The Island of Sheep, by John Buchan

Chapter 9

Lochinvar

Next day the heat-wave broke in a deluge, and by midday the Laver was coloured and by the evening in roaring spate. Peter John and I went out before dinner, and got a heavy basket with the worm in the pools above the park. The following morning it still drizzled, and we did well in the tributary burns with the fly known locally as the black spider. Burn-fishing has always had its charms for me, for no two casts are the same, and I love the changing scenery of each crook in the little glens. But after luncheon Peter John’s soul aspired to higher things. There was a tarn six miles off in the hills called the Black Loch, a mossy hole half overgrown with yellow water-lilies and uncommonly difficult to fish. We had tried it before in a quiet gloaming and had had no luck, though we had seen big trout feeding. Sim had always declared that it only fished well after rain, when its sluggish inmates were stirred by the swollen runnels from the hills. So we set off with Oliver and Geordie Hamilton, warning Barbara that we might be late for dinner.

We did not return till half-past nine. The weather cleared, the sun came out, and the warm evening was a kind of carnival for the Black Loch trout. They took whatever we offered them, but for every five fish hooked four broke us or dropped off. We had to cast over an infernal belt of water-lilies and pond-weed, which meant a long line and a loose line. It was impossible to wade far out, for the bottom was treacherous, and once I went down to the waist. To land a fish we had to drag him by brute force through the water-weeds, and, as we were fishing far and fine, that usually meant disaster. There were two spits of gravel in the loch, and the only chance with a big one was to try to manoeuvre him towards one of these, not an easy job, since one had practically no purchase on him. Peter John, who was far the better performer, managed this successfully with two noble fellows, each nearly two pounds in weight, but he too had many failures. Nevertheless, between us we had two dozen and three fish, a total weight of just over twenty-seven pounds, the best basket that had been taken out of the Black Loch in Oliver’s memory.

These two days’ fishing had put everything else out of my mind, a trick fishing always has with me. As we tramped home over the dusky sweet-scented moors I had no thought except a bath and dinner. But as we approached the house I was suddenly recalled to my senses. Before the front door stood a big and very dirty car, from which a man in a raincoat had descended. He had no hat, he seemed to have a baldish head and a red face mottled with mud, and his whole air was of fatigue and dishevelment. He was in the act of helping another figure to alight, which looked like a girl. And then suddenly there was a noise in the house, and from it Haraldsen emerged, shouting like a lunatic. He plucked the girl from the car, and stood hugging and kissing her.

When we got nearer I saw that the man was Lombard, but very unlike the spruce city magnate with whom I had been lately connected. He looked tired and dirty but content, and somehow younger, more like the Lombard I remembered in Africa. ‘Thank God we’re here at last,’ he said. ‘It’s been a roughish passage. . . . What do I want most? First a bath, and then food — a lot of it, for we’ve been living on biscuits. I’ve brought no kit, so you must lend me some clothes to change into.’ As for Haraldsen, he went on behaving like a maniac, patting the girl’s shoulder and holding her as if he thought that any moment she might disappear. ‘My happiness is complete,’ he kept declaring. This went on till Barbara and Mary appeared and swept the child off with them.

I provided Lombard with a suit of flannels, and we ate an enormous late supper — at least four of us did, while the other three, who had already dined, looked on. The girl Anna appeared in a pleated blue skirt and a white blouse, the uniform, I supposed, of her school. She was a tall child for her years, and ridiculously blonde, almost bleached. She had a crop of fair hair which looked white in certain lights, a pale face, and features almost too mature, for the full curve of her chin was that of a woman rather than a girl. There was no colour about her except in her eyes, and I thought that Haraldsen deserved something better than this plain, drab child. I had whispered that to Mary in the hall before supper, and she had laughed at me. ‘You’re a blind donkey, Dick,’ she had said. ‘Some day she will be a raging beauty, with that ivory skin and those sea-blue eyes.’

When we had eaten, Haraldsen went off with the women to put Anna to bed and to look after her wardrobe, for she also was kit-less. Lombard had a couple of glasses of Sandy’s famous port, and when we adjourned to the smoking-room, where a peat fire was burning, he stacked himself in an armchair with an air of great content. ‘First score for our side,’ he said. ‘But it has been a close thing, I can tell you. Till about ten hours ago I wouldn’t have given twopence for our chances. I’ll have to do the devil of a lot of telegraphing tomorrow, but to-night, thank God! I can sleep in peace.’

Then he told his story, which I give in his own words.

