The Island of Sheep, by John Buchan

Chapter 5

Haraldsen’s Son

The Clanroydens went off to Laverlaw for a fortnight, Sandy to fish his Border burns, and Barbara to attend to her garden, and I was settling down to my farming, when I got a letter from Lombard. I had heard nothing of him since our meeting in the train the previous autumn. He had not invited me for a week-end as he had suggested — at which I rejoiced, for I would have had to invent some excuse for refusing; nor had he repeated his proposal to lunch together in London.

His letter began with apologies for this neglect; he had been very busy all winter and had had to make two trips abroad. But now he wanted to see me — wanted to see me urgently. Was there any chance of my being in town in the coming week, and if so, could we meet? He would keep any appointment, but he suggested luncheon and then going back to his office to talk. I couldn’t imagine what he had to say to me, and I had an unpleasant suspicion that he wanted me for one of his financial ventures, but, as I had to go to London on other business, I had no grounds for declining. So I wired asking him to lunch at my own club, a quiet place with a smoking-room on the top floor which we could have to ourselves.

Lombard was looking worried, and he had also a heavy cold. His ruddy face had gone white, his eyes watered, and his voice was like a cracked tin-can. He had been drenched golfing, he told me, and the east wind had done the rest. But his bodily ailment was the least of his troubles, and I had the impression that this plump, four-square personage had been badly shaken. At luncheon I made him drink hot whisky-and-water, but he only picked at his food, and had very little conversation. There was something on his mind, and I was glad when I got him to the upper smoking-room, settled him in an armchair, and told him to get on with it.

His first question startled me.

‘Do you remember a chap called Haraldsen?’ he asked. ‘Thirty years ago in Rhodesia? The time I went on trek with you when I was on my way home?’

‘I do,’ I said. ‘Oddly enough I was talking about him last week.’

‘Well, I’ve seen him.’

‘Then you’ve seen a ghost,’ I replied; ‘for he is dead.’

He opened his rheumy eyes.

‘I don’t mean the old man — I mean his son. But how do you know that Haraldsen is dead? The young one doesn’t know it.’

‘Never mind,’ I said. ‘It’s too long a story to tell you now, but it’s a fact. What about the young one? I knew there was a son, but I never heard anything about him. What sort of age?’

‘Over thirty. Perhaps nearer forty. He wrote to me and asked for an interview — found my name in the telephone-book — didn’t say what he wanted. I thought he might have something to do with a Swedish wood-pulp proposition, for I’ve been doing a little in that line lately, so I agreed to see him, though I was very busy. I had completely forgotten the name, and it never suggested Rhodesia.’

He stopped, and then broke out quite fiercely. ‘Why on earth should it? It’s all more than thirty years ago, and I’ve long ago buried the callow boy who went vapouring about Africa. Hang it all, I’ve made a position for myself. Next year I hope to be a Director of the Bank of England. I’ve my reputation to consider. You see that, don’t you?’

I didn’t know what he was driving at, but it was plain that Lombard was no longer the sleek suburbanite. Something had jostled him out of his rut.

‘But there was nothing in the old Haraldsen business to hurt your credit,’ I said. ‘So far as I remember, you behaved well. There’s no skeleton in that cupboard.’

‘Wait till you hear,’ he replied dismally. ‘This chap came to my office, and he told me a dashed silly story. Oh, a regular blood-and-thunder yarn of how he was in an awful mess, with a lot of crooks out gunning for him. I didn’t follow him very clearly, for he was in a pitiable state of nerves, and now and then lost command of the English language altogether. But the gist of it was that he was in deadly danger, and that his enemies would get him unless he found the right kind of friends. I don’t know how much was true, but I could see that he believed it all. There must be some truth in it, for he didn’t look a fool, and I’ll swear that he’s honest.’

He stopped, and I waited, for I guessed what was coming.

‘He asked me to help him,’ Lombard continued, ‘though God knows what he thought I could do. I’m not a Cabinet Minister or a Chief of Police. Did you ever hear anything more preposterous?’

‘Never,’ I said heartily — and waited.

‘He had got it into his head that he had some claim on me. Said I once helped his father in a tight place, and that his father had sworn me to stand by him if called upon — or by his son. Apparently the old man had put it all down in writing, and this Haraldsen had the document.’

