If you had been the man you were five years ago you'd have had me
on my back in two seconds....I needn't tell you, Stokes, that I'm
dashed sorry about this, and I'll do all I can to make it up to you.
First, we must get that leg right."

Lamancha began by retrieving the rifle.  It was a light, double-barreled
express which fortunately could be taken to pieces.  He had some slight
surgical knowledge, and was able to set the limb, and then with strips
of his handkerchief and the rifle-barrel to put it roughly into a splint.
Stokes appeared to have gone without breakfast, so he was given the few
sandwiches which remained in Lamancha's pocket and a stiff dram from
his flask.  Soon the patient was reclining in comparative comfort
on the heather, smoking Lamancha's tobacco in an ancient stump of
a pipe, while the latter, with heavy brows, considered the situation.

"You ought to get to bed at once, for you've a devil of a bad cough,
you know.  And you ought to have a doctor to look after that
leg properly, for this contraption of mine is a bit rough.
The question is, how am I going to get you down? You can't walk,
and you're too much of a heavy-weight for me to carry very far.
Also I needn't tell you that this hill-side is not too healthy
for me at present.  I mean to go down it by crawling in the open
and keeping to the gullies, but I can't very well do that with
you....It looks as if there is nothing for it but to wait till dark.
Then I'll nip over to Crask and send some men here with a stretcher."

Mr Stokes declared that he was perfectly happy where he was,
and deprecated the trouble he was giving.

"Trouble," cried Lamancha, "I caused the trouble, and I'm going
to see you through it."

"But you'll get nabbed, sir, and there ain't no bloomin' good in my 'aving
my leg broke if Claybody's going to nab you along of it.  You cut off, sir,
and never 'eed me."

"I don't want to be nabbed, but I can't leave you....Wait a minute!
If I followed Wattie--that is my stalker--down to the Doran I could
send a message to Crask about a stretcher and men to carry it.
I might get some food too.  And then I'll come back here, and we'll bukk
about Palestine till it's time to go....It might be the best way...."

But, even as he spoke, further plans were put out of the question
by the advent of six men who had come quietly through the Beallach
from the Sanctuary, and had unostentatiously taken up positions in a circle
around the two ex-antagonists.  Lamancha had been so engaged in Stoke's
affairs that he had ceased to remember that he was in enemy territory.

His military service had taught him the value of the offensive.
The new-comers were, he observed, three navvies, two men who were
clearly gillies, and a warm and breathless young man in a suit of
a dapperness startling on a wild mountain.  This young man was advancing
towards him with a determined eye when Lamancha arose from his couch
and confronted him.

"Hullo!" he cried cheerfully, "you come just in time.  This poor chap here
has had a smash--broken his leg--and I was wondering how I was to get him
down the hill."

Johnson Claybody stopped short.  He had rarely seen a more disreputable
figure than that which had risen from the heather--dissolute in garment,
wild of hair, muddy beyond belief in countenance.  Yet these dilapidated
clothes had once, very long ago, been made by a good tailor, and the
fellow was apparently some kind of a gentleman.  He was John Macnab
beyond doubt, for in his hand was the butt-end of a rifle.
Now Johnson was the type of man who is miserable if he feels
himself ill-clad or dirty, and discovers in a sense of tidiness
a moral superiority.  He rejoiced to have found his enemy, and an enemy
over whom he felt at a notable advantage.  But, unfortunately for him,
no Merkland had ever been conscious of the appearance he represented
or cared a straw about it.  Lamancha in rags would have cheerfully
disputed with an emperor in scarlet, and suffered no loss of confidence
because of his garb, since he would not have given it a thought.
What he was considering at the moment was the future of the damaged Stokes.

"Who's that?" Johnson asked peremptorily, pointing to the navvy.

His colleagues hastened to inform him.  "It's Jim Stokes," one of the three
navvies volunteered.  "What 'ave you been doing to yourself, Jim?"
And Macnicol added: "That's the man that was to keep movin' along this side
o' the hill, sir.  I picked him, for he looked the sooplest."

Then the faithful Stokes uplifted his voice.  "I done as I was told, sir,
and kep' movin' all right, but I ain't seen nothing, and then I 'ad
a nawsty fall among them blasted rocks and 'urt my leg.  This gentleman
comes along and finds me and 'as a try at patchin' me up.
But for 'im, sir, I'd be lyin' jammed between two stones till the crows
'ad a pick at me."

