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Chapter 5 Various Doings in the West

  • The Tobermory was no ship for passengers. Its decks were littered with _undred oddments, so that a man could barely walk a step without tacking, an_y bunk was simply a shelf in the frowsty little saloon, where the odour o_am and eggs hung like a fog. I joined her at Greenock and took a turn on dec_ith the captain after tea, when he told me the names of the big blue hills t_he north. He had a fine old copper-coloured face and side-whiskers like a_rchbishop, and, having spent all his days beating up the western seas, had a_any yarns in his head as Peter himself.
  • 'On this boat,' he announced, 'we don't ken what a day may bring forth. I ma_ut into Colonsay for twa hours and bide there three days. I get a telegram a_ban and the next thing I'm awa ayont Barra. Sheep's the difficult business.
  • They maun be fetched for the sales, and they're dooms slow to lift. So ye se_t's not what ye call a pleasure trip, Maister Brand.'
  • Indeed it wasn't, for the confounded tub wallowed like a fat sow as soon as w_ounded a headland and got the weight of the south-western wind. When asked m_urpose, I explained that I was a colonial of Scots extraction, who was payin_is first visit to his fatherland and wanted to explore the beauties of th_est Highlands. I let him gather that I was not rich in this world's goods.
  • 'Ye'll have a passport?' he asked. 'They'll no let ye go north o' Fort Willia_ithout one.'
  • Amos had said nothing about passports, so I looked blank.
  • 'I could keep ye on board for the whole voyage,' he went on, 'but ye wouldn_e permitted to land. If ye're seekin' enjoyment, it would be a poor jo_ittin' on this deck and admirin' the works o' God and no allowed to step o_he pier-head. Ye should have applied to the military gentlemen in Glesca. Bu_e've plenty o' time to make up your mind afore we get to Oban. We've a hea_' calls to make Mull and Islay way.'
  • The purser came up to inquire about my ticket, and greeted me with a grin.
  • 'Ye're acquaint with Mr Gresson, then?' said the captain. 'Weel, we're _heery wee ship's company, and that's the great thing on this kind o' job.'
  • I made but a poor supper, for the wind had risen to half a gale, and I sa_ours of wretchedness approaching. The trouble with me is that I cannot b_onestly sick and get it over. Queasiness and headache beset me and there i_o refuge but bed. I turned into my bunk, leaving the captain and the mat_moking shag not six feet from my head, and fell into a restless sleep. When _oke the place was empty, and smelt vilely of stale tobacco and cheese. M_hrobbing brows made sleep impossible, and I tried to ease them by staggerin_pon deck. I saw a clear windy sky, with every star as bright as a live coal, and a heaving waste of dark waters running to ink-black hills. Then a douch_f spray caught me and sent me down the companion to my bunk again, where _ay for hours trying to make a plan of campaign.
  • I argued that if Amos had wanted me to have a passport he would have provide_ne, so I needn't bother my head about that. But it was my business to kee_longside Gresson, and if the boat stayed a week in some port and he went of_shore, I must follow him. Having no passport I would have to be alway_odging trouble, which would handicap my movements and in all likelihood mak_e more conspicuous than I wanted. I guessed that Amos had denied me th_assport for the very reason that he wanted Gresson to think me harmless. Th_rea of danger would, therefore, be the passport country, somewhere north o_ort William.
  • But to follow Gresson I must run risks and enter that country. His suspicions, if he had any, would be lulled if I left the boat at Oban, but it was up to m_o follow overland to the north and hit the place where the Tobermory made _ong stay. The confounded tub had no plans; she wandered about the Wes_ighlands looking for sheep and things; and the captain himself could give m_o time-table of her voyage. It was incredible that Gresson should take al_his trouble if he did not know that at some place—and the right place—h_ould have time to get a spell ashore. But I could scarcely ask Gresson fo_hat information, though I determined to cast a wary fly over him. I kne_oughly the Tobermory's course—through the Sound of Islay to Colonsay; then u_he east side of Mull to Oban; then through the Sound of Mull to the island_ith names like cocktails, Rum and Eigg and Coll; then to Skye; and then fo_he Outer Hebrides. I thought the last would be the place, and it seeme_adness to leave the boat, for the Lord knew how I should get across th_inch. This consideration upset all my plans again, and I fell into a trouble_leep without coming to any conclusion.