‘Well, it’s not the kind of thing you could sue on,’ I said cheerfully.

‘I know that. . . . But, I say, Hannay, do you remember the occasion?’

‘Perfectly. We stood on the top of a kopje in the moonlight, and the old boy swore us by one of his Viking oaths. Oh, I remember it all right.’

‘So do I,’ said Lombard miserably. ‘Well, what the devil is to be done about it?’

‘Nothing,’ I said stoutly. I had sized up Lombard, and I realized that to expect this sedentary middle-aged fellow to take a hand in a wild business was beyond all reason. My old liking for him had returned, and I didn’t want him to have an uneasy conscience. But what puzzled me was why young Haraldsen had gone to him. ‘There were three of us in it,’ I said. ‘You and I and Peter Pienaar. Peter is in a better world, but I’m still to the fore. Why didn’t he tackle me? I had much more to do with his father than you had.’

‘Perhaps he didn’t think of you as a major-general with a title. He probably heard my name in the City. Anyhow, there we are, and an infernal worrying business it is.’

‘My dear chap, you needn’t worry,’ I said. ‘We have all been foolish in our young days, and we can’t be expected to go on living up to our folly. If I had made a pact with a man when I was twenty-one to climb Everest, and he turned up today and wanted to hold me to it, I should tell him to go to blazes. But I should like to hear more of young Haraldsen’s yarn.’

‘I didn’t get it quite straight,’ he replied, ‘for the fellow was too excited. Besides, I didn’t try to, for I could think of nothing except that ridiculous performance in Rhodesia. But I jotted down one or two names he mentioned, the names of the people he was afraid of.’ From his pocket he took a sheet of notepaper. ‘Troth,’ he read, ‘Lancelot Troth. And a name which may be Albius or Albion — I didn’t ask him to spell it. Oh, and Barralty — you know, the company-promoter that came down in the Lepcha goldfield business.’

This made me open my eyes. ‘God bless my soul, but Troth is dead. You know that yourself, for you saw old Peter Pienaar account for him. Your second name is probably Albinus — you must remember him too. If he’s still alive I can’t think what the Devil is waiting for. Barralty I know nothing about. I tell you what, Lombard, this all sounds to me like sheer hallucination. Young Haraldsen has come on Troth and Albinus in his father’s papers, and has let himself be hagridden by ghosts from the past. Most likely the man is crazy.’

He shook his head. ‘He didn’t impress me that way. Scared if you like, but quite sane. Anyhow, what do you advise me to do about it? He made an appeal to me — he was almost weeping — and I had to promise to give him an answer. My answer is due tomorrow.’

‘I think you had better turn the thing over to me,’ I said. ‘I’ve had some news lately about old Haraldsen, and I’d like to meet his son. Have you got his address?’

‘I know how to get on to him. He’s desperately secretive, but he gave me a telephone number which I could ring up and leave a message for a Mr. Bosworth.’

‘Well, send the message. I must go home tomorrow, but to-night I’m free. Tell him to dine with me here to-night at eight. Give him my name, and mention that I was deeper in the old business than you were. If the thing’s genuine, he is bound to have some record of me. If it’s bogus, he’ll never turn up.’

‘What will you do with him?’ he asked.

‘I’ll cross-examine him and riddle out the business. I know enough about old Haraldsen to be able to cross-examine with some effect. I suspect that the whole thing is a lunatic’s fancy, for there’s a good deal of lunacy in the Northern races. In that case, you and I will be able to go to bed in peace.’

‘But if it’s serious?’ he asked, and his face showed that he had not much doubt about that.

‘Oh, if there’s anything in it, I suppose I must take a hand. After all, I was a pretty close friend of his father, which you never were. You needn’t worry about the Moonlight Sonata stuff, for I put nothing on that. That was only old Haraldsen’s taste for melodrama. Consider yourself as clean out of the affair, like Peter Pienaar. You’ve been a responsible citizen for the better part of thirty years, with a big business to manage and a settled life and all the rest of it. No sane man would expect you to butt into a show of this kind. Besides, you’d be no sort of good at it. I’ve settled down, too, but I’ve led a different kind of life from you, and crime is a little bit more in my line. I’ve made several excursions into the under-world, and I know some of the ropes.’