Clanroyden (he said) had your telegram yesterday morning. There was a letter too, you tell me? Well, he hadn’t had that when I left, but you seem to have explained things pretty fully in your wire. He got hold of me at once — luckily I was sleeping in town, having motored up the day before. There were one or two small matters I had to arrange before I took my holiday, and I had finished them and was going home after luncheon.

He said I must get busy — that the other side had probably got the address of Haraldsen’s daughter and might be trusted to act at once. Possibly it was even now too late. I must go down to the school in Northamptonshire and fetch her back to town. He would arrange that she should stay with a great-aunt of his in Sussex Square till he made other plans. He would have gone himself, but he dared not, for he thought he was pretty closely marked, but I was still free from suspicion, and I was the only one to take on the job. He wrote me a chit to the headmistress, Miss Barlock, to say that he was Haraldsen’s — Smith’s, that is to say — greatest friend and managed his affairs, and that he had authority from him to bring his daughter to him in London for a few days in connection with some family business. He thought that would be enough, for the schoolmistress-woman was pretty certain to know his name, and my appearance, too, he said, was a warrant of respectability. I was to bring the girl straight to Sussex Square, where he would be waiting for me. He said he would expect me before four o’clock, but if there was any difficulty I was to wire at once, and he would send down one of the partners in the bank that paid the school fees.

I rather liked the job of saviour of youth, for I felt that I hadn’t been quite pulling my weight in this business, so I started off in my car in good spirits. It was the big Bentley, which I always drive myself. I was at Brewton Ashes by eleven o’clock, a great, raw, red brick building in a fine park, which I believe was one of the seats that old Tomplin, the oil fellow, built for himself before he crashed. Well, I sent up my card to Miss Barlock, but by the mercy of God I didn’t send up Clanroyden’s chit with it. I was told that Miss Barlock was engaged for the moment, and was shown into a drawing-room full of school groups and prize water-colours and great bowls of fine roses. The room rather made me take to the place, for it showed that the people there knew how to grow flowers, and there’s never much wrong with a keen gardener.

I waited for about ten minutes, and then Miss Barlock’s door opened and three people came out. One was Anna, who looked flustered. The others were a man and a woman — a young man in a flannel suit with an O.E. tie, a pleasant-looking toothy chap with a high colour, and a middle-aged woman in a brown linen costume and big specs. A maid took the three downstairs, and I was ushered into the presence of Miss Barlock.

She was slim and grey-haired and bright-eyed, with that air of brisk competence which shy women often cultivate in self-defence. There was obviously nothing wrong with her, but I saw at a glance that she was a precisian and would be a stickler about rules. So some instinct warned me to go canny. Luckily I began by saying only that I was an old friend of Anna Smith’s father, and that I had dropped in to see her and give her a message.

Miss Barlock smiled. ‘It never rains but it pours,’ she said. ‘Dear Anna does not often have visits from friends. Her poor father, of course, has not been down for months. But this morning who should appear but Anna’s cousins? They and Anna must have passed you as you came in. They brought a letter from Mr. Smith, who asked me to allow them to carry off Anna a week before the holidays begin. They propose, I think, a cruise to the Northern capitals. I readily consented, for the child has been rather wilting in the hot weather.’

At this I sat up and thought hard. It looked as if I was too late, and that the other side had got in first. I decided that it wasn’t the slightest good my showing Clanroyden’s chit. The others would have a water-tight case, a letter from Haraldsen himself in a good imitation of his handwriting, which perhaps Miss Barlock recognized, for she must have seen it in his early days in England. I thought how clever they had been in sending down an inconspicuous young man and a rather dowdy woman, instead of some smart female with scarlet lips and a distempered face whom the schoolmistress would have suspected. Those two were the very model of respectable country cousins. I couldn’t discredit them, for if I told Miss Barlock the truth I would only discredit myself. Clanroyden’s letter, even if she didn’t think it a forgery, couldn’t prevail against the ipsissima verba of Haraldsen. I realized I was in a cleft stick and must conduct myself discreetly. The first thing was to see Anna herself.

Miss Barlock glanced at the cards which lay on the writing table. ‘Lady Bletso and her son — he is the young baronet — propose to give Anna luncheon in the Brewton Arms at one o’clock, and then to leave for London. The morning will be occupied in packing Anna’s things.’ I noted a baronetage on the table which had been moved from the stand of reference books. Miss Barlock was a cautious woman and had looked up her visitors before receiving them. I wondered who the true Bletsos were. I had heard of the name in Yorkshire.

I said cordially that I was glad that Anna’s relations were carrying her off for a cruise. Excellent thing, I observed fatuously, to expand the mind of the young. But, having come so far, I would like to have a talk with the child, being her father’s friend, and also I had a message to her from him which I had promised to deliver. I would have liked to give her lunch, but since she was engaged for that to her cousins, might we have a short walk in the park together?

