Five scouts' lanterns burned smokily in the ground room of the keep when Dickson ushered his charges through its cavernous door. The lights flickered in the gusts that swept after them and whistled through the slits of the windows, so that the place was full of monstrous shadows, and its accustomed odour of mould and disuse was changed to a salty freshness. Upstairs on the first floor Thomas Yownie had deposited the ladies' baggage, and was busy making beds out of derelict iron bedsteads and the wraps brought from their room. On the ground floor on a heap of litter covered by an old scout's blanket lay Heritage, with Dougal in attendance.
The Chieftain had washed the blood from the Poet's brow, and the touch of cold water was bringing him back his senses. Saskia with a cry flew to him, and waved off Dickson who had fetched one of the bottles of liqueur brandy. She slipped a hand inside his shirt and felt the beating of his heart. Then her slim fingers ran over his forehead.
"A bad blow," she muttered, "but I do not think he is ill. There is no fracture. When I nursed in the Alexander Hospital I learnt much about head wounds. Do not give him cognac if you value his life."
Heritage was talking now and with strange tongues. Phrases like "lined digesters" and "free sulphurous acid" came from his lips. He implored some one to tell him if "the first cook" was finished, and he upbraided some one else for "cooling off" too fast.
The girl raised her head. "But I fear he has become mad," she said.
"Wheesht, Mem," said Dickson, who recognized the jargon. "He's a papermaker."
Saskia sat down on the litter and lifted his head so that it rested on her breast. Dougal at her bidding brought a certain case from her baggage, and with swift, capable hands she made a bandage and rubbed the wound with ointment before tying it up. Then her fingers seemed to play about his temples and along his cheeks and neck. She was the professional nurse now, absorbed, sexless. Heritage ceased to babble, his eyes shut and he was asleep.
She remained where she was, so that the Poet, when a few minutes later he woke, found himself lying with his head in her lap. She spoke first, in an imperative tone: "You are well now. Your head does not ache. You are strong again."
"No. Yes," he murmured. Then more clearly: "Where am I? Oh, I remember, I caught a lick on the head. What's become of the brutes?"
Dickson, who had extracted food from the Mearns Street box and was pressing it on the others, replied through a mouthful of Biscuit: "We're in the old Tower. The three are lockit up in the House. Are you feeling better, Mr. Heritage?"
The Poet suddenly realized Saskia's position and the blood came to his pale face. He got to his feet with an effort and held out a hand to the girl. "I'm all right now, I think. Only a little dicky on my legs. A thousand thanks, Princess. I've given you a lot of trouble."
She smiled at him tenderly. "You say that when you have risked your life for me."
"There's no time to waste," the relentless Dougal broke in. "Comin' over here, I heard a shot. What was it?"
"It was me," said Dickson. "I was shootin' at the factor."
"Did ye hit him?"
"I think so, but I'm sorry to say not badly. When I last saw him he was running too quick for a sore hurt man. When I fired I thought it was the other man—the one they were expecting."
Dickson marvelled at himself, yet his speech was not bravado, but the honest expression of his mind. He was keyed up to a mood in which he feared nothing very much, certainly not the laws of his country. If he fell in with the Unknown, he was entirely resolved, if his Maker permitted him, to do murder as being the simplest and justest solution. And if in the pursuit of this laudable intention he happened to wing lesser game it was no fault of his.
"Well, it's a pity ye didn't get him," said Dougal, "him being what we ken him to be.... I'm for holding a council o' war, and considerin' the whole position. So far we haven't done that badly. We've shifted our base without serious casualties. We've got a far better position to hold, for there's too many ways into yon Hoose, and here there's just one. Besides, we've fickled the enemy. They'll take some time to find out where we've gone. But, mind you, we can't count on their staying long shut up. Dobson's no safe in the boiler-house, for there's a skylight far up and he'll see it when the light comes and maybe before. So we'd better get our plans ready. A word with ye, Mr. McCunn," and he led Dickson aside.
