Mr. Standfast, by John Buchan

Chapter Eight

The Adventures of a Bagman

‘Ye’re punctual to time, Mr Brand,’ said the voice of Amos. ‘But losh! man, what have ye done to your breeks! And your buits? Ye’re no just very respectable in your appearance.’

I wasn’t. The confounded rocks of the Coolin had left their mark on my shoes, which moreover had not been cleaned for a week, and the same hills had rent my jacket at the shoulders, and torn my trousers above the right knee, and stained every part of my apparel with peat and lichen.

I cast myself on the bank beside Amos and lit my pipe. ‘Did you get my message?’ I asked.

‘Ay. It’s gone on by a sure hand to the destination we ken of. Ye’ve managed well, Mr Brand, but I wish ye were back in London.’ He sucked at his pipe, and the shaggy brows were pulled so low as to hide the wary eyes. Then he proceeded to think aloud.

‘Ye canna go back by Mallaig. I don’t just understand why, but they’re lookin’ for you down that line. It’s a vexatious business when your friends, meanin’ the polis, are doing their best to upset your plans and you no able to enlighten them. I could send word to the Chief Constable and get ye through to London without a stop like a load of fish from Aiberdeen, but that would be spoilin’ the fine character ye’ve been at such pains to construct. Na, na! Ye maun take the risk and travel by Muirtown without ony creedentials.’

‘It can’t be a very big risk,’ I interpolated.

‘I’m no so sure. Gresson’s left the Tobermory. He went by here yesterday, on the Mallaig boat, and there was a wee blackavised man with him that got out at the Kyle. He’s there still, stoppin’ at the hotel. They ca’ him Linklater and he travels in whisky. I don’t like the looks of him.’

‘But Gresson does not suspect me?’

‘Maybe no. But ye wouldna like him to see ye hereaways. Yon gentry don’t leave muckle to chance. Be very certain that every man in Gresson’s lot kens all about ye, and has your description down to the mole on your chin.’

‘Then they’ve got it wrong,’ I replied.

‘I was speakin’ feeguratively,’ said Amos. ‘I was considerin’ your case the feck of yesterday, and I’ve brought the best I could do for ye in the gig. I wish ye were more respectable clad, but a good topcoat will hide defeecencies.’

From behind the gig’s seat he pulled out an ancient Gladstone bag and revealed its contents. There was a bowler of a vulgar and antiquated style; there was a ready-made overcoat of some dark cloth, of the kind that a clerk wears on the road to the office; there was a pair of detachable celluloid cuffs, and there was a linen collar and dickie. Also there was a small handcase, such as bagmen carry on their rounds.

‘That’s your luggage,’ said Amos with pride. ‘That wee bag’s full of samples. Ye’ll mind I took the precaution of measurin’ ye in Glasgow, so the things’ll fit. Ye’ve got a new name, Mr Brand, and I’ve taken a room for ye in the hotel on the strength of it. Ye’re Archibald McCaskie, and ye’re travellin’ for the firm o’ Todd, Sons & Brothers, of Edinburgh. Ye ken the folk? They publish wee releegious books, that ye’ve bin trying to sell for Sabbath-school prizes to the Free Kirk ministers in Skye.’

The notion amused Amos, and he relapsed into the sombre chuckle which with him did duty for a laugh.

I put my hat and waterproof in the bag and donned the bowler and the top-coat. They fitted fairly well. Likewise the cuffs and collar, though here I struck a snag, for I had lost my scarf somewhere in the Coolin, and Amos, pelican-like, had to surrender the rusty black tie which adorned his own person. It was a queer rig, and I felt like nothing on earth in it, but Amos was satisfied.

‘Mr McCaskie, sir,’ he said, ‘ye’re the very model of a publisher’s traveller. Ye’d better learn a few biographical details, which ye’ve maybe forgotten. Ye’re an Edinburgh man, but ye were some years in London, which explains the way ye speak. Ye bide at 6, Russell Street, off the Meadows, and ye’re an elder in the Nethergate U.F. Kirk. Have ye ony special taste ye could lead the crack on to, if ye’re engaged in conversation?’