Miss Barlock saw no objection. She rang a bell and bade a maid fetch Miss Margesson. Miss Margesson, she informed me, was the girl’s chief friend among the mistresses, had been given special charge of her by her father, and had on more than one occasion accompanied her abroad on holidays. Presently Miss Margesson appeared, and the sight of her gave me my first glimmer of hope. For here was one who had none of the repressions and pedantries of the ordinary schoolmistress. She was a tall girl, with a kind mouth, and clever, merry blue eyes. At all costs I must make her an ally.

‘Anna Smith’s packing is being attended to, Miss Margesson?’ her superior asked. ‘It will be completed in an hour? Very good. A car will come for her at a quarter to one to take her down to the Brewton Arms, where she will meet her cousins. Meantime, this is a friend of Anna’s father who has called to see her. Will you arrange that he has a short walk with Anna in the garden? Yes, now. It cannot be long, I fear, Mr. Lombard,’ she added, turning to me, ‘for Anna will no doubt desire to say good-bye to her mistresses and her friends.’

Miss Margesson took me downstairs and out into a very pretty terraced garden at the back of the house. She went indoors and presently returned with Anna. For the first time I had a proper look at the child, and what I saw rather impressed me. She’s not much of a beauty, as you saw, but I thought that she had an uncommon sensible little face. I don’t know much about children, having none of my own, but the girl’s composure struck me as remarkable. She didn’t look as if she had inherited her father’s nerves. The sight of her was my second gleam of hope.

There was no time to waste, so I plunged at once into my story.

‘Anna, my dear,’ I said, ‘we’ve never met before, but when I was young I knew your grandfather in South Africa and he made me and another man, whose name is General Hannay, promise to stand by your father if trouble came. Your father is in great danger — has been for a long time — and now it’s worse than ever. That’s why he hasn’t been to see you for so long. That’s why you’re called Smith here, when your real name is Haraldsen. That’s why his letters to you always come through a bank. Now YOU are also in danger. These people Bletso, who came this morning and say they’re your cousins, are humbugs. Their letter from your father is a fake. They come from your father’s enemies, and they want to get you into their power. Your friends discovered the danger and sent me down to bring you away. I’m only just in time. Will you trust me and do what I ask you?’

That extraordinary child’s face did not change. She heard me with the same uncanny composure, her eyes never leaving mine. Then she turned to Miss Margesson and smiled. ‘What a lark, Margie!’ was all she said.

But Miss Margesson didn’t take it that way. She looked scared and flustered.

‘What a ridiculous story!’ she said. ‘Say it’s nonsense, Anna. Your name’s Smith, all right.’

‘No, it isn’t,’ was the placid answer. ‘It’s Haraldsen. Sorry, Margie dear, but I couldn’t tell that even to you.’

‘But — but —’ Miss Margesson stammered in her uneasiness. ‘You know nothing about this man — you never saw him before. How do you know he’s speaking the truth? Your cousins had a letter from your father, and Miss Barlock, who is very shrewd, saw nothing wrong with it. They looked most respectable people.’

‘I didn’t like them much,’ said Anna, and again I had a gleam of hope. ‘The woman had ugly eyes behind her specs. And I never heard of any English cousins.’

‘But, darling, listen to me,’ Miss Margesson cried. ‘You never heard of this man either. How do you know he comes from your father? How do you know he is speaking the truth? If you have any doubt, let us go together to Miss Barlock and tell her that you don’t want to go on any cruise, and want to stay here till the end of the term. In the meantime you can get in touch with your father.’

‘That sounds good sense,’ I said; ‘but it won’t do. Your father’s enemies now know where you are. They are very clever people and quite unscrupulous. If you don’t go away with the Bletsos, they’ll find ways and means of carrying you off long before your father can interfere.’

‘Rubbish,’ said Miss Margesson rudely. ‘Do you expect me to believe this melodrama? You look honest, but you may be half-witted. What’s your profession?’

‘Not one for the half-witted,’ I said. ‘I’m what they call a merchant-banker,’ and I told her the name of my firm. That was a lucky shot, for Miss Margesson had a cousin in our employ, and I was able to tell her all about him. I think that convinced her of my bona fides.

‘But what do you propose to do with Anna?’ she demanded.

‘Take her straight to her father.’ That I had decided was the only plan. The girl would be in perpetual danger in London, now that our enemies had got on her trail.

‘Do you know where he is?’ she asked.

‘Yes,’ I said, ‘and if we start at once I can get her there before midnight.’

Then it suddenly occurred to me that I had one convincing piece of evidence at my disposal.