"D'ye ken what these blagyirds were up to?" he whispered fiercely in Dickson's ear. "They were goin' tothe lassie. How do I ken, says you? Because Thomas Yownie heard Dobson say to Lean at the scullery door, 'Have ye got the dope?' he says, and Lean says, 'Aye.' Thomas mindit the word for he had heard about it at the Picters."
Dickson exclaimed in horror.
"What d'ye make o' that? I'll tell ye. They wanted to make sure of her, but they wouldn't have thought o' dope unless the men they expectit were due to arrive at any moment. As I see it, we've to face a siege not by the three but by a dozen or more, and it'll no' be long till it starts. Now, isn't it a mercy we're safe in here?"
Dickson returned to the others with a grave face.
"Where d'you think the new folk are coming from?" he asked.
Heritage answered, "From Auchenlochan, I suppose? Or perhaps down from the hills?"
"You're wrong." And he told of Leéon's mistaken confidences to him in the darkness. "They are coming from the sea, just like the old pirates."
"The sea," Heritage repeated in a dazed voice.
"Ay, the sea. Think what that means. If they had been coming by the roads, we could have kept track of them, even if they beat us, and some of these laddies could have stuck to them and followed them up till help came. It can't be such an easy job to carry a young lady against her will along Scotch roads. But the sea's a different matter. If they've got a fast boat they could be out of the Firth and away beyond the law before we could wake up a single policeman. Ay, and even if the Government took it up and warned all the ports and ships at sea, what's to hinder them to find a hidy-hole about Ireland—or Norway? I tell you, it's a far more desperate business than I thought, and it'll no' do to wait on and trust that the Chief Constable will turn up afore the mischief's done."
"The moral," said Heritage, "is that there can be no surrender. We've got to stick it out in this old place at all costs."
"No," said Dickson emphatically. "The moral is that we must shift the ladies. We've got the chance while Dobson and his friends are locked up. Let's get them as far away as we can from the sea. They're far safer tramping the moors, and it's no' likely the new folk will dare to follow us."
"But I cannot go." Saskia, who had been listening intently, shook her head. "I promised to wait here till my friend came. If I leave I shall never find him."
"If you stay you certainly never will, for you'll be away with the ruffians. Take a sensible view, Mem. You'll be no good to your friend or your friend to you if before night you're rocking in a ship."
The girl shook her head again, gently but decisively. "It was our arrangement. I cannot break it. Besides, I am sure that he will come in time, for he has never failed——"
There was a desperate finality about the quiet tones and the weary face with the shadow of a smile on it.
Then Heritage spoke. "I don't think your plan will quite do, Dogson. Supposing we all break for the hinterland and the Danish brig finds the birds flown, that won't end the trouble. They will get on the Princess's trail, and the whole persecution will start again. I want to see things brought to a head here and now. If we can stick it out here long enough, we may trap the whole push and rid the world of a pretty gang of miscreants. Let them show their hand, and then, if the police are here by that time, we can jug the lot for piracy or something worse."
"That's all right," said Dougal, "but we'd put up a better fight if we had the women off our mind. I've aye read that when a castle was going to be besieged the first thing was to get rid of the civilians."
"Sensible to the last, Dougal," said Dickson approvingly. "That's just what I'm saying. I'm strong for a fight, but put the ladies in a safe bit first, for they're our weak point."
"Do you think that if you were fighting my enemies I would consent to be absent?" came Saskia's reproachful question.
"'Deed no, Mem," said Dickson heartily. His martial spirit was with Heritage, but his prudence did not sleep, and he suddenly saw a way of placating both. "Just you listen to what I propose. What do we amount to? Mr. Heritage, six laddies, and myself—and I'm no more used to fighting than an old wife. We've seven desperate villains against us, and afore night they may be seventy. We've a fine old castle here, but for defence we want more than stone walls—we want a garrison. I tell you we must get help somewhere. Ay, but how, says you? Well, coming here I noticed a gentleman's house away up ayont the railway and close to the hills. The laird's maybe not at home, but there will be men there of some kind—gamekeepers and woodmen and such like. My plan is to go there at once and ask for help. Now, it's useless me going alone, for nobody would listen to me. They'd tell me to go back to the shop or they'd think me demented. But with you, Mem, it would be a different matter. They wouldn't disbelieve you. So I want you to come with me, and to come at once, for God knows how soon our need will be sore. We'll leave your cousin with Mrs. Morran in the village, for bed's the place for her, and then you and me will be off on our business."