  • Morning found us nosing between Jura and Islay, and about midday we touched a_ little port, where we unloaded some cargo and took on a couple of shepherd_ho were going to Colonsay. The mellow afternoon and the good smell of sal_nd heather got rid of the dregs of my queasiness, and I spent a profitabl_our on the pier-head with a guide-book called Baddely's Scotland, and one o_artholomew's maps. I was beginning to think that Amos might be able to tel_e something, for a talk with the captain had suggested that the Tobermor_ould not dally long in the neighbourhood of Rum and Eigg. The big drovin_eason was scarcely on yet, and sheep for the Oban market would be lifted o_he return journey. In that case Skye was the first place to watch, and if _ould get wind of any big cargo waiting there I would be able to make a plan.
  • Amos was somewhere near the Kyle, and that was across the narrows from Skye.
  • Looking at the map, it seemed to me that, in spite of being passportless, _ight be able somehow to make my way up through Morvern and Arisaig to th_atitude of Skye. The difficulty would be to get across the strip of sea, bu_here must be boats to beg, borrow or steal.
  • I was poring over Baddely when Gresson sat down beside me. He was in a goo_emper, and disposed to talk, and to my surprise his talk was all about th_eauties of the countryside. There was a kind of apple-green light ove_verything; the steep heather hills cut into the sky like purple amethysts, while beyond the straits the western ocean stretched its pale molten gold t_he sunset. Gresson waxed lyrical over the scene. 'This just about puts m_ight inside, Mr Brand. I've got to get away from that little old town prett_requent or I begin to moult like a canary. A man feels a man when he gets t_ place that smells as good as this. Why in hell do we ever get messed up i_hose stone and lime cages? I reckon some day I'll pull my freight for a clea_ocation and settle down there and make little poems. This place would abou_ontent me. And there's a spot out in California in the Coast ranges that I'v_een keeping my eye on,' The odd thing was that I believe he meant it. Hi_gly face was lit up with a serious delight.
  • He told me he had taken this voyage before, so I got out Baddely and asked fo_dvice. 'I can't spend too much time on holidaying,' I told him, 'and I wan_o see all the beauty spots. But the best of them seem to be in the area tha_his fool British Government won't let you into without a passport. I suppos_ shall have to leave you at Oban.'
  • 'Too bad,' he said sympathetically. 'Well, they tell me there's some prett_ights round Oban.' And he thumbed the guide-book and began to read abou_lencoe.
  • I said that was not my purpose, and pitched him a yarn about Prince Charli_nd how my mother's great-grandfather had played some kind of part in tha_how. I told him I wanted to see the place where the Prince landed and wher_e left for France. 'So far as I can make out that won't take me into th_assport country, but I'll have to do a bit of footslogging. Well, I'm used t_adding the hoof. I must get the captain to put me off in Morvern, and then _an foot it round the top of Lochiel and get back to Oban through Appin. How'_hat for a holiday trek?'
  • He gave the scheme his approval. 'But if it was me, Mr Brand, I would have _hot at puzzling your gallant policemen. You and I don't take much stock i_overnments and their two-cent laws, and it would be a good game to see jus_ow far you could get into the forbidden land. A man like you could put up _ood bluff on those hayseeds. I don't mind having a bet … '
  • 'No,' I said. 'I'm out for a rest, and not for sport. If there was anything t_e gained I'd undertake to bluff my way to the Orkney Islands. But it's _earing job and I've better things to think about.'
  • 'So? Well, enjoy yourself your own way. I'll be sorry when you leave us, for _we you something for that rough-house, and beside there's darned littl_ompany in the old moss-back captain.'
  • That evening Gresson and I swopped yarns after supper to the accompaniment o_he 'Ma Goad!' and 'Is't possible?' of captain and mate. I went to bed after _lass or two of weak grog, and made up for the last night's vigil by fallin_ound asleep. I had very little kit with me, beyond what I stood up in an_ould carry in my waterproof pockets, but on Amos's advice I had brought m_ittle nickel-plated revolver. This lived by day in my hip pocket, but a_ight I put it behind my pillow. But when I woke next morning to find u_asting anchor in the bay below rough low hills, which I knew to be the islan_f Colonsay, I could find no trace of the revolver. I searched every inch o_he bunk and only shook out feathers from the mouldy ticking. I remembere_erfectly putting the thing behind my head before I went to sleep, and now i_ad vanished utterly. Of course I could not advertise my loss, and I didn'_reatly mind it, for this was not a job where I could do much shooting. But i_ade me think a good deal about Mr Gresson. He simply could not suspect me; i_e had bagged my gun, as I was pretty certain he had, it must be because h_anted it for himself and not that he might disarm me. Every way I argued it _eached the same conclusion. In Gresson's eyes I must seem as harmless as _hild.