‘Anna,’ I said, ‘I can tell you something that must persuade you. You had a letter from your father on your birthday three days ago?’

She nodded.

‘And it didn’t come from London enclosed in a bank envelope. It came from Scotland.’

‘Yes,’ she said, ‘it came from Scotland. He didn’t put any address on it, but I noticed that it had a Scotch postmark. That excited me, for I have always wanted to go to Scotland.’

‘Well, it was that letter of your father’s that gave his enemies the clue. One of them spotted the address in a Scotch post office. Your father’s friend, Lord Clanroyden, was worried, and he sent me here at once. Doesn’t that prove that I’m telling the truth?’ I looked towards Miss Margesson.

Her scepticism was already shaken. ‘I don’t know what to think,’ she cried. ‘I can’t take any responsibility —’

Then that astonishing child simply took charge.

‘You needn’t, Margie dear,’ she said. ‘Hop back into the house and carry on. I’m going with Mr. Lombard. I believe in him. I’m going to Scotland to my father.’

‘But her things are not packed,’ put in Miss Margesson. ‘She can’t leave like this —’

‘I’m afraid we can’t stand on the order of our going,’ I said. ‘It’s now just twelve o’clock, and any moment the Bletsos may turn up and make trouble. We can send for Anna’s things, and in two days everything will be explained to Miss Barlock. YOU must keep out of the business altogether. The last you saw of Anna and me was in the garden, and you know nothing of our further movements. But you might do me a great kindness and send this wire in the afternoon. It’s to Lord Clanroyden — you’ve heard of him? — he’s Anna’s father’s chief stand-by. He told me to bring Anna to London, but that’s too dangerous now. I want him to know that we have gone to Scotland.’ I scribbled a telegram on a leaf from my pocket-book.

Miss Margesson was a good girl, and she seemed to share Anna’s conviction. She hugged and kissed the child. ‘Write to me soon,’ she said, ‘for I shall be very anxious,’ and ran into the house.

‘Now for the road,’ I said. ‘My car is at the front door. I’ll pick you up in the main avenue out of sight of the house. Can you get there without being seen? And bring some sort of coat. Pinch another girl’s if you can’t find your own. The thicker the better, for it will be chilly before we get to Laverlaw.’

I picked up Anna in the avenue all right, and we swung out of the lodge gates at precisely a quarter-past twelve. Then I saw something which I didn’t much like. Just outside the gates a car was drawn up, a very powerful car of foreign make, coloured yellow and black. It looked to me like a Stutz. The only occupant was a chauffeur in uniform, who was reading a newspaper. He glanced sharply at me, and for a moment seemed about to challenge us. When we had passed I looked back and saw that he had started the car and was moving in the direction of the village. I guessed that this was the Bletsos’ car, and that the man had gone to seek his master. He did not look quite like an ordinary chauffeur.

That was the start of our journey. My plan was to get into the Great North Road as soon as possible — Stamford seemed the best point to join it at — and then to let the Bentley rip on the best highway in England. I didn’t see how we could be seriously pursued even if that confounded chauffeur had spotted our departure. But I was all in a dither to reach Laverlaw that night. This young Lochinvar business was rather out of my usual line, and I wanted to get it over.

Well, we got to Stamford without mishap, and after that we did a spell of over sixty to the hour. The morning had been hot and bright, but the wind had shifted, and I thought we might soon run into dirty weather. At first I had kept looking back to see if we were followed, but there was no sign of a black and yellow car, and after a little I forgot about it. Lunch was our next problem, and, as there was a lot of traffic on the road, I feared that if we looked for it in a good hotel we should be hung up. I consulted Anna, and she said that she didn’t care what she ate as long as there was enough of it, for she was very hungry. So we drew up at a little place, half pub and half tea-house, at the foot of a long hill just short of Newark. While my petrol tank was being filled we had a scratch meal, beer and sandwiches for me, while Anna’s fancy was coffee and buns, of which she accounted for a surprising quantity. I also bought two pounds of chocolates and a box of biscuits, which turned out to be a lucky step.

We were just starting when I happened to cast my eyes back up the hill. I have a good long-distance eyesight, and there at the top, about half a mile away, I saw a car which was unpleasantly like the Stutz I had seen at Brewton. A minute later I lost it, for some traffic got in the way, but I saw it again, not a quarter of a mile off. There could be no mistake about the wasp-like thing, and I didn’t think it likely that another car of the same make and colour would be on the road that day.