The girl looked at Heritage, who nodded. "It's the only way," he said. "Get every man jack you can raise, and if it's humanly possible get a gun or two. I believe there's time enough, for I don't see the brig arriving in broad daylight."
"D'you not?" Dickson asked rudely. "Have you considered what day this is? It's the Sabbath, the best of days for an ill deed. There's no kirk hereaways, and everybody in the parish will be sitting indoors by the fire." He looked at his watch. "In half an hour it'll be light. Haste you, Mem, and get ready. Dougal, what's the weather?"
The Chieftain swung open the door, and sniffed the air. The wind had fallen for the time being, and the surge of the tides below the rocks rose like the clamour of a mob. With the lull, mist and a thin drizzle had cloaked the world again.
To Dickson's surprise Dougal seemed to be in good spirits. He began to sing to a hymn tune a strange ditty.
"Class-conscious we are, and class-conscious wull be
Till our fit's on the neck o' the Boorjoyzee."
"What on earth are you singing?" Dickson inquired.
Dougal grinned. "Wee Jaikie went to a Socialist Sunday School last winter because he heard they were for fechtin' battles. Ay, and they telled him he was to join a thing called an International, and Jaikie thought it was a fitba' club. But when he fund out there was no magic lantern or swaree at Christmas he gie'd it the chuck. They learned him a heap o' queer songs. That's one."
"What does the last word mean?"
"I don't ken. Jaikie thought it was some kind of a draigon."
"It's a daft-like thing anyway.... When's high water?"
Dougal answered that to the best of his knowledge it fell between four and five in the afternoon.
"Then that's when we may expect the foreign gentry if they think to bring their boat in to the Garple foot..... Dougal, lad, I trust you to keep a most careful and prayerful watch. You had better get the Die-Hards out of the Tower and all round the place afore Dobson and Co. get loose, or you'll no' get a chance later. Don't lose your mobility, as the sodgers say. Mr. Heritage can hold the fort, but you laddies should be spread out like a screen."
"That was my notion," said Dougal. "I'll detail two Die-Hards—Thomas Yownie and Wee Jaikie—to keep in touch with ye and watch for you comin' back. Thomas ye ken already; ye'll no fickle Thomas Yownie. But don't be mistook about Wee Jaikie. He's terrible fond of greetin', but it's no fright with him but excitement. It's just a habit he's gotten. When ye see Jaikie begin to greet, you may be sure that Jaikie's gettin' dangerous."
The door shut behind them and Dickson found himself with his two charges in a world dim with fog and rain and the still lingering darkness. The air was raw, and had the sour smell which comes from soaked earth and wet boughs when the leaves are not yet fledged. Both the women were miserably equipped for such an expedition. Cousin Eugènie trailed heavy furs, Saskia's only wrap was a bright-coloured shawl about her shoulders, and both wore thin foreign shoes. Dickson insisted on stripping off his trusty waterproof and forcing it on the Princess, on whose slim body it hung very loose and very short. The elder woman stumbled and whimpered and needed the constant support of his arm, walking like a townswoman from the knees. But Saskia swung from the hips like a free woman, and Dickson had much ado to keep up with her. She seemed to delight in the bitter freshness of the dawn, inhaling deep breaths of it, and humming fragments of a tune.
Guided by Thomas Yownie they took the road which Dickson and Heritage had travelled the first evening, through the shrubberies on the north side of the House and the side avenue beyond which the ground fell to the Laver glen. On their right the House rose like a dark cloud, but Dickson had lost his terror of it. There were three angry men inside it, he remembered: long let them stay there. He marvelled at his mood, and also rejoiced, for his worst fear had always been that he might prove a coward. Now he was puzzled to think how he could ever be frightened again, for his one object was to succeed, and in that absorption fear seemed to him merely a waste of time. "It all comes of treating the thing as a business proposition," he told himself.