I suggested the English classics.

‘And very suitable. Ye can try poalitics, too. Ye’d better be a Free-trader but convertit by Lloyd George. That’s a common case, and ye’ll need to be by-ordinar common . . . If I was you, I would daunder about here for a bit, and no arrive at your hotel till after dark. Then ye can have your supper and gang to bed. The Muirtown train leaves at half-seven in the morning . . . Na, ye can’t come with me. It wouldna do for us to be seen thegither. If I meet ye in the street I’ll never let on I know ye.’

Amos climbed into the gig and jolted off home. I went down to the shore and sat among the rocks, finishing about tea-time the remains of my provisions. In the mellow gloaming I strolled into the clachan and got a boat to put me over to the inn. It proved to be a comfortable place, with a motherly old landlady who showed me to my room and promised ham and eggs and cold salmon for supper. After a good wash, which I needed, and an honest attempt to make my clothes presentable, I descended to the meal in a coffee-room lit by a single dim parafin lamp.

The food was excellent, and, as I ate, my spirits rose. In two days I should be back in London beside Blenkiron and somewhere within a day’s journey of Mary. I could picture no scene now without thinking how Mary fitted into it. For her sake I held Biggleswick delectable, because I had seen her there. I wasn’t sure if this was love, but it was something I had never dreamed of before, something which I now hugged the thought of. It made the whole earth rosy and golden for me, and life so well worth living that I felt like a miser towards the days to come.

I had about finished supper, when I was joined by another guest. Seen in the light of that infamous lamp, he seemed a small, alert fellow, with a bushy, black moustache, and black hair parted in the middle. He had fed already and appeared to be hungering for human society.

In three minutes he had told me that he had come down from Portree and was on his way to Leith. A minute later he had whipped out a card on which I read ‘J. J. Linklater’, and in the corner the name of Hatherwick Bros. His accent betrayed that he hailed from the west.

‘I’ve been up among the distilleries,’ he informed me. ‘It’s a poor business distillin’ in these times, wi’ the teetotallers yowlin’ about the nation’s shame and the way to lose the war. I’m a temperate man mysel’, but I would think shame to spile decent folks’ business. If the Government want to stop the drink, let them buy us out. They’ve permitted us to invest good money in the trade, and they must see that we get it back. The other way will wreck public credit. That’s what I say. Supposin’ some Labour Government takes the notion that soap’s bad for the nation? Are they goin’ to shut up Port Sunlight? Or good clothes? Or lum hats? There’s no end to their daftness if they once start on that track. A lawfu’ trade’s a lawfu’ trade, says I, and it’s contrary to public policy to pit it at the mercy of wheen cranks. D’ye no agree, sir? By the way, I havena got your name?’

I told him and he rambled on.

‘We’re blenders and do a very high-class business, mostly foreign. The war’s hit us wi’ our export trade, of course, but we’re no as bad as some. What’s your line, Mr McCaskie?’

When he heard he was keenly interested.

‘D’ye say so? Ye’re from Todd’s! Man, I was in the book business mysel’, till I changed it for something a wee bit more lucrative. I was on the road for three years for Andrew Matheson. Ye ken the name — Paternoster Row — I’ve forgotten the number. I had a kind of ambition to start a book-sellin’ shop of my own and to make Linklater o’ Paisley a big name in the trade. But I got the offer from Hatherwick’s, and I was wantin’ to get married, so filthy lucre won the day. And I’m no sorry I changed. If it hadna been for this war, I would have been makin’ four figures with my salary and commissions . . . My pipe’s out. Have you one of those rare and valuable curiosities called a spunk, Mr McCaskie?’

He was a merry little grig of a man, and he babbled on, till I announced my intention of going to bed. If this was Amos’s bagman, who had been seen in company with Gresson, I understood how idle may be the suspicions of a clever man. He had probably foregathered with Gresson on the Skye boat, and wearied that saturnine soul with his cackle.

