I sat down on the very crest of the pass and took stock of my position.
Behind me was the road climbing through a long cleft in the hills, which wa_he upper glen of some notable river. In front was a flat space of maybe _ile, all pitted with bog-holes and rough with tussocks, and then beyond i_he road fell steeply down another glen to a plain whose blue dimness melte_nto the distance. To left and right were round-shouldered green hills a_mooth as pancakes, but to the south — that is, the left hand — there was _limpse of high heathery mountains, which I remembered from the map as the bi_not of hill which I had chosen for my sanctuary. I was on the central boss o_ huge upland country, and could see everything moving for miles. In th_eadows below the road half a mile back a cottage smoked, but it was the onl_ign of human life. Otherwise there was only the calling of plovers and th_inkling of little streams.
It was now about seven o'clock, and as I waited I heard once again tha_minous beat in the air. Then I realized that my vantage- ground might be i_eality a trap. There was no cover for a tomtit in those bald green places.
I sat quite still and hopeless while the beat grew louder. Then I saw a_eroplane coming up from the east. It was flying high, but as I looked i_ropped several hundred feet and began to circle round the knot of hill i_arrowing circles, just as a hawk wheels before it pounces. Now it was flyin_ery low, and now the observer on board caught sight of me. I could see one o_he two occupants examining me through glasses.
Suddenly it began to rise in swift whorls, and the next I knew it was speedin_astward again till it became a speck in the blue morning.
That made me do some savage thinking. My enemies had located me, and the nex_hing would be a cordon round me. I didn't know what force they could command, but I was certain it would be sufficient. The aeroplane had seen my bicycle, and would conclude that I would try to escape by the road. In that case ther_ight be a chance on the moors to the right or left. I wheeled the machine _undred yards from the highway, and plunged it into a moss-hole, where it san_mong pond-weed and water-buttercups. Then I climbed to a knoll which gave m_ view of the two valleys. Nothing was stirring on the long white ribbon tha_hreaded them.
I have said there was not cover in the whole place to hide a rat. As the da_dvanced it was flooded with soft fresh light till it had the fragran_unniness of the South African veld. At other times I would have liked th_lace, but now it seemed to suffocate me. The free moorlands were priso_alls, and the keen hill air was the breath of a dungeon.
I tossed a coin — heads right, tails left — and it fell heads, so I turned t_he north. In a little I came to the brow of the ridge which was th_ontaining wall of the pass. I saw the highroad for maybe ten miles, and fa_own it something that was moving, and that I took to be a motor-car. Beyon_he ridge I looked on a rolling green moor, which fell away into wooded glens.
Now my life on the veld has given me the eyes of a kite, and I can see thing_or which most men need a telescope … Away down the slope, a couple of mile_way, several men were advancing. like a row of beaters at a shoot …
I dropped out of sight behind the sky-line. That way was shut to me, and _ust try the bigger hills to the south beyond the highway. The car I ha_oticed was getting nearer, but it was still a long way off with some ver_teep gradients before it. I ran hard, crouching low except in the hollows, and as I ran I kept scanning the brow of the hill before me. Was i_magination, or did I see figures — one, two, perhaps more — moving in a gle_eyond the stream? If you are hemmed in on all sides in a patch of land ther_s only one chance of escape. You must stay in the patch, and let your enemie_earch it and not find you. That was good sense, but how on earth was I t_scape notice in that table-cloth of a place? I would have buried myself t_he neck in mud or lain below water or climbed the tallest tree. But there wa_ot a stick of wood, the bog-holes were little puddles, the stream was _lender trickle. There was nothing but short heather, and bare hill bent, an_he white highway.
Then in a tiny bight of road, beside a heap of stones, I found the roadman.
He had just arrived, and was wearily flinging down his hammer. He looked at m_ith a fishy eye and yawned.
'Confoond the day I ever left the herdin'!' he said, as if to the world a_arge. 'There I was my ain maister. Now I'm a slave to the Goavernment, tethered to the roadside, wi' sair een, and a back like a suckle.'
He took up the hammer, struck a stone, dropped the implement with an oath, an_ut both hands to his ears. 'Mercy on me! My heid's burstin'!' he cried.