"You're a good chap, Stokes," said Lamancha, "but you're a liar.
This man," he addressed Johnson, "was carrying out your orders,
and challenged me.  I wanted to pass, and he wouldn't let me,
so we had a rough-and tumble, and through no fault of his he took
a toss into a hole, and, as you see, broke his leg.  I've set it and
bound it up, but the sooner we get the job properly done the better.
Hang it, it's the poor devil's livelihood.  So we'd better push along."

His tone irritated Johnson.  This scoundrelly poacher, caught
red-handed with a rifle, presumed to give orders to his own men.
He turned fiercely on Stokes.

"You know this fellow?  What's his name?"

"I can't say as I rightly knows 'im," was the answer.  "But 'im and me
was in the war, and he once gave me a drink outside Jerusalem."

"Are you John Macnab?" Johnson demanded.

"I'm anything you please," said Lamancha, "if you'll only hurry
and get this man to bed."

"Damn your impudence!  What business is that of yours? You've been
caught poaching and we'll march you down to Haripol and get the
truth out of you.  If you won't tell me who you are, I'll find means
to make you....Macnicol, you and Macqueen get on each side of him,
and you three fellows follow behind.  If he tries to bolt, club him..
..You can leave this man here.  He'll take no harm, and we can send
back for him later."

"I'm sorry to interfere," said Lamancha quietly, "but Stokes is going
down now.  You needn't worry about me.  I'll come with you, for I've
got to see him comfortably settled."

"You'll come with us!" Johnson shouted.  "Many thanks for your kindness.
You'll damn well be made to come.  Macnicol, take hold of him."

"Don't," said Lamancha.  "Please don't.  It will only mean trouble."

Macnicol was acutely unhappy.  He recognised something in Lamancha's
tone which was perhaps unfamiliar to his master--that accent which
means authority, and which, if disregarded, leads to mischief.
He had himself served in Lovat's Scouts, and the voice of this
tatterdemalion was unpleasantly like that of certain high-handed
officers of his acquaintance.  So he hesitated and shuffled his feet.

"Look at the thing reasonably," Lamancha said.  "You say I'm a poacher
called John Something-or-other.  I admit that you have found me walking
with a rifle on your ground, and naturally you want an explanation.
But all that can wait till we get this man down to a doctor.
I won't run away, for I want to satisfy myself that he's going to be
all right.  Won't that content you?"

Johnson, to his disgust, felt that he was being manoeuvred into
a false position.  He was by no means unkind, and this infernal
Macnab was making him appear a brute.  Public opinion was clearly
against him; Macnicol was obviously unwilling to act, Macqueen he knew
detested him, and the three navvies might be supposed to take the side
of their colleague.  Johnson set a high value on public opinion,
and scrupled to outrage it.  So he curbed his wrath, and gave orders
that Stokes should be taken up.  Two men formed a cradle with their arms,
and the cortege proceeded down the hill-side.

Lamancha took care to give his captors no uneasiness.  He walked beside
Macqueen, with whom he exchanged a few comments about the weather,
and he thought his own by no means pleasant thoughts.  This confounded
encounter with Stokes had wrecked everything, and yet he could not be
altogether sorry that it had happened.  He had a chance now of doing
something for an honest fellow--Stokes's gallant lie to Johnson had
convinced Lamancha of his superlative honesty.  But it looked as if he
were in for an ugly time with this young bounder, and he was beginning
to dislike Johnson extremely.  There were one or two points in his favour.
The stag seemed to have departed with Wattie into the ewigkeit and happily
no eye at the Beallach had seen the signs of the gralloch.
All that Johnson could do was to accuse him of poaching, teste the rifle;
he could not prove the deed.  Lamancha was rather vague about the law,
but he was doubtful whether mere trespass was a grave offence.
Then the Claybodys would not want to make too much fuss about it,
with the journalists booming the doings of John Macnab...But wouldn't they?
They were the kind of people that liked advertisement, and after all
they had scored.  What a tale for the cheap papers there would be in
the capture of John Macnab!  And if it got out who he was?...It was very
clear that that at all costs must be prevented....Had Johnson Claybody
any decent feelings to which he could appeal?  A sportsman?  Well,
he didn't seem to be of much account in that line, for he had wanted
to leave the poor devil on the hill.

It took some time for the party to reach the Doran, which they forded
at a point considerably below Archie's former lair.  Lamancha gave thanks
for one mercy, that Archie and Wattie seemed to have got clean away.
There was a car on the road which caused him a moment's uneasiness,
till he saw that it was not the Ford but a large car with an all-weather
body coming from Haripol.  The driver seemed to have his instructions,
for he turned round--no light task in that narrow road with its
boggy fringes--and awaited their arrival.