  • We spent the better part of a day at Colonsay, and Gresson, so far as hi_uties allowed, stuck to me like a limpet. Before I went ashore I wrote out _elegram for Amos. I devoted a hectic hour to the Pilgrim's Progress, but _ould not compose any kind of intelligible message with reference to its text.
  • We had all the same edition—the one in the Golden Treasury series—so I coul_ave made up a sort of cipher by referring to lines and pages, but that woul_ave taken up a dozen telegraph forms and seemed to me too elaborate for th_urpose. So I sent this message:
  • Ochterlony, Post Office, Kyle, I hope to spend part of holiday near you and t_ee you if boat's programme permits. Are any good cargoes waiting in you_eighbourhood? Reply Post Office, Oban.
  • It was highly important that Gresson should not see this, but it was the deuc_f a business to shake him off. I went for a walk in the afternoon along th_hore and passed the telegraph office, but the confounded fellow was with m_ll the time. My only chance was just before we sailed, when he had to go o_oard to check some cargo. As the telegraph office stood full in view of th_hip's deck I did not go near it. But in the back end of the clachan I foun_he schoolmaster, and got him to promise to send the wire. I also bought of_im a couple of well-worn sevenpenny novels.
  • The result was that I delayed our departure for ten minutes and when I came o_oard faced a wrathful Gresson. 'Where the hell have you been?' he asked. 'Th_eather's blowing up dirty and the old man's mad to get off. Didn't you ge_our legs stretched enough this afternoon?'
  • I explained humbly that I had been to the schoolmaster to get something t_ead, and produced my dingy red volumes. At that his brow cleared. I could se_hat his suspicions were set at rest.
  • We left Colonsay about six in the evening with the sky behind us banking for _torm, and the hills of Jura to starboard an angry purple. Colonsay was to_ow an island to be any kind of breakwater against a western gale, so th_eather was bad from the start. Our course was north by east, and when we ha_assed the butt-end of the island we nosed about in the trough of big seas, shipping tons of water and rolling like a buffalo. I know as much about boat_s about Egyptian hieroglyphics, but even my landsman's eyes could tell tha_e were in for a rough night. I was determined not to get queasy again, bu_hen I went below the smell of tripe and onions promised to be my undoing; s_ dined off a slab of chocolate and a cabin biscuit, put on my waterproof, an_esolved to stick it out on deck.
  • I took up position near the bows, where I was out of reach of the oily steame_mells. It was as fresh as the top of a mountain, but mighty cold and wet, fo_ gusty drizzle had set in, and I got the spindrift of the big waves. There _alanced myself, as we lurched into the twilight, hanging on with one hand t_ rope which descended from the stumpy mast. I noticed that there was only a_ndifferent rail between me and the edge, but that interested me and helped t_eep off sickness. I swung to the movement of the vessel, and though I wa_ortally cold it was rather pleasant than otherwise. My notion was to get th_ausea whipped out of me by the weather, and, when I was properly tired, to g_own and turn in.
  • I stood there till the dark had fallen. By that time I was an automaton, th_ay a man gets on sentry-go, and I could have easily hung on till morning. M_houghts ranged about the earth, beginning with the business I had set out on, and presently—by way of recollections of Blenkiron and Peter—reaching th_erman forest where, in the Christmas of 1915, I had been nearly done in b_ever and old Stumm. I remembered the bitter cold of that wild race, and th_ay the snow seemed to burn like fire when I stumbled and got my face into it.
  • I reflected that sea-sickness was kitten's play to a good bout of malaria.
  • The weather was growing worse, and I was getting more than spindrift from th_eas. I hooked my arm round the rope, for my fingers were numbing. Then I fel_o dreaming again, principally about Fosse Manor and Mary Lamington. This s_avished me that I was as good as asleep. I was trying to reconstruct th_icture as I had last seen her at Biggleswick station …
  • A heavy body collided with me and shook my arm from the rope. I slithere_cross the yard of deck, engulfed in a whirl of water. One foot caught _tanchion of the rail, and it gave with me, so that for an instant I was mor_han half overboard. But my fingers clawed wildly and caught in the links o_hat must have been the anchor chain. They held, though a ton's weight seeme_o be tugging at my feet … Then the old tub rolled back, the waters slippe_ff, and I was sprawling on a wet deck with no breath in me and a gallon o_rine in my windpipe.
  • I heard a voice cry out sharply, and a hand helped me to my feet. It wa_resson, and he seemed excited.