He was a wild figure, about my own size but much bent, with a week's beard o_is chin, and a pair of big horn spectacles.
'I canna dae't,' he cried again. 'The Surveyor maun just report me. I'm for m_ed.'
I asked him what was the trouble, though indeed that was clear enough.
'The trouble is that I'm no sober. Last nicht my dochter Merran was waddit, and they danced till fower in the byre. Me and some ither chiels sat down t_he drinkin', and here I am. Peety that I ever lookit on the wine when it wa_ed!'
I agreed with him about bed. 'It's easy speakin',' he moaned. 'But I got _ostcard yestreen sayin' that the new Road Surveyor would be round the day.
He'll come and he'll no find me, or else he'll find me fou, and either way I'_ done man. I'll awa' back to my bed and say I'm no weel, but I doot that'l_o help me, for they ken my kind o' no-weel-ness.'
Then I had an inspiration. 'Does the new Surveyor know you?' I asked.
'No him. He's just been a week at the job. He rins about in a wee motor-cawr, and wad speir the inside oot o' a whelk.'
'Where's your house?' I asked, and was directed by a wavering finger to th_ottage by the stream.
'Well, back to your bed,' I said, 'and sleep in peace. I'll take on your jo_or a bit and see the Surveyor.'
He stared at me blankly; then, as the notion dawned on his fuddled brain, hi_ace broke into the vacant drunkard's smile.
'You're the billy,' he cried. 'It'll be easy eneuch managed. I've finishe_hat bing o' stanes, so you needna chap ony mair this forenoon. Just take th_arry, and wheel eneuch metal frae yon quarry doon the road to mak anithe_ing the morn. My name's Alexander Turnbull, and I've been seeven year at th_rade, and twenty afore that herdin' on Leithen Water. My freens ca' me Ecky, and whiles Specky, for I wear glesses, being waik i' the sicht. Just you spea_he Surveyor fair, and ca' him Sir, and he'll be fell pleased. I'll be back o_id-day.'
I borrowed his spectacles and filthy old hat; stripped off coat, waistcoat, and collar, and gave him them to carry home; borrowed, too, the foul stump o_ clay pipe as an extra property. He indicated my simple tasks, and withou_ore ado set off at an amble bedwards. Bed may have been his chief object, bu_ think there was also something left in the foot of a bottle. I prayed tha_e might be safe under cover before my friends arrived on the scene.
Then I set to work to dress for the part. I opened the collar of my shirt — i_as a vulgar blue-and-white check such as ploughmen wear — and revealed a nec_s brown as any tinker's. I rolled up my sleeves, and there was a forear_hich might have been a blacksmith's, sunburnt and rough with old scars. I go_y boots and trouser-legs all white from the dust of the road, and hitched u_y trousers, tying them with string below the knee. Then I set to work on m_ace. With a handful of dust I made a water-mark round my neck, the plac_here Mr Turnbull's Sunday ablutions might be expected to stop. I rubbed _ood deal of dirt also into the sunburn of my cheeks. A roadman's eyes woul_o doubt be a little inflamed, so I contrived to get some dust in both o_ine, and by dint of vigorous rubbing produced a bleary effect.
The sandwiches Sir Harry had given me had gone off with my coat, but th_oadman's lunch, tied up in a red handkerchief, was at my disposal. I ate wit_reat relish several of the thick slabs of scone and cheese and drank a littl_f the cold tea. In the handkerchief was a local paper tied with string an_ddressed to Mr Turnbull — obviously meant to solace his mid-day leisure. _id up the bundle again, and put the paper conspicuously beside it.
My boots did not satisfy me, but by dint of kicking among the stones I reduce_hem to the granite-like surface which marks a roadman's foot-gear. Then I bi_nd scraped my finger-nails till the edges were all cracked and uneven. Th_en I was matched against would miss no detail. I broke one of the bootlace_nd retied it in a clumsy knot, and loosed the other so that my thick gre_ocks bulged over the uppers. Still no sign of anything on the road. The moto_ had observed half an hour ago must have gone home.
My toilet complete, I took up the barrow and began my journeys to and from th_uarry a hundred yards off.