There was an odd change in his face, which had hitherto registered only anxiety. I could have sworn that he was getting cross.

‘If you were in my position, would you take that advice?’ he asked in a flat voice.

‘Most certainly I should,’ I replied.

‘You’re a good fellow, Hannay,’ he said, ‘and you mean well. But you’re a damned liar. If you were in my position, you’d do nothing of the kind, and you’d have the blood of anybody who advised you to. I can see what you take me for — I could see it in your eyes when we foregathered in the train. You believe I’m a fatted calf that has made a success in the City, and thinks only of his bank balance and his snug house, and his Saturday’s golf. You believe that I’m the sort of herring-gutted creature that would take any insult lying down, or at the best run round to my solicitors. Well, you’re wrong. I’ve had a soft life compared to you, but it hasn’t been all fur-lined. I’ve had to take plenty of risks, and some of them mighty big ones. I had no wish to see you again after we met last autumn, for I saw that you despised me, and I didn’t see how I could ever get you to change your mind. You’re right in some ways. I’m a bit flabby and out of training in body and mind. But by God you’re wrong about the main thing. I’ve never gone back on my word or funked a duty. And I’m not going to begin now. If there’s anything in Haraldsen’s story, my promise stands, and I’m in the business up to my neck, the same as you. If you don’t agree to that, then you’ll jolly well stand out, and I’ll take it on myself.’

I felt the blood surging to my cheeks. Lombard had got up from his chair, and I had done the same, and we stood staring at each other across the hearth-rug. I saw in his face what I had missed altogether on the last occasion we met, a stubborn resolution and a shining honesty. In spite of his baldness and fleshiness and bleared eyes and snuffling, he looked twenty years younger. I recognized in him the boy I had known in Equatoria, and I felt as if I had suddenly recovered an old friend.

‘Never mind what I thought,’ I said. ‘If I thought as you say I did I made a howling mistake and I grovel in apologies. We’ve picked up our friendship where we left it at Mafudi’s kraal, and we’ll see this thing through together.’

All the anger had gone out of his face.

‘Mafudi,’ he repeated. ‘Yes, that’s the name. I couldn’t get to sleep last night for trying to remember it.’

I had two things to think about that evening. One was the revelation I had had of the true Lombard. That gave me extraordinary pleasure, for it seemed to remove the suspicion I had had all winter that I was myself old and stale and that all my youth had gone. If the fire still burned in this padded City magnate, it could not have died altogether in me. The second thing was Haraldsen, and I confess I felt solemn when I reflected that the week before Sandy Clanroyden had brought news of him out of the remotest East, news acquired by the wildest of chances. I had an eerie sense that this was all a sort of preparation engineered by Providence.

Lombard telephoned to me that ‘Mr. Bosworth’ would come to my club at eight o’clock. There was nobody in the smoking-room as I waited for my guest, and I remember trying to imagine what kind of fellow I should meet, and to reconstruct a younger version of old Haraldsen.

I got one of the shocks of my life when he appeared. For it was the man Smith, whom Peter John and I had met in the Rose and Crown at Hanham.

His surprise when he saw me was quite equal to mine.

‘You!’ he cried. ‘Oh, thank God, I have found you. I never dreamed. . . . ’

‘You heard my name at Hanham,’ I said.

‘Ah, but I was looking for a South African engineer called Dick Hannay. In you I saw only an English general and a grandee. I took to you then — I do not know when I have so taken to a man, for I saw that you were wise and kind. But I did not imagine that you were my Dick Hannay.’

‘Well, I am,’ I said. ‘I’ve seen Lombard, so two of your father’s friends are with you. The third, the pick of the bunch, is dead.’

‘You will stand beside me?’ he stammered.

‘Certainly,’ I said. ‘You may count us both in. Lombard told me that this afternoon.’

It was wonderful to see the effect these words had on him. As I have said, he was a very big fellow, but he slouched as if he were afraid of his size, and he had a shy, confused manner, like a large thing trying to hide behind something too small to cover it. He had cut an odd enough figure at Hanham, but in London he was clean out of the picture. When he entered the room my impression had been of a being altogether maladjusted to his environment, out of focus, so to speak, built on a wrong scale. But with his recovery of confidence he became almost normal, and I saw that the bucolic impression I had got of him was false. In his old-fashioned dinner-jacket he was more like a scholar than the farmer I had taken him for. His brow was broad and high, and his eyes had the unmistakable look of having peered a good deal over white paper.