  • 'God, Mr Brand, that was a close call! I was coming up to find you, when thi_amned ship took to lying on her side. I guess I must have cannoned into you, and I was calling myself bad names when I saw you rolling into the Atlantic.
  • If I hadn't got a grip on the rope I would have been down beside you. Say, you're not hurt? I reckon you'd better come below and get a glass of rum unde_our belt. You're about as wet as mother's dish-clouts.'
  • There's one advantage about campaigning. You take your luck when it comes an_on't worry about what might have been. I didn't think any more of th_usiness, except that it had cured me of wanting to be sea-sick. I went dow_o the reeking cabin without one qualm in my stomach, and ate a good meal o_elsh-rabbit and bottled Bass, with a tot of rum to follow up with. Then _hed my wet garments, and slept in my bunk till we anchored off a village i_ull in a clear blue morning.
  • It took us four days to crawl up that coast and make Oban, for we seemed to b_ floating general store for every hamlet in those parts. Gresson made himsel_ery pleasant, as if he wanted to atone for nearly doing me in. We played som_oker, and I read the little books I had got in Colonsay, and then rigged up _ishing-line, and caught saithe and lythe and an occasional big haddock. But _ound the time pass slowly, and I was glad that about noon one day we cam_nto a bay blocked with islands and saw a clean little town sitting on th_ills and the smoke of a railway engine.
  • I went ashore and purchased a better brand of hat in a tweed store. Then _ade a bee-line for the post office, and asked for telegrams. One was given t_e, and as I opened it I saw Gresson at my elbow.
  • It read thus:
  • Brand, Post office, Oban. Page 117, paragraph 3. Ochterlony.
  • I passed it to Gresson with a rueful face.
  • 'There's a piece of foolishness,' I said. 'I've got a cousin who's _resbyterian minister up in Ross-shire, and before I knew about this passpor_umbug I wrote to him and offered to pay him a visit. I told him to wire m_ere if it was convenient, and the old idiot has sent me the wrong telegram.
  • This was likely as not meant for some other brother parson, who's got m_essage instead.'
  • 'What's the guy's name?' Gresson asked curiously, peering at the signature.
  • 'Ochterlony. David Ochterlony. He's a great swell at writing books, but he'_o earthly use at handling the telegraph. However, it don't signify, seein_'m not going near him.' I crumpled up the pink form and tossed it on th_loor. Gresson and I walked to the Tobermory together.
  • That afternoon, when I got a chance, I had out my Pilgrim's Progress. Pag_17, paragraph 3, read:
  • 'Then I saw in my dream, that a little off the road, over against the Silver- mine, stood Demas (gentlemanlike) to call to passengers to come and see: wh_aid to Christian and his fellow, Ho, turn aside hither and I will show you _hing.
  • At tea I led the talk to my own past life. I yarned about my experiences as _ining engineer, and said I could never get out of the trick of looking a_ountry with the eye of the prospector. 'For instance,' I said, 'if this ha_een Rhodesia, I would have said there was a good chance of copper in thes_ittle kopjes above the town. They're not unlike the hills round the Messin_ine.' I told the captain that after the war I was thinking of turning m_ttention to the West Highlands and looking out for minerals.
  • 'Ye'll make nothing of it,' said the captain. 'The costs are ower big, even i_e found the minerals, for ye'd have to import a' your labour. The Wes_ielandman is no fond o' hard work. Ye ken the psalm o' the crofter?
  • O that the peats would cut themselves,
  • The fish chump on the shore,
  • And that I in my bed might lie
  • Henceforth for ever more!'
  • 'Has it ever been tried?' I asked.
  • 'Often. There's marble and slate quarries, and there was word o' coal i_enbecula. And there's the iron mines at Ranna.'
  • 'Where's that?' I asked.
  • 'Up forenent Skye. We call in there, and generally bide a bit. There's a hea_f cargo for Ranna, and we usually get a good load back. But as I tell ye, there's few Hielanders working there. Mostly Irish and lads frae Fife an_alkirk way.'
  • I didn't pursue the subject, for I had found Demas's silver-mine. If th_obermory lay at Ranna for a week, Gresson would have time to do his ow_rivate business. Ranna would not be the spot, for the island was bare to th_orld in the middle of a much-frequented channel. But Skye was just across th_ay, and when I looked in my map at its big, wandering peninsulas I conclude_hat my guess had been right, and that Skye was the place to make for.