Johnson gave rapid orders.  "You march the fellow down the road,
and bring the navvy--better take him to your cottage, Macqueen.
I'll go home in the car and prepare a reception for John Macnab."

It may be assumed that Johnson spoke in haste, for he had somehow
to work off his irritation, and desired to assert his authority.

"Hadn't Stokes better go in the car?" Lamancha suggested in a voice
which he strove to make urbane. "That journey down the hill can't
have done his leg any good."

Johnson replied by telling him to mind his own business, and then was
foolish enough to add that he was hanged if he would have any lousy
navvy in his car.  He was preparing to enter, when something in
Lamancha's voice stopped him.

"You can't," said the latter.  "In common decency you can't."

"Who'll prevent me?  Now, look here, I'm fed up with your insolence.
You'll be well advised to hold your tongue till we make up our minds
how to deal with you.  You're in a devilish nasty position, Mr John Macnab,
if you had the wits to see it.  Macnicol, and you fellows, I'll fire
the lot of you if he escapes on the road.  You've my authority to hit him
on the head if he gets nasty."

Johnson's foot was on the step, when a hand on his shoulder swung
him round.

"No, you don't."  Lamancha's voice had lost all trace of civility, for he
was very angry.  "Stokes goes in the car and one of the gillies with him.
Here you, lift the man in."

Johnson had grown rather white, for he saw that the situation was working
up to the ugliest kind of climax.  He felt dimly that he was again defying
public opinion, but his fury made him bold.  He cursed Lamancha with vigour
and freedom, but there was a slight catch in his voice, and a hint of
anticlimax in his threats, for the truth was that he was a little afraid.
Still it was a flat defiance, though it concluded with a sneering demand
as to what and who would prevent him doing as he pleased, which sounded
a little weak.

"First," said Lamancha, "I should have a try at wringing your neck.
Then I should wreck any reputation you may have up and down this land.
I promise you I should make you very sorry you didn't stay in bed
this morning."  Lamancha had succeeded in controlling himself--in
especial he had checked the phrase "Infernal little haberdasher"
which had risen to his lips--and his voice was civil and quiet again.

Johnson gave a mirthless laugh.  "I'm not afraid of a dirty poacher."

"If I'm a poacher that's no reason why you should behave like a cad."

It is a melancholy fact which exponents of democracy must face that,
while all men may be on a level in the eyes of the State, they will
continue in fact to be preposterously unequal.  Lamancha had been
captured in circumstances of deep suspicion which he did not
attempt to explain; he had been caught on Johnson's land, by
Johnson's servants; the wounded man was in Johnson's pay, and might
reasonably be held to be at Johnson's orders; the car was without
question Johnson's own.  Yet this outrageous trespasser was not only
truculent and impenitent; he was taking it upon himself to give orders
to gillies and navvies, and to dictate the use of an expensive automobile.
The truth is, that if you belong to a family which for a good many
centuries has been accustomed to command and to take risks,
and if you yourself, in the forty-odd years of your life,
have rather courted trouble than otherwise, and have put discipline
into Arab caravans, Central African natives, and Australian
mounted brigades--well, when you talk about wringing necks your words
might carry weight.  If, too, you have never had occasion to think
of your position, because no one has ever questioned it, and you promise
to break down somebody else's, your threat may convince others,
because you yourself are so wholly convinced of your power
in that direction.  It was the complete lack of bluster in Lamancha,
his sober matter-of-factness, that made Johnson suddenly discover
in this potato-bogle of a man something formidable.  He hesitated,
the gillies hesitated, and Lamancha saw his chance.  Angry as he was,
he contrived to be conciliatory.

"Don't let us lose our tempers.  I've no right to dictate to you,
but you must see that we're bound to look after this poor chap first.
After that I'm at your disposal to give you any satisfaction you want"

Johnson had not been practised in commercial negotiations for nothing.
He saw that obstinacy would mean trouble, and would gain him little,
and he cast about for a way to save his face.  He went through
a show of talking in whispers to Macnicol--a show which did
not deceive his head-stalker.  Then he addressed Macqueen.
"We think we'd better get this fellow off our hands.  You take him
down in the car to your cottage, and put him up in your spare bed.
Then come round to the house and wait for me."

"This is my show, if you'll allow me, sir," said Lamancha politely.
He took a couple of notes from a wad he carried in an inner pocket.
"Get hold of the nearest doctor--you can use the post-office
telephone--and tell him to come at once, and get everything
you need for Stokes.  I'll see you again.  Don't spare expense,
for I'm responsible."