I was up betimes, paid my bill, ate a breakfast of porridge and fresh haddock, and walked the few hundred yards to the station. It was a warm, thick morning, with no sun visible, and the Skye hills misty to their base. The three coaches on the little train were nearly filled when I had bought my ticket, and I selected a third-class smoking carriage which held four soldiers returning from leave.

The train was already moving when a late passenger hurried along the platform and clambered in beside me. A cheery ‘Mornin’, Mr McCaskie,’ revealed my fellow guest at the hotel.

We jolted away from the coast up a broad glen and then on to a wide expanse of bog with big hills showing towards the north. It was a drowsy day, and in that atmosphere of shag and crowded humanity I felt my eyes closing. I had a short nap, and woke to find that Mr Linklater had changed his seat and was now beside me.

‘We’ll no get a Scotsman till Muirtown,’ he said. ‘Have ye nothing in your samples ye could give me to read?’

I had forgotten about the samples. I opened the case and found the oddest collection of little books, all in gay bindings. Some were religious, with names like Dew of Hermon and Cool Siloam; some were innocent narratives, How Tommy saved his Pennies, A Missionary Child in China, and Little Susie and her Uncle. There was a Life of David Livingstone, a child’s book on sea-shells, and a richly gilt edition of the poems of one James Montgomery. I offered the selection to Mr Linklater, who grinned and chose the Missionary Child. ‘It’s not the reading I’m accustomed to,’ he said. ‘I like strong meat — Hall Caine and Jack London. By the way, how d’ye square this business of yours wi’ the booksellers? When I was in Matheson’s there would have been trouble if we had dealt direct wi’ the public like you.’

The confounded fellow started to talk about the details of the book trade, of which I knew nothing. He wanted to know on what terms we sold ‘juveniles’, and what discount we gave the big wholesalers, and what class of book we put out ‘on sale’. I didn’t understand a word of his jargon, and I must have given myself away badly, for he asked me questions about firms of which I had never heard, and I had to make some kind of answer. I told myself that the donkey was harmless, and that his opinion of me mattered nothing, but as soon as I decently could I pretended to be absorbed in the Pilgrim’s Progress, a gaudy copy of which was among the samples. It opened at the episode of Christian and Hopeful in the Enchanted Ground, and in that stuffy carriage I presently followed the example of Heedless and Too–Bold and fell sound asleep. I was awakened by the train rumbling over the points of a little moorland junction. Sunk in a pleasing lethargy, I sat with my eyes closed, and then covertly took a glance at my companion. He had abandoned the Missionary Child and was reading a little dun-coloured book, and marking passages with a pencil. His face was absorbed, and it was a new face, not the vacant, good-humoured look of the garrulous bagman, but something shrewd, purposeful, and formidable. I remained hunched up as if still sleeping, and tried to see what the book was. But my eyes, good as they are, could make out nothing of the text or title, except that I had a very strong impression that that book was not written in the English tongue.

I woke abruptly, and leaned over to him. Quick as lightning he slid his pencil up his sleeve and turned on me with a fatuous smile.

‘What d’ye make o’ this, Mr McCaskie? It’s a wee book I picked up at a roup along with fifty others. I paid five shillings for the lot. It looks like Gairman, but in my young days they didna teach us foreign languages.’

I took the thing and turned over the pages, trying to keep any sign of intelligence out of my face. It was German right enough, a little manual of hydrography with no publisher’s name on it. It had the look of the kind of textbook a Government department might issue to its officials.

I handed it back. ‘It’s either German or Dutch. I’m not much of a scholar, barring a little French and the Latin I got at Heriot’s Hospital . . . This is an awful slow train, Mr Linklater.’

The soldiers were playing nap, and the bagman proposed a game of cards. I remembered in time that I was an elder in the Nethergate U.F. Church and refused with some asperity. After that I shut my eyes again, for I wanted to think out this new phenomenon.