At dinner he told me his story. He had not seen his father for eight years, or heard from him for three years, but it was clear that the old man was the dominant influence in his life. He had been brought up from childhood on a plan. While the elder Haraldsen was ranging the world the younger stayed in Europe, preparing himself for the task for which the former was laying up a fortune. He was to be the leader of the Northern peoples to a new destiny, and from a small boy he was put into the strictest training. First he was to be a master of all Northern learning, and imbibe its spirit. Then he was to know every corner of the North and every type of Northman. After that he was to have a first-class business education and learn how to handle big affairs. The old man’s ambition for his son seemed to have been a kind of blend of Sir Walter Scott and Bismarck and Cecil Rhodes.

Of course, it didn’t work — that kind of scheme never does. The young Valdemar (his Christian name was Valdemar) went stolidly through an immense curriculum, for he was clay in his father’s hands, but the result was not the Admirable Crichton of the old man’s dreams. He went to college in Denmark and Germany; he did two years in a Copenhagen bank; he travelled from Greenland in the west to the White Sea in the east, and even got as far as Spitzbergen, and there were not many places in Scandinavia and its islands on which he had not turned his unseeing eyes. But he did it all as a round of duty, for he had not a spark of his father’s ardour. A scholar indeed he became, and a keen naturalist, but nothing more. He wanted a quiet life, and the future of the Northern races was no more to him than a half-forgotten fairy tale.

So at twenty-six there was Valdemar Haraldsen, sound in wind and limb, stuffed with much curious learning, but with no more ambition than a mole. I gathered that the old man had been disappointed, but had made the best of it. His son was young, so there was still hope, for there must be some fruit from so arduous a sowing. It seemed that his mother had come out of the Norland Isles, the daughter of a long line of what they called King’s Yeomen there. She had inherited an island, and there the elder Haraldsen, on one of his longer sojourns in Europe, had built a house. He seemed to have made a minor hobby of it, for he had spent a good deal of money and filled it with Northern furniture and antiques. He agreed to Valdemar settling down there, after the boy had married with his consent, for no doubt he thought that the genius loci would have something to say to him. But the marriage had soon a tragic ending, for the young wife died with her first child.

I asked about the child.

‘She lives and is well,’ he said. ‘She is now in her thirteenth year. She is at a school in England.’

He had stayed on in his lonely isle, and I gathered had become a good deal of a recluse, rarely coming south, and filling his time with his hobbies, which were principally natural history and an inquiry into the interaction of the old Norse and Celtic peoples.

‘But I was happy,’ he said in his gentle voice. ‘I was indeed always anxious about my father, who did not come to me and would not permit me to go to him. But I had my girl Anna with me till she was of age for school, and I had my house and my books and my little kingdom. And I had good health and a quiet mind.’

‘You’re well off?’ I asked.

A pained look came into his eyes, as if his mind had been engaged with pleasant things and now saw something hideous.

‘I believe I am very rich,’ he said slowly. ‘I do not know how rich, for money has never interested me. There are bankers in Copenhagen who look after these things for me, and they tell me I need not stint myself.’

I thought what bad luck it was on old Haraldsen to go on piling up a fortune for a son who never wanted to hear how much it was.

‘Well,’ I said, ‘I think I’ve got the lay-out. You’ve been squatting peacefully up in your island while your father has been gold-digging in the ends of the earth. What has happened now? What is the trouble?’

‘The trouble,’ he said slowly, and his eyes were full of pain again, ‘is that I have lost my quiet mind.’

Then he told me, with long stops when he seemed to be hunting for words, the following story.

Two years before he had had a letter from a London firm of solicitors who said that they wrote on behalf of a client who had a claim on his father, and asked for his father’s address. He replied that he did not know where his father was, and thought no more about it. Then came a second letter, asking whether the old man was alive or dead, and Haraldsen duly replied that he couldn’t be sure, but hoped for the best. After that he was informed that an action at law would be begun, and that, if his father did not appear, an attempt would be made to have his death presumed, so that recourse might be had against his estate. I didn’t quite get the hang of the argument, for Valdemar was not very clear himself. The correspondence was all perfectly civil in tone, but the last letter gave him a nasty shock, for the solicitors disclosed that their client was a Mr. Lancelot Troth.