The car departed, and the walking party continued its way down
the Doran glen.  Lamancha's anger was evaporating, philosophy
had intervened, and he was prepared to make allowances for Johnson.
But he recognised that the situation was delicate and the future cloudy,
and, since he saw no way out, decided to wait patiently on events,
always premising that on no account must he permit his identity
to be discovered.  That might yet involve violent action of a nature
which he could not foresee.  His consolation was the thought of the stag,
now without doubt in the Crask larder.  If only he could get clear
of his captors, John Macnab would have won two out of the three events.
Yes, and if Leithen and Palliser-Yeates had not blundered into captivity.

He was presently reassured as to the fate of the latter.
When the party entered the wooded lower glen of the Doran it was
joined by four weary navvies who had been refreshing themselves
by holding their heads in the stream.  Interrogated by Macnicol,
they told a tale of hunting an elusive man for hours on the hillside,
of repeatedly being on the point of laying hold of him, of a demoniac
agility and a diabolical cunning, and of his final disappearance
into the deeps of the wood.  Questioned about Stokes, they knew nothing.
He had last been seen by them in the early morning when the mist first
cleared, but it was his business to keep moving high up the hill near
the rocks and he had certainly not joined in the chase when it started.

Johnson's temper was not improved by this news.  Twice he had been
put to public shame in front of his servants by this arrogant tramp
who was John Macnab.  He had been insulted and defied, but he knew
in his heart that the true bitterness lay in the fact that he had also
been frightened.  Anger, variegated by fear, is apt to cloud a man's
common sense, and Johnson's usual caution was deserting him.
He was beginning to see red, and the news that there had been an
accomplice was the last straw.  Somehow or other he must get even
with this bandit and bring him to the last extremity of disgrace.
He must get him inside the splendours of Haripol, where, his foot on
his native heath, he would recover the confidence which had been so
lamentably to seek on the hill....He would, of course, hand him over
to the police, but his soul longed for some more spectacular denouement....

Then he thought of the journalists, who had made such a nuisance of
themselves in the morning.  They were certain to be still about the place.
If they could see his triumphant arrival at Haripol they would write
such a story as would blaze his credit to the world and make the
frustrated poacher a laughing-stock.

As it chanced, as they entered one of the woodland drives of Haripol,
they met the gillie, Andrew, on his way home for a late tea.
He was asked if he had seen any of the correspondents, and replied
that he and Peter and Cameron had captured one after a hard chase,
who at the moment was in Cameron's charge and using strong language
about the liberty of the Press.  Andrew was privately despatched to bid
Cameron bring his captive, with all civility and many apologies,
up to the house, with a message that Mr Claybody would be glad to have
a talk with him.  Then, with three navvies as a vanguard and four
as a rear-guard, Lamancha was conducted down the glade between Johnson
and Macnicol--the picture of a criminal in the grip of the law.
That picture was seen by a small boy who was lurking among the bracken.
To the eyes of Benjie it spelt the uttermost disaster.  The stag was
safe at Crask, but the major part of John Macnab was in the hands
of his enemies.  Benjie thought hard for a minute, and then wriggled
back into the covert and ran as hard as he could through the wood.
To him at this awful crisis there seemed to be but a single hope.
Force must be brought against force.  The Bluidy Mackenzie,
now tied up under a distant tree, must be launched against the foe.
The boy was aware that the dog had accepted him as an ally, but that
it had developed for Lamancha the passion of its morose and solitary life.

The prisoner's uneasiness grew with every step he took down the
sweet-scented twilit glade.  He was being taken to the house,
and in that house there would be people--women, perhaps--journalists,
maybe--and a most embarrassing situation for a Cabinet Minister.
The whole enterprise, which had been so packed with comedy and adventure,
was about to end in fiasco and disgrace, and it was he, the promoter,
who had let the show down.  For the first time since he arrived
at Crask Lamancha whole-heartedly wished himself out of the thing
with a clean sheet.  There was something to be said, after all,
for a man keeping to his groove....

They emerged from the trees, and before them stretched the lawns,
with a large and important mansion at the other end.  This was worse
than his wildest dreams.  He stopped short.

"Look here," he said, "isn't it time to end this farce? I admit I was
trespassing, and was fairly caught out.  Isn't that enough?"

"By Gad, it isn't," said Johnson, into whose bosom a certainty of triumph
and revenge had at last entered.  "Into the house you go, and there we'll
get the truth out of you."

"I'll pay any fine in reason, but I'm damned if I'm going near that house."