I remember an old scout in Rhodesia, who had done many queer things in hi_ay, once telling me that the secret of playing a part was to think yoursel_nto it. You could never keep it up, he said, unless you could manage t_onvince yourself that you were it. So I shut off all other thoughts an_witched them on to the road- mending. I thought of the little white cottag_s my home, I recalled the years I had spent herding on Leithen Water, I mad_y mind dwell lovingly on sleep in a box-bed and a bottle of cheap whisky.
Still nothing appeared on that long white road.
Now and then a sheep wandered off the heather to stare at me. A heron floppe_own to a pool in the stream and started to fish, taking no more notice of m_han if I had been a milestone. On I went, trundling my loads of stone, wit_he heavy step of the professional. Soon I grew warm, and the dust on my fac_hanged into solid and abiding grit. I was already counting the hours til_vening should put a limit to Mr Turnbull's monotonous toil. Suddenly a cris_oice spoke from the road, and looking up I saw a little Ford two-seater, an_ round-faced young man in a bowler hat.
'Are you Alexander Turnbull?' he asked. 'I am the new County Road Surveyor.
You live at Blackhopefoot, and have charge of the section from Laidlawbyres t_he Riggs? Good! A fair bit of road, Turnbull, and not badly engineered. _ittle soft about a mile off, and the edges want cleaning. See you look afte_hat. Good morning. You'll know me the next time you see me.'
Clearly my get-up was good enough for the dreaded Surveyor. I went on with m_ork, and as the morning grew towards noon I was cheered by a little traffic.
A baker's van breasted the hill, and sold me a bag of ginger biscuits which _towed in my trouser- pockets against emergencies. Then a herd passed wit_heep, and disturbed me somewhat by asking loudly, 'What had become o'
'In bed wi' the colic,' I replied, and the herd passed on … just about mid-da_ big car stole down the hill, glided past and drew up a hundred yards beyond.
Its three occupants descended as if to stretch their legs, and sauntere_owards me.
Two of the men I had seen before from the window of the Galloway inn — on_ean, sharp, and dark, the other comfortable and smiling. The third had th_ook of a countryman — a vet, perhaps, or a small farmer. He was dressed i_ll-cut knickerbockers, and the eye in his head was as bright and wary as _en's.
'Morning,' said the last. 'That's a fine easy job o' yours.'
I had not looked up on their approach, and now, when accosted, I slowly an_ainfully straightened my back, after the manner of roadmen; spat vigorously, after the manner of the low Scot; and regarded them steadily before replying.
I confronted three pairs of eyes that missed nothing.
'There's waur jobs and there's better,' I said sententiously. 'I wad rathe_ae yours, sittin' a' day on your hinderlands on thae cushions. It's you an_our muckle cawrs that wreck my roads! If we a' had oor richts, ye sud be mad_o mend what ye break.'
The bright-eyed man was looking at the newspaper lying beside Turnbull'_undle.
'I see you get your papers in good time,' he said.
I glanced at it casually. 'Aye, in gude time. Seein' that that paper cam' ou_ast Setterday I'm just Sax days late.'
He picked it up, glanced at the superscription, and laid it down again. One o_he others had been looking at my boots, and a word in German called th_peaker's attention to them.
'You've a fine taste in boots,' he said. 'These were never made by a countr_hoemaker.'
'They were not,' I said readily. 'They were made in London. I got them fra_he gentleman that was here last year for the shootin'. What was his nam_ow?' And I scratched a forgetful head. Again the sleek one spoke in German.
'Let us get on,' he said. 'This fellow is all right.'
They asked one last question.
'Did you see anyone pass early this morning? He might be on a bicycle or h_ight be on foot.'
I very nearly fell into the trap and told a story of a bicyclist hurrying pas_n the grey dawn. But I had the sense to see my danger. I pretended t_onsider very deeply.
'I wasna up very early,' I said. 'Ye see, my dochter was merrit last nicht, and we keepit it up late. I opened the house door about seeven and there wa_aebody on the road then. Since I cam' up here there has just been the bake_nd the Ruchill herd, besides you gentlemen.'
One of them gave me a cigar, which I smelt gingerly and stuck in Turnbull'_undle. They got into their car and were out of sight in three minutes.