  • That night I sat on deck with Gresson, and in a wonderful starry silence w_atched the lights die out of the houses in the town, and talked of a thousan_hings. I noticed—what I had had a hint of before—that my companion was n_ommon man. There were moments when he forgot himself and talked like a_ducated gentleman: then he would remember, and relapse into the lingo o_eadville, Colorado. In my character of the ingenuous inquirer I set hi_osers about politics and economics, the kind of thing I might have bee_upposed to pick up from unintelligent browsing among little books. Generall_e answered with some slangy catchword, but occasionally he was intereste_eyond his discretion, and treated me to a harangue like an equal. _iscovered another thing, that he had a craze for poetry, and a capaciou_emory for it. I forgot how we drifted into the subject, but I remember h_uoted some queer haunting stuff which he said was Swinburne, and verses b_eople I had heard of from Letchford at Biggleswick. Then he saw by my silenc_hat he had gone too far, and fell back into the jargon of the West. He wante_o know about my plans, and we went down into the cabin and had a look at th_ap. I explained my route, up Morvern and round the head of Lochiel, and bac_o Oban by the east side of Loch Linnhe.
  • 'Got you,' he said. 'You've a hell of a walk before you. That bug never bi_e, and I guess I'm not envying you any. And after that, Mr Brand?'
  • 'Back to Glasgow to do some work for the cause,' I said lightly.
  • 'Just so,' he said with a grin. 'It's a great life if you don't weaken.'
  • We steamed out of the bay next morning at dawn, and about nine o'clock I go_n shore at a little place called Lochaline. My kit was all on my person, an_y waterproof's pockets were stuffed with chocolates and biscuits I had bough_n Oban. The captain was discouraging. 'Ye'll get your bellyful o' Hielan_ills, Mr Brand, afore ye win round the loch head. Ye'll be wishin' yersel_ack on the Tobermory.' But Gresson speeded me joyfully on my way, and said h_ished he were coming with me. He even accompanied me the first hundred yards, and waved his hat after me till I was round the turn of the road.
  • The first stage in that journey was pure delight. I was thankful to be rid o_he infernal boat, and the hot summer scents coming down the glen wer_omforting after the cold, salt smell of the sea. The road lay up the side o_ small bay, at the top of which a big white house stood among gardens.
  • Presently I had left the coast and was in a glen where a brown salmon-rive_wirled through acres of bog-myrtle. It had its source in a loch, from whic_he mountain rose steeply—a place so glassy in that August forenoon that ever_car and wrinkle of the hillside were faithfully reflected. After that _rossed a low pass to the head of another sea-lock, and, following the map, struck over the shoulder of a great hill and ate my luncheon far up on it_ide, with a wonderful vista of wood and water below me.
  • All that morning I was very happy, not thinking about Gresson or Ivery, bu_etting my mind clear in those wide spaces, and my lungs filled with the bris_ill air. But I noticed one curious thing. On my last visit to Scotland, whe_ covered more moorland miles a day than any man since Claverhouse, I had bee_ascinated by the land, and had pleased myself with plans for settling down i_t. But now, after three years of war and general rocketing, I felt less draw_o that kind of landscape. I wanted something more green and peaceful an_abitable, and it was to the Cotswolds that my memory turned with longing.
  • I puzzled over this till I realized that in all my Cotswold pictures a figur_ept going and coming—a young girl with a cloud of gold hair and the strong, slim grace of a boy, who had sung 'Cherry Ripe' in a moonlit garden. Up o_hat hillside I understood very clearly that I, who had been as careless o_omen as any monk, had fallen wildly in love with a child of half my age. _as loath to admit it, though for weeks the conclusion had been forcing itsel_n me. Not that I didn't revel in my madness, but that it seemed too hopeles_ business, and I had no use for barren philandering. But, seated on a roc_unching chocolate and biscuits, I faced up to the fact and resolved to trus_y luck. After all we were comrades in a big job, and it was up to me to b_an enough to win her. The thought seemed to brace any courage that was in me.
  • No task seemed too hard with her approval to gain and her companionshi_omewhere at the back of it. I sat for a long time in a happy dream, remembering all the glimpses I had had of her, and humming her song to a_udience of one black-faced sheep.
  • On the highroad half a mile below me, I saw a figure on a bicycle mounting th_ill, and then getting off to mop its face at the summit. I turned my Zies_lasses on to it, and observed that it was a country policeman. It caugh_ight of me, stared for a bit, tucked its machine into the side of the road, and then very slowly began to climb the hillside. Once it stopped, waved it_and and shouted something which I could not hear. I sat finishing m_uncheon, till the features were revealed to me of a fat oldish man, blowin_ike a grampus, his cap well on the back of a bald head, and his trousers tie_bout the shins with string.
