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.