For answer, Johnson nodded to Macnicol, and the two closed in on
the prisoner.  Lamancha, now really desperate, shook off the stalker
and was about to break to the left, when Johnson tackled high and held him.

At the same moment the Bluidy Mackenzie took a hand in the game.

That faithful hound, conducted by Benjie, had just arrived on
the scene of action.  He saw his adored Lamancha, the first man
who had really understood him, being assaulted by another whose
appearance he did not favour.  Like a stone from a sling he leaped
from the covert straight at Mr Johnson Claybody's throat.

It all happened in one crowded instant.  Lamancha felt the impact
of part of Mackenzie's body, saw Johnson stagger and fall,
and next observed his captor running wildly for the house with
Mackenzie hot on his trail.  Then, with that preposterous
instinct to help human against animal which is deeper than reason,
he started after him.

Never had a rising young commercial magnate shown a better gift of speed,
for a mad dog was his private and particular fear, and this beast
was clearly raving mad.  Macnicol and the navvies were some twenty yards
behind, but Lamancha was a close second.  Crying hoarsely, Johnson
leaped the flower-beds and doubled like a hare in and out of a pergola.
Ahead lay his mother's pet new lily-pond, and, remembering dimly that
mad dogs did not love water, he plunged into it, and embraced
a lead Cupid in the centre.

Mackenzie loved water like a spaniel, and his great body shot after him.
But the immersion caused a second's delay and enabled Lamancha to
take a flying leap which brought him almost atop of the dog.
He clutched his collar and swung him back, making a commotion
in the fountain like a tidal wave.  Mackenzie recognised his friend
and did not turn on him, but he still strained furiously after Johnson,
who was now emerging like Proteus on the far side.

Suddenly the windows of the house, which was not thirty yards off,
opened, and the stage filled up with figures.  First the amazed eyes
of Lamancha saw Crossby entering from the right, evidently a prisoner,
in the charge of two gillies.  Then at one set of windows appeared
Sir Edward Leithen with a scared face, while from the other emerged
the forms of Sir Archibald Roylance, Mr Palliser-Yeates, and a stout
gentleman in a kilt who might be Lord Claybody.  To his mind,
keyed by wrath and confusion to expectation of tragedy, there could
only be one solution.  Others besides himself had failed, and the
secret of John Macnab was horridly patent to the world.

"Archie," he panted, "for God's sake call off your tripe-hound.
I can't hold on any longer....He'll eat the little man."

Lord Claybody had unusual penetration.  He observed his son
and heir dripping and exhausted on the turf, and a figure which
looked like a caricature in the Opposition Press of an eminent
Tory statesman, surrendering a savage hound to a small and dirty boy.
Also he saw in the background a group of gillies and navvies.
There was mystery here which had better be unriddled away from the gaze
of the profane crowd.  His eye caught Crossby's and Lamancha's.

"I think you'd better all come indoors," he said.




CHAPTER 15



HARIPOL-THE ARMISTICE


The great drawing-room had lost all its garishness with the approach
of evening.  Facing eastward, it looked out on lawns now dreaming
in a green dusk, though beyond them the setting sun, over-topping
the house, washed the woods and hills with gold and purple.
Lady Claybody sat on a brocaded couch with something of the dignity
of the late Queen Victoria, mystified, perturbed, awaiting the
explanation which was her due.  Her husband stood before her,
a man with such an air of being ready for any emergency that even
his kilt looked workmanlike.  The embarrassed party from Crask
clustered in the background; the shameful figures of Lamancha and
Johnson stood in front of the window, thereby deepening the shadow.
So electric was the occasion that Lady Claybody, finically proud
of her house, did not notice that these two were oozing water over
the polished parquet and devastating more than one expensive rug.

Lamancha, now that the worst had happened, was resigned and
almost cheerful.  Since the Claybodys had bagged Leithen and
Palliser-Yeates and detected the complicity of Sir Archie,
there was no reason why he should be left out.  He hoped,
rather vaguely, that his captors might not be inclined to make
the thing public in view of certain episodes, but he had got to
the pitch of caring very little.  John Macnab was dead, and only
awaited sepulture and oblivion.  He looked towards Johnson,
expecting him to take up the tale.

But Johnson had no desire to speak.  He had been very much shaken and
scared by the Bluidy Mackenzie and had not yet recovered his breath.
Also a name spoken by his father, as they entered the room, had
temporarily unsettled his wits.  It was Lord Claybody who broke
the uncomfortable silence.

"Who owns that dog?" he asked, looking, not at Lamancha, but at his son.