  • There was a spring beside me and I had out my flask to round off my meal.
  • 'Have a drink,' I said.
  • His eye brightened, and a smile overran his moist face.
  • 'Thank you, sir. It will be very warrm coming up the brae.'
  • 'You oughtn't to,' I said. 'You really oughtn't, you know. Scorching up hill_nd then doubling up a mountain are not good for your time of life.'
  • He raised the cap of my flask in solemn salutation. 'Your very good health.'
  • Then he smacked his lips, and had several cupfuls of water from the spring.
  • 'You will haf come from Achranich way, maybe?' he said in his soft sing-song, having at last found his breath.
  • 'Just so. Fine weather for the birds, if there was anybody to shoot them.'
  • 'Ah, no. There will be few shots fired today, for there are no gentlemen lef_n Morvern. But I wass asking you, if you come from Achranich, if you haf see_nybody on the road.'
  • From his pocket he extricated a brown envelope and a bulky telegraph form.
  • 'Will you read it, sir, for I haf forgot my spectacles?'
  • It contained a description of one Brand, a South African and a suspecte_haracter, whom the police were warned to stop and return to Oban. Th_escription wasn't bad, but it lacked any one good distinctive detail. Clearl_he policeman took me for an innocent pedestrian, probably the guest of som_oorland shooting-box, with my brown face and rough tweeds and hobnaile_hoes.
  • I frowned and puzzled a little. 'I did see a fellow about three miles back o_he hillside. There's a public-house just where the burn comes in, and I thin_e was making for it. Maybe that was your man. This wire says "South African"; and now I remember the fellow had the look of a colonial.'
  • The policeman sighed. 'No doubt it will be the man. Perhaps he will haf _istol and will shoot.'
  • 'Not him,' I laughed. 'He looked a mangy sort of chap, and he'll be scared ou_f his senses at the sight of you. But take my advice and get somebody wit_ou before you tackle him. You're always the better of a witness.'
  • 'That is so,' he said, brightening. 'Ach, these are the bad times! in old day_here wass nothing to do but watch the doors at the flower-shows and keep th_achts from poaching the sea-trout. But now it is spies, spies, and "Donald, get out of your bed, and go off twenty mile to find a German." I wass wishin_he war wass by, and the Germans all dead.'
  • 'Hear, hear!' I cried, and on the strength of it gave him another dram.
  • I accompanied him to the road, and saw him mount his bicycle and zig-zag lik_ snipe down the hill towards Achranich. Then I set off briskly northward. I_as clear that the faster I moved the better.
  • As I went I paid disgusted tribute to the efficiency of the Scottish police. _ondered how on earth they had marked me down. Perhaps it was the Glasgo_eeting, or perhaps my association with Ivery at Biggleswick. Anyhow there wa_omebody somewhere mighty quick at compiling a dossier. Unless I wanted to b_undled back to Oban I must make good speed to the Arisaig coast.
  • Presently the road fell to a gleaming sea-loch which lay like the blue blad_f a sword among the purple of the hills. At the head there was a tin_lachan, nestled among birches and rowans, where a tawny burn wound to th_ea. When I entered the place it was about four o'clock in the afternoon, an_eace lay on it like a garment. In the wide, sunny street there was no sign o_ife, and no sound except of hens clucking and of bees busy among the roses.
  • There was a little grey box of a kirk, and close to the bridge a thatche_ottage which bore the sign of a post and telegraph office.
  • For the past hour I had been considering that I had better prepare fo_ishaps. If the police of these parts had been warned they might prove to_uch for me, and Gresson would be allowed to make his journey unmatched. Th_nly thing to do was to send a wire to Amos and leave the matter in his hands.
  • Whether that was possible or not depended upon this remote postal authority.
  • I entered the little shop, and passed from bright sunshine to a twiligh_melling of paraffin and black-striped peppermint balls. An old woman with _utch sat in an arm-chair behind the counter. She looked up at me over he_pectacles and smiled, and I took to her on the instant. She had the kind o_ld wise face that God loves.
  • Beside her I noticed a little pile of books, one of which was a Bible. Open o_er lap was a paper, the United Free Church Monthly. I noticed these detail_reedily, for I had to make up my mind on the part to play.
  • 'It's a warm day, mistress,' I said, my voice falling into the broad Lowlan_peech, for I had an instinct that she was not of the Highlands.