My heart leaped with an enormous relief, but I went on wheeling my stones. I_as as well, for ten minutes later the car returned, one of the occupant_aving a hand to me. Those gentry left nothing to chance.
I finished Turnbull's bread and cheese, and pretty soon I had finished th_tones. The next step was what puzzled me. I could not keep up this roadmakin_usiness for long. A merciful Providence had kept Mr Turnbull indoors, but i_e appeared on the scene there would be trouble. I had a notion that th_ordon was still tight round the glen, and that if I walked in any direction _hould meet with questioners. But get out I must. No man's nerve could stan_ore than a day of being spied on.
I stayed at my post till five o'clock. By that time I had resolved to go dow_o Turnbull's cottage at nightfall and take my chance of getting over th_ills in the darkness. But suddenly a new car came up the road, and slowe_own a yard or two from me. A fresh wind had risen, and the occupant wanted t_ight a cigarette. It was a touring car, with the tonneau full of a_ssortment of baggage. One man sat in it, and by an amazing chance I knew him.
His name was Marmaduke jopley, and he was an offence to creation. He was _ort of blood stockbroker, who did his business by toadying eldest sons an_ich young peers and foolish old ladies. 'Marmie' was a familiar figure, _nderstood, at balls and polo- weeks and country houses. He was an adroi_candal-monger, and would crawl a mile on his belly to anything that had _itle or a million. I had a business introduction to his firm when I came t_ondon, and he was good enough to ask me to dinner at his club. There h_howed off at a great rate, and pattered about his duchesses till the snobber_f the creature turned me sick. I asked a man afterwards why nobody kicke_im, and was told that Englishmen reverenced the weaker sex.
Anyhow there he was now, nattily dressed, in a fine new car, obviously on hi_ay to visit some of his smart friends. A sudden daftness took me, and in _econd I had jumped into the tonneau and had him by the shoulder.
'Hullo, jopley,' I sang out. 'Well met, my lad!' He got a horrid fright. Hi_hin dropped as he stared at me. 'Who the devil are you?' he gasped.
'My name's Hannay,' I said. 'From Rhodesia, you remember.'
'Good God, the murderer!' he choked.
'Just so. And there'll be a second murder, my dear, if you don't do as I tel_ou. Give me that coat of yours. That cap, too.'
He did as bid, for he was blind with terror. Over my dirty trousers and vulga_hirt I put on his smart driving-coat, which buttoned high at the top an_hereby hid the deficiencies of my collar. I stuck the cap on my head, an_dded his gloves to my get- up. The dusty roadman in a minute was transforme_nto one of the neatest motorists in Scotland. On Mr jopley's head I clappe_urnbull's unspeakable hat, and told him to keep it there.
Then with some difficulty I turned the car. My plan was to go back the road h_ad come, for the watchers, having seen it before, would probably let it pas_nremarked, and Marmie's figure was in no way like mine.
'Now, my child,' I said, 'sit quite still and be a good boy. I mean you n_arm. I'm only borrowing your car for an hour or two. But if you play me an_ricks, and above all if you open your mouth, as sure as there's a God abov_e I'll wring your neck. Savez?'
I enjoyed that evening's ride. We ran eight miles down the valley, through _illage or two, and I could not help noticing several strange-looking fol_ounging by the roadside. These were the watchers who would have had much t_ay to me if I had come in other garb or company. As it was, they looke_ncuriously on. One touched his cap in salute, and I responded graciously.
As the dark fell I turned up a side glen which, as I remember from the map, led into an unfrequented corner of the hills. Soon the villages were lef_ehind, then the farms, and then even the wayside cottage. Presently we cam_o a lonely moor where the night was blackening the sunset gleam in the bo_ools. Here we stopped, and I obligingly reversed the car and restored to M_opley his belongings.
'A thousand thanks,' I said. 'There's more use in you than I thought. Now b_ff and find the police.'
As I sat on the hillside, watching the tail-light dwindle, I reflected on th_arious kinds of crime I had now sampled. Contrary to general belief, I wa_ot a murderer, but I had become an unholy liar, a shameless impostor, and _ighwayman with a marked taste for expensive motor-cars.