"The brute's mine," said Archie penitently.  "He followed the car,
and I left him tied up.  Can't think how he got loose and started
this racket."

The master of the house turned to Lamancha.  "How did you come here,
my lord? You look as if you had been having a rough journey."

Lamancha laughed.  Happily the waning light did not reveal the full extent
of his dirt and raggedness.  "I have," he said, "I'm your son's prisoner.
Fairly caught out.  I daresay you think me an idiot, unless Leithen or
Palliser-Yeates has explained."

Lord Claybody looked more mystified than ever.

"I don't understand.  A prisoner?"

"He's John Macnab," put in Johnson, whose breath was returning,
and with it sulkiness.  He was beginning to see that there was to be
no triumph in this business, and a good deal of unpleasant explanation.

"Well, a third of him," said Lamancha.  "And as you've already annexed
the other two-thirds you have the whole of the fellow under your roof."

Lord Claybody's gasp suddenly revealed to Lamancha that he had
been premature in his confession.  How his two friends had got
into the Haripol drawing-room he did not know, but apparently it
was not as prisoners.  The mischief was done, however, and there
was no going back.

"You mean to say that you three gentlemen are John Macnab?
You have been poaching at Glenraden and Strathlarrig?  Does Colonel
Raden--does Mr Bandicott know who you are?"

Lamancha nodded.  "They found out after we had had our shot
at their preserves.  They didn't mind--took it very well indeed.
We hope you're going to follow suit?"

"But I am amazed.  You had only to send me a note and my forest was at
your disposal for as long as you wished.  Why--why this--this incivility?"

"I assure you, on my honour, that the last thing we dreamed of was
incivility....Look here, Lord Claybody, I wonder if I can explain.
We three--Leithen, Palliser-Yeates, and myself--found ourselves two
months ago fairly fed up with life.  We weren't sick, and we weren't
tired--only bored.  By accident we discovered each other's complaint,
and we decided to have a try at curing ourselves by attempting something
very difficult and rather dangerous.  There was a fellow called Tarras
used to play this game--he was before your time--and we resolved to take
a leaf out of his book.  So we quartered ourselves on Archie--he's not
to blame, remember, for he's been protesting bitterly all along--and we
sent out our challenge.  Glenraden and Strathlarrig accepted it,
so that was all right; you didn't in so many words, but you accepted
it by your action, for you took elaborate precautions to safeguard
your ground....Well, that's all.  Palliser-Yeates lost at Glenraden
owing to Miss Janet.  Leithen won at Strathlarrig, and now I've made
a regular hat of things at Haripol.  But we're cured, all of us.
We're simply longing to get back to the life which in July
we thought humbug."

Lord Claybody sat down in a chair and brooded.

"I still don't follow," he said.  "You are people who matter a great deal
to the world, and there's not a man in this country who wouldn't have been
proud to give you the chance of the kind of holiday you needed.
You're one of the leaders of my party.  Personally, I have always
considered you the best of them.  I'm looking to Sir Edward Leithen
to win a big case for me this autumn.  Mr Palliser-Yeates has done
a lot of business with my firm, and after the talk I've had with him
this afternoon I look to doing a good deal more with him in the future.
You had only to give me a hint of what you wished and I would have
jumped at the chance of obliging you.  You wanted the thrill of
feeling like poachers.  Well, I would have seen that you got it.
I would have turned on every man in the place and used all my wits
to make your escapade difficult.  Wouldn't that have contented you?"

"No, no," Lamancha cried.  "You are missing he point.  Don't you see
that your way would have taken all the gloss off the adventure and
made it a game? We had to feel that we were taking real risks--that,
being what we were, we should look utter fools if we were caught
and exposed."

"Pardon me, but it is you who are missing the point."  Lord Claybody
was smiling.  "You could never have been exposed--except perhaps by
those confounded journalists," he added as he caught sight of Crossby.

"We had the best of them on our side," Lamancha put in.  "Mr Crossby has
backed us up nobly."

"Well, that only made your position more secure.  Colonel Raden and
Mr Bandicott accepted your challenge, and in any case they were sportsmen,
and you knew it.  If they had caught one or the other of you they would
never have betrayed you.  You must see that.  And here at Haripol
you were on the safest ground of all.  I'm not what they call a
sportsman--not yet--but I couldn't give you away.  Do you think it
conceivable that I would do anything to weaken the public prestige
of a statesman I believe in, a great lawyer I brief, and a great banker
whose assistance is of the utmost value to me.  I'm a man who has made
a fortune by my own hard work and I mean to keep it; therefore in
these bad times I am out to support anything which buttresses
the solid structure of society.  You three are part of that structure.
You might poach every stag on Haripol, and I should still hold my tongue."