But there was far more in his heart than this sober resolution. He was intoxicated with the resurgence of youth and felt a rapture of audacity which he never remembered in his decorous boyhood. "I haven't been doing badly for an old man," he reflected with glee. What, oh what had become of the pillar of commerce, the man who might have been a bailie had he sought municipal honours, the elder in the Guthrie Memorial Kirk, the instructor of literary young men? In the past three days he had levanted with jewels which had once been an Emperor's and certainly were not his; he had burglariously entered and made free of a strange house; he had played hide-and-seek at the risk of his neck and had wrestled in the dark with a foreign miscreant; he had shot at an eminent solicitor with intent to kill; and he was now engaged in tramping the world with a fairy-tale Princess. I blush to confess that of each of his doings he was unashamedly proud, and thirsted for many more in the same line. "Gosh, but I'm seeing life," was his unregenerate conclusion.
Without sight or sound of a human being, they descended to the Laver, climbed again by the cart track, and passed the deserted West Lodge and inn to the village. It was almost full dawn when the three stood in Mrs. Morran's kitchen.
"I've brought you two ladies, Auntie Phemie," said Dickson.
They made an odd group in that cheerful place, where the new-lit fire was crackling in the big grate—the wet undignified form of Dickson, unshaven of cheek and chin and disreputable in garb; the shrouded figure of Cousin Eugenie, who had sunk into the arm-chair and closed her eyes; the slim girl, into whose face the weather had whipped a glow like blossom; and the hostess, with her petticoats kilted and an ancient mutch on her head.
Mrs. Morran looked once at Saskia, and then did a thing which she had not done since her girlhood. She curtseyed.
"I'm proud to see ye here, Mem. Off wi' your things, and I'll get ye dry claes, Losh, ye're fair soppin' And your shoon! Ye maun change your feet.... Dickson! Awa' up to the loft, and dinna you stir till I give ye a cry. The leddies will change by the fire. And You, Mem"—this to Cousin Eugènie—"the place for you's your bed. I'll kinnle a fire ben the hoose in a jiffey. And syne ye'll have breakfast—ye'll hae a cup o' tea wi' me now, for the kettle's just on the boil. Awa' wi' ye. Dickson," and she stamped her foot.
Dickson departed, and in the loft washed his face, and smoked a pipe on the edge of the bed, watching the mist eddying up the village street. From below rose the sounds of hospitable bustle, and when after some twenty minutes' vigil he descended, he found Saskia toasting stockinged toes by the fire in the great arm-chair, and Mrs. Morran setting the table.
"Auntie Phemie, hearken to me. We've taken on too big a job for two men and six laddies, and help we've got to get, and that this very morning. D'you mind the big white house away up near the hills ayont the station and east of the Ayr road? It looked like a gentleman's shooting lodge. I was thinking of trying there. Mercy!"
The exclamation was wrung from him by his eyes settling on Saskia and noting her apparel. Gone were her thin foreign clothes, and in their place she wore a heavy tweed skirt cut very short, and thick homespun stockings, which had been made for some one with larger feet than hers. A pair of the coarse low-heeled shoes which country folk wear in the farmyard stood warming by the hearth. She still had her russet jumper, but round her neck hung a grey wool scarf, of the kind known as a "comforter." Amazingly pretty she looked in Dickson's eyes, but with a different kind of prettiness. The sense of fragility had fled, and he saw how nobly built she was for all her exquisiteness. She looked like a queen, he thought, but a queen to go gipsying through the world with.
"Ay, they're some o' Elspeth's things, rale guid furthy claes," said Mrs. Morran complacently. "And the shoon are what she used to gang about the byres wi' when she was in the Castlewham dairy. The leddy was tellin' me she was for trampin' the hills, and thae things will keep her dry and warm....I ken the hoose ye mean. They ca' it the Mains of Garple. And I ken the man that bides in it. He's yin Sir Erchibald Roylance. English, but his mither was a Dalziel. I'm no weel acquaint wi' his forbears, but I'm weel eneuch acquaint wi' Sir Erchie, and 'better a guid coo than a coo o' a guid kind,' as my mither used to say. He used to be an awfu' wild callont, a freend o' puir Maister Quentin, and up to ony deevilry. But they tell me he's a quieter lad since the war, as sair lamed by fa'in oot o' an airyplane."