The fellow knew German — that was clear. He had also been seen in Gresson’s company. I didn’t believe he suspected me, though I suspected him profoundly. It was my business to keep strictly to my part and give him no cause to doubt me. He was clearly practising his own part on me, and I must appear to take him literally on his professions. So, presently, I woke up and engaged him in a disputatious conversation about the morality of selling strong liquors. He responded readily, and put the case for alcohol with much point and vehemence. The discussion interested the soldiers, and one of them, to show he was on Linklater’s side, produced a flask and offered him a drink. I concluded by observing morosely that the bagman had been a better man when he peddled books for Alexander Matheson, and that put the closure on the business.

That train was a record. It stopped at every station, and in the afternoon it simply got tired and sat down in the middle of a moor and reflected for an hour. I stuck my head out of the window now and then, and smelt the rooty fragrance of bogs, and when we halted on a bridge I watched the trout in the pools of the brown river. Then I slept and smoked alternately, and began to get furiously hungry.

Once I woke to hear the soldiers discussing the war. There was an argument between a lance-corporal in the Camerons and a sapper private about some trivial incident on the Somme.

‘I tell ye I was there,’ said the Cameron. ‘We were relievin’ the Black Watch, and Fritz was shelling the road, and we didna get up to the line till one o’clock in the mornin’. Frae Frickout Circus to the south end o’ the High Wood is every bit o’ five mile.’

‘Not abune three,’ said the sapper dogmatically.

‘Man, I’ve trampit it.’

‘Same here. I took up wire every nicht for a week.’

The Cameron looked moodily round the company. ‘I wish there was anither man here that kent the place. He wad bear me out. These boys are no good, for they didna join till later. I tell ye it’s five mile.’

‘Three,’ said the sapper.

Tempers were rising, for each of the disputants felt his veracity assailed. It was too hot for a quarrel and I was so drowsy that I was heedless.

‘Shut up, you fools,’ I said. ‘The distance is six kilometres, so you’re both wrong.’

My tone was so familiar to the men that it stopped the wrangle, but it was not the tone of a publisher’s traveller. Mr Linklater cocked his ears.

‘What’s a kilometre, Mr McCaskie?’ he asked blandly.

‘Multiply by five and divide by eight and you get the miles.’

I was on my guard now, and told a long story of a nephew who had been killed on the Somme, and how I had corresponded with the War Office about his case. ‘Besides,’ I said, ‘I’m a great student o’ the newspapers, and I’ve read all the books about the war. It’s a difficult time this for us all, and if you can take a serious interest in the campaign it helps a lot. I mean working out the places on the map and reading Haig’s dispatches.’

‘Just so,’ he said dryly, and I thought he watched me with an odd look in his eyes.

A fresh idea possessed me. This man had been in Gresson’s company, he knew German, he was obviously something very different from what he professed to be. What if he were in the employ of our own Secret Service? I had appeared out of the void at the Kyle, and I had made but a poor appearance as a bagman, showing no knowledge of my own trade. I was in an area interdicted to the ordinary public; and he had good reason to keep an eye on my movements. He was going south, and so was I; clearly we must somehow part company.

‘We change at Muirtown, don’t we?’ I asked. ‘When does the train for the south leave?’

He consulted a pocket timetable. ‘Ten-thirty-three. There’s generally four hours to wait, for we’re due in at six-fifteen. But this auld hearse will be lucky if it’s in by nine.’

His forecast was correct. We rumbled out of the hills into haughlands and caught a glimpse of the North Sea. Then we were hung up while a long goods train passed down the line. It was almost dark when at last we crawled into Muirtown station and disgorged our load of hot and weary soldiery.

I bade an ostentatious farewell to Linklater. ‘Very pleased to have met you. I’ll see you later on the Edinburgh train. I’m for a walk to stretch my legs, and a bite o’ supper.’ I was very determined that the ten-thirty for the south should leave without me.

My notion was to get a bed and a meal in some secluded inn, and walk out next morning and pick up a slow train down the line. Linklater had disappeared towards the guard’s van to find his luggage, and the soldiers were sitting on their packs with that air of being utterly and finally lost and neglected which characterizes the British fighting-man on a journey. I gave up my ticket and, since I had come off a northern train, walked unhindered into the town.