  • She laid aside her paper. 'It is that, sir. It is grand weather for th_airst, but here that's no till the hinner end o' September, and at the bes_t's a bit scart o' aits.'
  • 'Ay. It's a different thing down Annandale way,' I said.
  • Her face lit up. 'Are ye from Dumfries, sir?'
  • 'Not just from Dumfries, but I know the Borders fine.'
  • 'Ye'll no beat them,' she cried. 'Not that this is no a guid place and I'v_uckle to be thankfu' for since John Sanderson—that was ma man—brought me her_orty-seeven year syne come Martinmas. But the aulder I get the mair I thin_' the bit whaur I was born. It was twae miles from Wamphray on the Lockerbi_oad, but they tell me the place is noo just a rickle o' stanes.'
  • 'I was wondering, mistress, if I could get a cup of tea in the village.'
  • 'Ye'll hae a cup wi' me,' she said. 'It's no often we see onybody frae th_orders hereaways. The kettle's just on the boil.'
  • She gave me tea and scones and butter, and black-currant jam, and treacl_iscuits that melted in the mouth. And as we ate we talked of man_hings—chiefly of the war and of the wickedness of the world.
  • 'There's nae lads left here,' she said. 'They a' joined the Camerons, and th_eck o' them fell at an awfu' place called Lowse. John and me never had n_oys, jist the one lassie that's married on Donald Frew, the Strontia_arrier. I used to vex mysel' about it, but now I thank the Lord that in Hi_ercy He spared me sorrow. But I wad hae liked to have had one laddie fechtin'
  • for his country. I whiles wish I was a Catholic and could pit up prayers fo_he sodgers that are deid. It maun be a great consolation.'
  • I whipped out the Pilgrim's Progress from my pocket. 'That is the grand boo_or a time like this.'
  • 'Fine I ken it,' she said. 'I got it for a prize in the Sabbath School when _as a lassie.'
  • I turned the pages. I read out a passage or two, and then I seemed struck wit_ sudden memory.
  • 'This is a telegraph office, mistress. Could I trouble you to send a telegram?
  • You see I've a cousin that's a minister in Ross-shire at the Kyle, and him an_e are great correspondents. He was writing about something in the Pilgrim'_rogress and I think I'll send him a telegram in answer.'
  • 'A letter would be cheaper,' she said.
  • 'Ay, but I'm on holiday and I've no time for writing.'
  • She gave me a form, and I wrote:
  • Ochterlony. Post Office, Kyle. —Demas will be at his mine within the week.
  • Strive with him, lest I faint by the way.
  • 'Ye're unco lavish wi' the words, sir,' was her only comment.
  • We parted with regret, and there was nearly a row when I tried to pay for th_ea. I was bidden remember her to one David Tudhole, farmer in Nethe_irecleuch, the next time I passed by Wamphray.
  • The village was as quiet when I left it as when I had entered. I took my wa_p the hill with an easier mind, for I had got off the telegram, and I hoped _ad covered my tracks. My friend the postmistress would, if questioned, b_nlikely to recognize any South African suspect in the frank and homel_raveller who had spoken with her of Annandale and the Pilgrim's Progress.
  • The soft mulberry gloaming of the west coast was beginning to fall on th_ills. I hoped to put in a dozen miles before dark to the next village on th_ap, where I might find quarters. But ere I had gone far I heard the sound o_ motor behind me, and a car slipped past bearing three men. The drive_avoured me with a sharp glance, and clapped on the brakes. I noted that th_wo men in the tonneau were carrying sporting rifles.
  • 'Hi, you, sir,' he cried. 'Come here.' The two rifle-bearers—solem_illies—brought their weapons to attention.
  • 'By God,' he said, 'it's the man. What's your name? Keep him covered, Angus.'
  • The gillies duly covered me, and I did not like the look of their waverin_arrels. They were obviously as surprised as myself.
  • I had about half a second to make my plans. I advanced with a very stiff air, and asked him what the devil he meant. No Lowland Scots for me now. My ton_as that of an adjutant of a Guards' battalion.
  • My inquisitor was a tall man in an ulster, with a green felt hat on his smal_ead. He had a lean, well-bred face, and very choleric blue eyes. I set hi_own as a soldier, retired, Highland regiment or cavalry, old style.
  • He produced a telegraph form, like the policeman.
  • 'Middle height—strongly built—grey tweeds—brown hat—speaks with a colonia_ccent—much sunburnt. What's your name, sir?'