"Will he be at the Mains just now?" Dickson asked.
"I wadna wonder. He has a muckle place in England, but he aye used to come here in the back-end for the shootin' and in April for birds. He's clean daft about birds. He'll be out a' day at the craig watchin' solans, or lyin' a' mornin' i' the moss lookin' at bog-blitters."
"Will he help, think you?"
"I'll wager he'll help. Onyway it's your best chance, and better a wee bush than nae beild. Now, sit in to your breakfast."
It was a merry meal. Mrs. Morran dispensed tea and gnomic wisdom. Saskia ate heartily, speaking little, but once or twice laying her hand softly on her hostess's gnarled fingers. Dickson was in such spirits that he gobbled shamelessly, being both hungry and hurried, and he spoke of the still unconquered enemy with ease and disrespect, so that Mrs. Morran was moved to observe that there was "naething sae bauld as a blind mear." But when in a sudden return of modesty he belittled his usefulness and talked sombrely of his mature years he was told that he "wad never be auld wi' sae muckle honesty." Indeed it was very clear that Mrs. Morran approved of her nephew.
They did not linger over breakfast, for both were impatient to be on the road. Mrs. Morran assisted Saskia to put on Elspeth's shoes. "'Even a young fit finds comfort in an auld bauchle,' as my mother, honest woman, used to say." Dickson's waterproof was restored to him, and for Saskia an old raincoat belonging to the son in South Africa was discovered, which fitted her better. "Siccan weather," said the hostess, as she opened the door to let in a swirl of wind. "The deil's aye kind to his ain. Haste ye back, Mem, and be sure I'll tak' guid care o' your leddy cousin."
The proper way to the Mains of Garple was either by the station and the Ayr road, or by the Auchenlochan highway, branching off half a mile beyond the Garple bridge. But Dickson, who had been studying the map and fancied himself as a pathfinder, chose the direct route across the Long Muir as being at once shorter and more sequestered. With the dawn the wind had risen again, but it had shifted towards the north-west and was many degrees colder. The mist was furling on the hills like sails, the rain had ceased, and out at sea the eye covered a mile or two of wild water. The moor was drenching wet, and the peat bogs were brimming with inky pools, so that soon the travellers were soaked to the knees. Dickson had no fear of pursuit, for he calculated that Dobson and his friends, even if they had got out, would be busy looking for the truants in the vicinity of the House and would presently be engaged with the old Tower. But he realized, too, that speed on his errand was vital, for at any moment the Unknown might arrive from the sea.
So he kept up a good pace, half-running, half-striding, till they had passed the railway, and he found himself gasping with a stitch in his side, and compelled to rest in the lee of what had once been a sheepfold. Saskia amazed him. She moved over the rough heather like a deer, and it was her hand that helped him across the deeper hags. Before such youth and vigour he felt clumsy and old. She stood looking down at him as he recovered his breath, cool, unruffled, alert as Diana. His mind fled to Heritage, and it occurred to him suddenly that the Poet had set his affections very high. Loyalty drove him to speak for his friend.
"I've got the easy job," he said. "Mr. Heritage will have the whole pack on him in that old Tower, and him with such a sore clout on his head. I've left him my pistol. He's a terrible brave man!"
"Ay, and he's a poet too."
"So?" she said. "I did not know. He is very young."
"He's a man of very high ideels."
She puzzled at the word, and then smiled. "He is like many of our young men in Russia, the students—his mind is in a ferment and he does not know what he wants. But he is brave."
This seemed to Dickson's loyal soul but a chilly tribute.
"I think he is in love with me," she continued.
He looked up startled, and saw in her face that which gave him a view into a strange new world. He had thought that women blushed when they talked of love, but he eyes were as grave and candid as a boy's. Here was one who had gone through waters so deep that she had lost the foibles of sex. Love to her was only a word of ill omen, a threat on the lips of brutes, an extra battalion of peril in an army of perplexities. He felt like some homely rustic who finds himself swept unwittingly into the moonlight hunt of Artemis and her maidens.