It was market night, and the streets were crowded. Blue-jackets from the Fleet, country-folk in to shop, and every kind of military detail thronged the pavements. Fish-hawkers were crying their wares, and there was a tatterdemalion piper making the night hideous at a corner. I took a tortuous route and finally fixed on a modest-looking public-house in a back street. When I inquired for a room I could find no one in authority, but a slatternly girl informed me that there was one vacant bed, and that I could have ham and eggs in the bar. So, after hitting my head violently against a cross-beam, I stumbled down some steps and entered a frowsty little place smelling of spilt beer and stale tobacco.

The promised ham and eggs proved impossible — there were no eggs to be had in Muirtown that night — but I was given cold mutton and a pint of indifferent ale. There was nobody in the place but two farmers drinking hot whisky and water and discussing with sombre interest the rise in the price of feeding-stuffs. I ate my supper, and was just preparing to find the whereabouts of my bedroom when through the street door there entered a dozen soldiers.

In a second the quiet place became a babel. The men were strictly sober; but they were in that temper of friendliness which demands a libation of some kind. One was prepared to stand treat; he was the leader of the lot, and it was to celebrate the end of his leave that he was entertaining his pals. From where I sat I could not see him, but his voice was dominant. ‘What’s your fancy, jock? Beer for you, Andra? A pint and a dram for me. This is better than vongblong and vongrooge, Davie. Man, when I’m sittin’ in those estamints, as they ca’ them, I often long for a guid Scots public.’

The voice was familiar. I shifted my seat to get a view of the speaker, and then I hastily drew back. It was the Scots Fusilier I had clipped on the jaw in defending Gresson after the Glasgow meeting.

But by a strange fatality he had caught sight of me.

‘Whae’s that i’ the corner?’ he cried, leaving the bar to stare at me. Now it is a queer thing, but if you have once fought with a man, though only for a few seconds, you remember his face, and the scrap in Glasgow had been under a lamp. The jock recognized me well enough.

‘By God!’ he cried, ‘if this is no a bit o’ luck! Boys, here’s the man I feucht wi’ in Glesca. Ye mind I telled ye about it. He laid me oot, and it’s my turn to do the same wi’ him. I had a notion I was gaun to mak’ a nicht o’t. There’s naebody can hit Geordie Hamilton without Geordie gettin’ his ain back some day. Get up, man, for I’m gaun to knock the heid off ye.’

I duly got up, and with the best composure I could muster looked him in the face.

‘You’re mistaken, my friend. I never clapped eyes on you before, and I never was in Glasgow in my life.’

‘That’s a damned lee,’ said the Fusilier. ‘Ye’re the man, and if ye’re no, ye’re like enough him to need a hidin’!’

‘Confound your nonsense!’ I said. ‘I’ve no quarrel with you, and I’ve better things to do than be scrapping with a stranger in a public-house.’

‘Have ye sae? Well, I’ll learn ye better. I’m gaun to hit ye, and then ye’ll hae to fecht whether ye want it or no. Tam, haud my jacket, and see that my drink’s no skailed.’

This was an infernal nuisance, for a row here would bring in the police, and my dubious position would be laid bare. I thought of putting up a fight, for I was certain I could lay out the jock a second time, but the worst of that was that I did not know where the thing would end. I might have to fight the lot of them, and that meant a noble public shindy. I did my best to speak my opponent fair. I said we were all good friends and offered to stand drinks for the party. But the Fusilier’s blood was up and he was spoiling for a row, ably abetted by his comrades. He had his tunic off now and was stamping in front of me with doubled fists.

I did the best thing I could think of in the circumstances. My seat was close to the steps which led to the other part of the inn. I grabbed my hat, darted up them, and before they realized what I was doing had bolted the door behind me. I could hear pandemonium break loose in the bar.

I slipped down a dark passage to another which ran at right angles to it, and which seemed to connect the street door of the inn itself with the back premises. I could hear voices in the little hall, and that stopped me short.