Lamancha, regardless of the condition of his nether garments,
sat down heavily on an embroidered stool which Lady Claybody
erroneously believed to have belonged to Marie Antoinette,
and dropped his head in his hands.

"Lord, I believe you're right," he groaned.  "We've all been potting
at sitting birds.  John, do you hear? We've been making godless fools
of ourselves.  We thought we had got outside civilisation and were
really taking chances.  But we weren't.  We were all the time as safe
as your blessed bank.  It can't be done--not in this country anyway.
We're in the groove and have got to stay there.  We've been a pretty
lot of idiots not to think of that."

Then Johnson spoke.  He had been immensely cheered by Lord Claybody's
words, for they had seemed to raise Haripol again to that dignity from
which it had been in imminent risk of falling.

"I don't complain personally, Lord Lamancha, though you've given me
a hard day of it.  But I agree with my father--you really were gambling
on a certainty and it wasn't very fair to us.  Besides, you three,
who are the supporters of law and order, have offered a pretty good handle
to the enemy, with those infernal journalists advertising John Macnab.
There may be a large crop of Macnabs springing up, and you'll
be responsible.  It's a dangerous thing to weaken the sanctities
of property."

He found, to his surprise, a vigorous opponent in his mother.
Lady Claybody had passed from mystification to enlightenment,
and from enlightenment to appreciation.  It delighted her romantic
soul that Haripol should have been chosen for the escapade of
three eminent men; she saw tradition and legend already glorifying
her new dwelling.  Moreover, she scented in Johnson's words a theory
of life which was not her own, a mercantile creed which conflicted
with her notion of Haripol, and of the future of her family.

"You are talking nonsense, Johnson."  She said  "You are making
property a nightmare, for you are always thinking about it.
You forget that wealth is made for man, and not man for wealth.
It is the personality that matters.  It is so vulgar not to keep
money and land and that sort of thing in its proper place.
Look at those splendid old Jacobites and what they gave up.
The one advantage of property is that you can disregard it."

This astounding epigram passed unnoticed save by Janet, for
the lady, smiling benignly on the poaching trinity, went on
to a practical application.  "I think the whole John Macnab
adventure has been quite delightful.  It has brightened us all up,
and I'm sure we have nothing to forgive.  I think we must have
a dinner for everybody concerned to celebrate the end of it.
What Claybody says is perfectly true--you must have known you
could count on us, just as much as on Colonel Raden and Mr Bandicott.
But since you seem not to have realised that, you have had the fun
of thinking you were in real danger, and after all it is what one
thinks that matters.  I am so glad you are all cured of being bored.
But I'm not quite happy about those journalists.  How can we be
certain that they won't make a horrid story of it?"

"My wife is right," said Lord Claybody emphatically.  "That is the danger."
He looked at Crossby.  "They are certain to want some kind of account."

"They certainly will," said the latter.  "And that account must
leave out names and--other details.  I don't suppose you want
the navvy business made public?"

"Perhaps not.  That was Johnson's idea, and I don't consider it
a particularly happy inspiration."

"Well, there is nothing for it but that I should give them the story
and expurgate it discreetly.  John Macnab has been caught and dismissed
with a warning--that's all there is to it.  I suppose your gillies
won't blab?  They can't know very much, but they might give away
some awkward details."

"I'll jolly well see that they don't," said Johnson.  "But who will
you make John Macnab out to be?"

"A lunatic--unnamed.  I'll hint at some family skeleton into which
good breeding forbids me to inquire.  The fact that he has failed
at Haripol will take the edge off my colleagues' appetites.
If he had got his stag they would have been ramping on the trail.
The whole thing will go the way of other stunts, and be forgotten
in two days.  I know the British Press."

Within half an hour the atmosphere in that drawing-room had changed
from suspicion to something not far from friendliness, but the change
left two people unaffected.  Johnson, doubtless with Lamancha's
behaviour on the hill in his memory, was still sullen, and Janet
was obviously ill at ease.

Lamancha, who was suffering a good deal from thirst and hunger
and longed for a bath, arose from his stool.

"I think," he said, "that we three--especially myself--owe you
the most abject of apologies.  I see now that we were taking no risks
worth mentioning, and that what we thought was an adventure was
only a faux pas.  It was abominably foolish, and we are all very
sorry about it.  I think you've taken it uncommonly well."