Now Valdemar had a great quantity of his father’s papers, which he had been at pains to read and arrange, and among them were records of his old days in Africa, and especially of his early work on the Rand. The name of Troth appeared in some of them. Troth had been the old man’s partner at one time and had tried to swindle him. There had been a terrific row, and Troth had cleared out, but Haraldsen had been certain that he would come back again and make mischief. He took the trouble to write out a detailed statement of the case, and Valdemar said that it left the impression on him that while Troth was no doubt a rogue, he might have had some kind of a grievance, and that his father’s conscience was not quite easy about the business.

Among the papers, too, was a full account of the affair at the Hill of the Blue Leopard, and of how he had sworn three men, Lombard, Peter Pienaar, and myself, to stand by him or his son, if there was any further trouble on that score. The funny thing was that he did not mention that Troth had been killed. He seemed to have the Saga notion that a vendetta went on from generation to generation, and that Troth’s son, if he had one, might make things unpleasant for his own son. He mentioned Albinus too, who had apparently been a subordinate figure in the first row on the Rand, but a leader at Mafudi’s.

So when Valdemar saw the name of Troth in the solicitors’ letter he began to feel uncomfortable. I gathered that his father had been very solemn about the affair, and had gone out of his way to warn his son. Valdemar did his best to put the thing out of his head, but not with much success. And then he got a letter signed Lancelot Troth which had effectively scared him. The lawyers’ correspondence had been, so to speak, only ranging shots, and now the guns started in earnest.

The writer said that his father had been grievously wronged by the old Haraldsen, and that he demanded restitution. If the old man was dead, or lost to the world, the son must pay, for he had ascertained that he was very rich. There need be no unpleasantness, if the writer were fairly treated, for he was convinced that his claim must be patent to any reasonable man. He suggested that a meeting should be arranged in Copenhagen or London, to which Valdemar could bring one adviser, while he, Troth, would bring his partner, Mr. Erick Albinus, who was a party to his claim. There was no talk now of any legal action. It was a straight personal demand to stand and deliver.

Valdemar was mightily put out, and, not being a man of the world, would in all likelihood have done something silly — seen Troth, agreed to his terms, and so put himself in his power for the rest of his life. But luckily he met an Englishman who came up that summer to fish in the Norlands, and in the course of conversation asked him some vague questions, in which he managed to mention Troth’s name. The Englishman was a well-known barrister whose practice was largely at the Old Bailey, and he could tell him a good deal about Troth, though he had never heard of Albinus. Troth had succeeded to his father’s business as a solicitor, and bore a pretty shady repute. The fisherman described him as one who didn’t stick at trifles, but had so far been clever enough to keep on the sunny side of the law. He was believed to be at the moment in the environs of Queer Street, for he was mixed up with Barralty in the Lepcha Reef flotation, and that was beginning to look ugly. ‘I hate the fellow,’ said the Englishman, ‘but I wouldn’t go out of my way to cross him. He has an eye like a gunman’s, and a jowl like a prizefighter.’

That talk opened Valdemar’s eyes to the dangers of his position. He had sense enough to see that it was a case of large-sized blackmail, and that any sum he paid would only be a lever for further extortions till he was bled white. He went off his sleep, and worried himself into a fever, for he couldn’t decide what his next step should be.

While he was still cogitating he got a second letter from Troth. Mr. Haraldsen need not trouble to come south, for the writer was about to pay a visit to the Norlands in his friend Mr. Barralty’s yacht. He proposed a meeting in Hjalmarshavn some three weeks ahead.

This screwed Valdemar up to the point of action. Alone on his island he was at the mercy of any gang of miscreants that chose to visit him. His ignorance of the world made him imagine terrible things. He hungered for human society, for a crowd in which he could hide himself. So he buried his papers and some of the things he most valued, shut up his house, left the island to the care of his steward, and along with his daughter fled from the Norlands. He left an address in Copenhagen for forwarding letters, but he did not mean to go there, for he was known in Denmark and would be recognized. He determined to go to London, where he would be utterly obscure.