One of them was Linklater’s, but he was not talking as Linklater had talked. He was speaking educated English. I heard another with a Scots accent, which I took to be the landlord’s, and a third which sounded like some superior sort of constable’s, very prompt and official. I heard one phrase, too, from Linklater —‘He calls himself McCaskie.’ Then they stopped, for the turmoil from the bar had reached the front door. The Fusilier and his friends were looking for me by the other entrance.

The attention of the men in the hall was distracted, and that gave me a chance. There was nothing for it but the back door. I slipped through it into a courtyard and almost tumbled over a tub of water. I planted the thing so that anyone coming that way would fall over it. A door led me into an empty stable, and from that into a lane. It was all absurdly easy, but as I started down the lane I heard a mighty row and the sound of angry voices. Someone had gone into the tub and I hoped it was Linklater. I had taken a liking to the Fusilier jock.

There was the beginning of a moon somewhere, but that lane was very dark. I ran to the left, for on the right it looked like a cul-de-sac. This brought me into a quiet road of two-storied cottages which showed at one end the lights of a street. So I took the other way, for I wasn’t going to have the whole population of Muirtown on the hue-and-cry after me. I came into a country lane, and I also came into the van of the pursuit, which must have taken a short cut. They shouted when they saw me, but I had a small start, and legged it down that road in the belief that I was making for open country.

That was where I was wrong. The road took me round to the other side of the town, and just when I was beginning to think I had a fair chance I saw before me the lights of a signal-box and a little to the left of it the lights of the station. In half an hour’s time the Edinburgh train would be leaving, but I had made that impossible. Behind me I could hear the pursuers, giving tongue like hound puppies, for they had attracted some pretty drunken gentlemen to their party. I was badly puzzled where to turn, when I noticed outside the station a long line of blurred lights, which could only mean a train with the carriage blinds down. It had an engine attached and seemed to be waiting for the addition of a couple of trucks to start. It was a wild chance, but the only one I saw. I scrambled across a piece of waste ground, climbed an embankment and found myself on the metals. I ducked under the couplings and got on the far side of the train, away from the enemy.

Then simultaneously two things happened. I heard the yells of my pursuers a dozen yards off, and the train jolted into motion. I jumped on the footboard, and looked into an open window. The compartment was packed with troops, six a side and two men sitting on the floor, and the door was locked. I dived headforemost through the window and landed on the neck of a weary warrior who had just dropped off to sleep.

While I was falling I made up my mind on my conduct. I must be intoxicated, for I knew the infinite sympathy of the British soldier towards those thus overtaken. They pulled me to my feet, and the man I had descended on rubbed his skull and blasphemously demanded explanations.

‘Gen’lmen,’ I hiccoughed, ‘I ‘pologize. I was late for this bl-blighted train and I mus’ be in E’inburgh ‘morrow or I’ll get the sack. I ‘pologize. If I’ve hurt my friend’s head, I’ll kiss it and make it well.’

At this there was a great laugh. ‘Ye’d better accept, Pete,’ said one. ‘It’s the first time anybody ever offered to kiss your ugly heid.’

A man asked me who I was, and I appeared to be searching for a card-case.

‘Losht,’ I groaned. ‘Losht, and so’s my wee bag and I’ve bashed my po’ hat. I’m an awful sight, gen’lmen — an awful warning to be in time for trains. I’m John Johnstone, managing clerk to Messrs Watters, Brown & Elph’stone, 923 Charl’tte Street, E’inburgh. I’ve been up north seein’ my mamma.’

‘Ye should be in France,’ said one man.

‘Wish’t I was, but they wouldn’t let me. “Mr Johnstone,” they said, “ye’re no dam good. Ye’ve varicose veins and a bad heart,” they said. So I says, “Good mornin’, gen’lmen. Don’t blame me if the country’s ru’ned”. That’s what I said.’

I had by this time occupied the only remaining space left on the floor. With the philosophy of their race the men had accepted my presence, and were turning again to their own talk. The train had got up speed, and as I judged it to be a special of some kind I looked for few stoppings. Moreover it was not a corridor carriage, but one of the old-fashioned kind, so I was safe for a time from the unwelcome attention of conductors. I stretched my legs below the seat, rested my head against the knees of a brawny gunner, and settled down to make the best of it.