  • I did not reply in a colonial accent, but with the hauteur of the Britis_fficer when stopped by a French sentry. I asked him again what the devil h_ad to do with my business. This made him angry and he began to stammer.
  • 'I'll teach you what I have to do with it. I'm a deputy-lieutenant of thi_ounty, and I have Admiralty instructions to watch the coast. Damn it, sir, I've a wire here from the Chief Constable describing you. You're Brand, a ver_angerous fellow, and we want to know what the devil you're doing here.'
  • As I looked at his wrathful eye and lean head, which could not have held muc_rains, I saw that I must change my tone. If I irritated him he would ge_asty and refuse to listen and hang me up for hours. So my voice becam_espectful.
  • 'I beg your pardon, sir, but I've not been accustomed to be pulled u_uddenly, and asked for my credentials. My name is Blaikie, Captain Rober_laikie, of the Scots Fusiliers. I'm home on three weeks' leave, to get _ittle peace after Hooge. We were only hauled out five days ago.' I hoped m_ld friend in the shell-shock hospital at Isham would pardon my borrowing hi_dentity.
  • The man looked puzzled. 'How the devil am I to be satisfied about that? Hav_ou any papers to prove it?'
  • 'Why, no. I don't carry passports about with me on a walking tour. But you ca_ire to the depot, or to my London address.'
  • He pulled at his yellow moustache. 'I'm hanged if I know what to do. I want t_et home for dinner. I tell you what, sir, I'll take you on with me and pu_ou up for the night. My boy's at home, convalescing, and if he says you'r_ukka I'll ask your pardon and give you a dashed good bottle of port. I'l_rust him and I warn you he's a keen hand.'
  • There was nothing to do but consent, and I got in beside him with an uneas_onscience. Supposing the son knew the real Blaikie! I asked the name of th_oy's battalion, and was told the 10th Seaforths. That wasn't pleasan_earing, for they had been brigaded with us on the Somme. But Colone_roadbury—for he told me his name—volunteered another piece of news which se_y mind at rest. The boy was not yet twenty, and had only been out seve_onths. At Arras he had got a bit of shrapnel in his thigh, which had playe_he deuce with the sciatic nerve, and he was still on crutches.
  • We spun over ridges of moorland, always keeping northward, and brought up at _leasant white-washed house close to the sea. Colonel Broadbury ushered m_nto a hall where a small fire of peats was burning, and on a couch beside i_ay a slim, pale-faced young man. He had dropped his policeman's manner, an_ehaved like a gentleman. 'Ted,' he said, 'I've brought a friend home for th_ight. I went out to look for a suspect and found a British officer. This i_aptain Blaikie, of the Scots Fusiliers.'
  • The boy looked at me pleasantly. 'I'm very glad to meet you, sir. You'l_xcuse me not getting up, but I've got a game leg.' He was the copy of hi_ather in features, but dark and sallow where the other was blond. He had jus_he same narrow head, and stubborn mouth, and honest, quick-tempered eyes. I_s the type that makes dashing regimental officers, and earns V.C.s, and get_one in wholesale. I was never that kind. I belonged to the school of th_unning cowards.
  • In the half-hour before dinner the last wisp of suspicion fled from my host'_ind. For Ted Broadbury and I were immediately deep in 'shop'. I had met mos_f his senior officers, and I knew all about their doings at Arras, for hi_rigade had been across the river on my left. We fought the great fight ove_gain, and yarned about technicalities and slanged the Staff in the way youn_fficers have, the father throwing in questions that showed how mighty prou_e was of his son. I had a bath before dinner, and as he led me to th_athroom he apologized very handsomely for his bad manners. 'Your coming'_een a godsend for Ted. He was moping a bit in this place. And, though I sa_t that shouldn't, he's a dashed good boy.'
  • I had my promised bottle of port, and after dinner I took on the father a_illiards. Then we settled in the smoking-room, and I laid myself out t_ntertain the pair. The result was that they would have me stay a week, but _poke of the shortness of my leave, and said I must get on to the railway an_hen back to Fort William for my luggage.
  • So I spent that night between clean sheets, and ate a Christian breakfast, an_as given my host's car to set me a bit on the road. I dismissed it after hal_ dozen miles, and, following the map, struck over the hills to the west.
  • About midday I topped a ridge, and beheld the Sound of Sleat shining beneat_e. There were other things in the landscape. In the valley on the right _ong goods train was crawling on the Mallaig railway. And across the strip o_ea, like some fortress of the old gods, rose the dark bastions and turrets o_he hills of Skye.