Troth and his friend duly arrived in the Norlands. They visited the Island of Sheep — this was the name of Valdemar’s place — and, when they found it empty, pretty well ransacked the house, just like so many pirates from the sea. But they did no mischief, for they were playing a bigger game. Valdemar heard of this from his steward, his letter going first to his bank in Copenhagen, then to a friend in Sweden, and finally to his English address. He placed his child in an English school, and took to wandering about the country, calling himself Smith and other names, and never staying long in one place. He heard of the crash of the Lepcha Reef and Barralty’s difficulties, and realized that this would make the gang keener than ever on his scent. He had letters from Troth — three I think — and the last fairly put the wind up. ‘You have refused to meet me frankly,’ said Troth, ‘and you have run away, but don’t imagine you can escape me. I will follow you till I track you down, though I have to give up my life to the job, and the price you will have to pay will double with each month I have to wait.’ It was brigandage now, naked brigandage.

I am not sure that I believed all this tale, but there was one thing I couldn’t doubt — Valdemar believed it, and was sweating with terror. That big man, who should have marched stoutly through life, had eyes like a hunted deer’s.

‘What an infernal nuisance for you!’ I said. ‘You can’t go home, because of the threats of those scallywags! Well, anyhow, you’re safe enough here, and can have an easy mind till we think out some plan.’

‘I am not safe here,’ he said solemnly. ‘At first I thought that no one knew me in England. But I was wrong. They have had descriptions of me — photographs — from the Norlands and from Copenhagen. They have found people who can identify me.. .. One day in the street I saw a barber from Denmark who has often shaved me, and he recognized me, and tried to follow me. He is a poor man and would not have come here on his own account. He has been brought to London. The net is drawing in on me, and I know from many small things that they are very close on my trail. I change my dwelling often, but I feel that I cannot long escape them. So I am very desperate, and that is why I have sought out my father’s friends.’

He sat huddled in his chair, his chin sunk on his breast, the image of impotence and despair. I realized that Lombard and I were going to have a difficult job with him. I had an uneasy suspicion, as I looked at him, that his story might be all moonshine, the hallucination of a lonely neurotic, and I wished I had never heard of him. Keeping a promise was one thing, but nursing a lunatic was quite another.

‘It is not only for myself I fear,’ he said in a leaden voice. ‘There is my little daughter. I dare not visit her in case they follow me. They might kidnap her, and then I should assuredly go mad.’

To that I had nothing to say, for the mention of kidnapping always made me windy. I had had too much of it in the affair with Medina, which I have already written about.*

‘There is my father, too,’ he went on. ‘He may at any moment go to the Norlands or come to England, and I cannot warn him.’

‘You needn’t worry about that,’ I said gently. ‘Your father died two years ago — at a place called Gutok, in Chinese Tibet.’ And I repeated briefly what Sandy Clanroyden had told me.

You never saw such a change in a man. The news seemed to pull him together and put light into his eyes. To him, apparently, it was not a matter of grief, but of comfort.

‘Thesauro feliciter invento,’ he repeated. ‘Then he succeeded — he has died happy. I cannot sorrow for him, for he has greatly ended a great life.’

He put his chin on his hand and brooded, and in that moment I was possessed by one of those queer irrational convictions which I have always made a habit of accepting, for I have never found them wrong. This Valdemar Haraldsen was as sane as myself, and he was in deadly peril. I believed implicitly every word of his tale, and my duty to help him was plain as a pikestaff. My first business must be to tuck him away comfortably somewhere out of the road.

I asked him where he was living and if he was sure he had not been followed here. He said that he had only moved into his new quarters two days before, and was pretty certain that he was safe for the moment. ‘But not for long,’ he added dismally.

‘Well, you must clear out,’ I said. ‘Tomorrow you pack your kit. You are coming to stay with me for a little. I will go down by an earlier train, for we shouldn’t be seen together. Put on your oldest clothes and travel third-class — I’ll send my keeper to meet you, and he’ll bring you up in the old Ford. Your name is still Bosworth.’

I fixed up a train, offered him a whisky-and-soda, which he declined, and saw him shamble off in the direction of his Bayswater lodgings. He looked like a store-farmer who had borrowed an ancient suit of his father’s dress-clothes, and that was the rôle I wanted him to play. Then I rang up Macgillivray in his Mount Street rooms, found that he was at home, and went round to see him.

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