Lord Claybody raised a protesting hand.  "Not another word.
I vote we break up this conference and give you something to drink.
Johnson's tongue is hanging out of his mouth."

The voice of Janet was suddenly raised, and in it might have been
detected a new timidity.  "I want to apologise also.  Dear Lady Claybody,
I stole your dog....I hope you will forgive me.  You see we wanted
to do something to distract Macnicol, and that seemed the only way."

A sudden silence fell.  Lady Claybody, had there been sufficient light,
might have been observed to flush.

"You--stole--Roguie," she said slowly, while Janet moved closer
to Sir Archie.  "You--stole--Wee Roguie.  I think you are the--"

"But we were very kind to him, and he was very happy."

"I wasn't happy.  I scarcely slept a wink.  What right had you
to touch my precious little dog? I think it is the most monstrous
thing I ever heard in my life."

"I'm so very sorry.  Please, please forgive me.  But you said yourself
that the only advantage of property was that you could disregard it."

Lady Claybody, to her enormous credit, stared, gasped, and then laughed.
Then something in the attitude of Janet and Archie stopped her,
and she asked suddenly: "Are you two engaged?"

"Yes," said Janet, "since ten minutes past one this afternoon."

Lady Claybody rose from the couch and took her in her arms.

"You're the wickedest girl in the world and the most delightful.
Oh, my dear, I am so pleased.  Sir Archibald, you will let an
old woman kiss you.  You are brigands, both of you, so you should be
very very happy.  You must all come and dine here to-morrow night--your
father and sister too, and we'll ask the Bandicotts.  It will be a dinner
to announce your engagement, and also to say good-bye to John Macnab.
Poor John!  I feel as if he were a real person who will always haunt
this glen, and now he is disappearing into the mist."

"No," said Lamancha, "he is being shrivelled up by coals of fire.
By the way"--and he turned to Lord Claybody--"I'll send over
the stag in the morning.  I forgot to tell you I got a stag--an old beast
with a famous head, who used to visit Crask.  It will look rather well
in your hall.  It has been in Archie's larder since the early afternoon."

Then Johnson Claybody was moved to a course which surprised
his audience, and may have surprised himself.  His sullenness
vanished in hearty laughter.

"I think," he said, "I have made rather a fool of myself."

"I think we have all made fools of ourselves," said Lamancha.

Johnson turned to his late prisoner and held out his hand.

"Lord Lamancha, I have only one thing to say.  I don't in the least
agree with my mother, and I'm dead against John Macnab.  But I'm your man
from this day on--whatever line you take.  You're my leader, for,
by all that's holy, you've a most astonishing gift of getting the goods."





EPILOGUE


Crossby, from whom I had most of this narrative, was as good as his word,
though it went sorely against the grain.  He himself wrote a tale,
and circulated his version to his brother journalists, which made
a good enough yarn, but was a sad anticlimax to the Return of
Harald Blacktooth.  He told of a gallant but frustrated attempt
on the Haripol Sanctuary, the taking of the culprit, and the magnanimous
release by young Mr Claybody of a nameless monomaniac--a gentleman,
it was hinted, who had not recovered from the effects of the war.
The story did not occupy a prominent page in the papers, and
presently, as he had prophesied, the world had forgotten John Macnab,
and had turned its attention to the cinema star, just arrived in London,
whom for several days, to the disgust of that lady's agents, it had
strangely neglected.

The dinner at Haripol, Crossby told me, was a hilarious function,
at which four men found reason to modify their opinion of the son
of the house, and the host fell in love with Janet, and Archie
with his hostess.  There is talk, I understand, of making it an
annual event to keep green the memory of the triune sportsman
who once haunted the place.  If you go to Haripol, as I did last week,
you will see above the hall chimney a noble thirteen-pointer,
and a legend beneath proclaiming that the stag was shot on
the Sgurr Dearg beat of the forest by the Earl of Lamancha
on a certain day of September in a certain year.  Lady Claybody,
who does not like stag's heads as ornaments, makes an exception of this;
indeed it is one of her household treasures to which she most often
calls her guests' attention.

Janet and Archie were married in November in the little kirk of
Inverlarrig, and three busy men cancelled urgent engagements to be there.
Among the presents was one not shown to the public or mentioned
in the papers, and a duplicate of it went to Junius and Agatha
at their wedding in the following spring.  It was a noble loving-cup
in the form of a quaich, inscribed as the gift of John Macnab.
Below four signatures were engraved--Lamancha, Edward Leithen,
and John Palliser-Yeates, and last, in a hand of surprising boldness,
the honoured name of Benjamin Bogle.



THE END




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