My reflections were not pleasant. I had got down too far below the surface, and had the naked feeling you get in a dream when you think you have gone to the theatre in your nightgown. I had had three names in two days, and as many characters. I felt as if I had no home or position anywhere, and was only a stray dog with everybody’s hand and foot against me. It was an ugly sensation, and it was not redeemed by any acute fear or any knowledge of being mixed up in some desperate drama. I knew I could easily go on to Edinburgh, and when the police made trouble, as they would, a wire to Scotland Yard would settle matters in a couple of hours. There wasn’t a suspicion of bodily danger to restore my dignity. The worst that could happen would be that Ivery would hear of my being befriended by the authorities, and the part I had settled to play would be impossible. He would certainly hear. I had the greatest respect for his intelligence service.

Yet that was bad enough. So far I had done well. I had put Gresson off the scent. I had found out what Bullivant wanted to know, and I had only to return unostentatiously to London to have won out on the game. I told myself all that, but it didn’t cheer my spirits. I was feeling mean and hunted and very cold about the feet.

But I have a tough knuckle of obstinacy in me which makes me unwilling to give up a thing till I am fairly choked off it. The chances were badly against me. The Scottish police were actively interested in my movements and would be ready to welcome me at my journey’s end. I had ruined my hat, and my clothes, as Amos had observed, were not respectable. I had got rid of a four-days’ beard the night before, but had cut myself in the process, and what with my weather-beaten face and tangled hair looked liker a tinker than a decent bagman. I thought with longing of my portmanteau in the Pentland Hotel, Edinburgh, and the neat blue serge suit and the clean linen that reposed in it. It was no case for a subtle game, for I held no cards. Still I was determined not to chuck in my hand till I was forced to. If the train stopped anywhere I would get out, and trust to my own wits and the standing luck of the British Army for the rest.

The chance came just after dawn, when we halted at a little junction. I got up yawning and tried to open the door, till I remembered it was locked. Thereupon I stuck my legs out of the window on the side away from the platform, and was immediately seized upon by a sleepy Seaforth who thought I contemplated suicide.

‘Let me go,’ I said. ‘I’ll be back in a jiffy.’

‘Let him gang, jock,’ said another voice. ‘Ye ken what a man’s like when he’s been on the bash. The cauld air’ll sober him.’

I was released, and after some gymnastics dropped on the metals and made my way round the rear of the train. As I clambered on the platform it began to move, and a face looked out of one of the back carriages. It was Linklater and he recognized me. He tried to get out, but the door was promptly slammed by an indignant porter. I heard him protest, and he kept his head out till the train went round the curve. That cooked my goose all right. He would wire to the police from the next station.

Meantime in that clean, bare, chilly place there was only one traveller. He was a slim young man, with a kit-bag and a gun-case. His clothes were beautiful, a green Homburg hat, a smart green tweed overcoat, and boots as brightly polished as a horse chestnut. I caught his profile as he gave up his ticket and to my amazement I recognized it.

The station-master looked askance at me as I presented myself, dilapidated and dishevelled, to the official gaze. I tried to speak in a tone of authority.

‘Who is the man who has just gone out?’

‘Whaur’s your ticket?’

‘I had no time to get one at Muirtown, and as you see I have left my luggage behind me. Take it out of that pound and I’ll come back for the change. I want to know if that was Sir Archibald Roylance.’

He looked suspiciously at the note. ‘I think that’s the name. He’s a captain up at the Fleein’ School. What was ye wantin’ with him?’

I charged through the booking-office and found my man about to enter a big grey motor-car.

‘Archie,’ I cried and beat him on the shoulders.

He turned round sharply. ‘What the devil —! Who are you?’ And then recognition crept into his face and he gave a joyous shout. ‘My holy aunt! The General disguised as Charlie Chaplin! Can I drive you anywhere, sir?’

http://ebooks.adelaide.edu.au/b/buchan/john/mr_standfast/chapter8.html

Last updated Wednesday, March 12, 2014 at 13:32