"He is a romantic," she said. "I have known so many like him."
"He's no that," said Dickson shortly. "Why he used to be aye laughing at me for being romantic. He's one that's looking for truth and reality, he says, and he's terrible down on the kind of poetry I like myself."
She smiled. "They all talk so. But you, my friend Dickson" (she pronounced the name in two staccato syllables ever so prettily), "you are different. Tell me about yourself."
"I'm just what you see—a middle-aged retired grocer."
"Grocer?" she queried. "Ah, yes, épicier. But you are a very remarkable épicier. Mr. Heritage I understand, but you and those little boys—no. I am sure of one thing—you are not a romantic. You are too humorous and—and—I think you are like Ulysses, for it would not be easy to defeat you."
Her eyes were kind, nay affectionate, and Dickson experienced a preposterous rapture in his soul, followed by a sinking, as he realized how far the job was still from being completed.
"We must be getting on, Mem," he said hastily, and the two plunged again into the heather.
The Ayr road was crossed, and the fir wood around the Mains became visible, and presently the white gates of the entrance. A wind-blown spire of smoke beyond the trees proclaimed that the house was not untenanted. As they entered the drive the Scots firs were tossing in the gale, which blew fiercely at this altitude, but, the dwelling itself being more in the hollow, the daffodil clumps on the lawn were but mildly fluttered.
The door was opened by a one-armed butler who bore all the marks of the old regular soldier. Dickson produced a card and asked to see his master on urgent business. Sir Archibald was at home, he was told, and had just finished breakfast. The two were led into a large bare chamber which had all the chill and mustiness of a bachelor's drawing-room. The butler returned, and said Sir Archibald would see him. "I'd better go myself first and prepare the way, Mem," Dickson whispered, and followed the man across the hall.
He found himself ushered into a fair-sized room where a bright fire was burning. On a table lay the remains of breakfast, and the odour of food mingled pleasantly with the scent of peat. The horns and heads of big game, foxes' masks, the model of a gigantic salmon, and several bookcases adorned the walls, and books and maps were mixed with decanters and cigar-boxes on the long sideboard. After the wild out of doors the place seemed the very shrine of comfort. A young man sat in an arm-chair by the fire with a leg on a stool; he was smoking a pipe, and reading the Field, and on another stool at his elbow was a pile of new novels. He was a pleasant brown-faced young man, with remarkably smooth hair and a roving humorous eye.
"Come in, Mr. McCunn. Very glad to see you. If, as I take it, you're the grocer, you're a household name in these parts. I get all my supplies from you, and I've just been makin' inroads on one of your divine hams. Now, what can I do for you?"
"I'm very proud to hear what you say, Sir Archibald. But I've not come on business. I've come with the queerest story you ever heard in your life and I've come to ask your help."
"Go ahead. A good story is just what I want this vile mornin'."
"I'm not here alone. I've a lady with me."
"God bless my soul! A lady!"
"Ay, a princess. She's in the next room."
The young man looked wildly at him and waved the book he had been reading.
"Excuse me, Mr. McCunn, but are you quite sober? I beg your pardon. I see you are. But you know, it isn't done. Princesses don't as a rule come here after breakfast to pass the time of day. It's more absurd than this shocker I've been readin'."
"All the same it's a fact. She'll tell you the story herself, and you'll believe her quick enough. But to prepare your mind I'll just give you a sketch of the events of the last few days."
Before the sketch was concluded the young man had violently rung the bell. "Sime," he shouted to the servant, "clear away this mess and lay the table again. Order more breakfast, all the breakfast you can get. Open the windows and get the tobacco smoke out of the air. Tidy up the place for there's a lady comin'. Quick, you juggins!"
He was on his feet now, and, with his arm in Dickson's, was heading for the door.
"My sainted aunt! And you topped off with pottin' at the factor. I've seen a few things in my day, but I'm blessed if I ever met a bird like you!"