If its occupants had glasses — and they were pretty certain to have — they must have spotted us. I drove the Bentley as hard as I dared, and tried to think out our position. They knew of course what our destination was. They certainly had the pace of us, for I had heard wonderful stories of what a Stutz could do in that line — and this was probably super-charged — so it wasn’t likely that we could shake them off. If we stopped for the night in any town we should be at the mercy of people whose cleverness Clanroyden had put very high, and somehow or other they would get the better of me. A halt of that kind I simply dared not risk. The road before us for the next hundred miles or so was through a populous country, and I didn’t believe that they would try a hold-up on it. That would be too risky with so many cars on the road, and they would not want trouble with the police or awkward inquiries. But I had driven a good deal back and forward to Scotland, and I knew that to get to Laverlaw I must pass through some lonely country. Then would be their chance. I couldn’t stand up against the toothy young man and the formidable-looking chauffeur. I would be left in a ditch with a broken head and Anna would be spirited away.

My chief feeling was a firm determination to go all out to get to Laverlaw. I couldn’t outwit or outpace them, so I must trust to luck. Every mile was bringing us nearer safety, and if it was bringing us nearer the northern moorlands, I must shut down on the thought. At first I was afraid of scaring Anna, but, when I saw her face whipped into colour by the wind and her bright enjoying eyes, I considered that there was no danger of that.

‘You remember the car we saw at the school gates?’ I said. ‘The black and yellow thing? I’ve a notion that it’s behind us. You might keep an eye on it, for I want both of mine for this bus.’

‘Oh, are we being chased?’ she cried. ‘What fun!’ And after that she sat with her head half screwed round and issued regular bulletins.

Beyond Bawtry we got into the rain, a good steady north-country downpour. We also got into a tangle of road repairs, where we had to wait our turn at several single-track patches. At the last of these the Stutz was in the same queue and I managed to get a fairly good view of it. There was no mistake about it. I saw the chauffeur in his light-grey livery coat, the same fellow who had stared at us at Brewton. The others in the back of the car were of course invisible.

Beyond Pontefract the rain became a deluge, and it was clear from the swimming roads that a considerable weight of water had already fallen. It was now between four and five, and from constant hangups we were making poor speed. The Stutz had made no attempt to close on us, though it obviously had the greater pace, and I thought I knew the reason. Its occupants had argued as I had done. They didn’t want any row in this populous countryside, but they knew I was making for Laverlaw, and they knew that to get there I must pass through some desolate places. Then their opportunity would come.

In a big village beyond Boroughbridge they changed their tactics. ‘The Wasp is nearly up on us,’ Anna informed me, and I suddenly heard a horn behind me, the kind of terrifying thing that they fix on French racing cars. The street was fairly broad, and it could easily pass. I saw their plan. They meant to get ahead of me, and wait for me. Soon several routes across the Border would branch off and they wanted to make certain that I did not escape them. I groaned, for the scheme I had been trying to frame was now knocked on the head.

And then we had a bit of unexpected luck. Down a side street came a tradesman’s van, driven by one of those hatless youths whom every motorist wants to see hanged as an example, for they are the most dangerous things on the road. Without warning it clipped over the bows of the Stutz. I heard shouting and a grinding of brakes, but I had no time to look back and it was Anna who reported what happened. The Stutz swung to the left, mounted the pavement, and came to rest with its nose almost inside the door of a shop. The van-driver lost his head, skidded, hit a lamp-post, slewed round and crashed into the Stutz’s off front wing. There was a very pretty mix-up.

‘Glory be,’ Anna cried, ‘that has crippled the brute. Well done the butcher’s boy!’

But she reported that so far as she could see the Stutz had not been damaged seriously. Only the van, which had lost a wheel. But there was a crowd, and a policeman with a note-book, and I thought that the whole business might mean a hold-up of a quarter of an hour. I had a start again, and I worked the Bentley up to a steady eighty on a beautiful stretch of road. My chief trouble was the weather, for the rain was driving so hard that the visibility was rotten, and I could see little in front of me and Anna little behind.

I had to make up my mind on the route, for Scotch Corner was getting near. If I followed the main North Road by Darlington and Durham I would be for the next hundred miles in a thickly settled country. But that would take me far from Laverlaw, and I would have the long Tweed valley before I got to it. If I turned left by Brough to Appleby, I should have to cross desolate moorlands, which would give the Stutz just the kind of country it wanted. I remembered a third road, which ran through mining villages where there would be plenty of people about. It was a perfectly good road, though the map marked most of it second-class. Besides, it was possible that the Stutz didn’t know about it, and, if I had a sufficient start, might assume that I had gone by either Darlington or Brough. Anyhow, unless it caught me up soon, it would be at fault. Clearly it was my best chance.

But Fate, in the shape of the butcher’s boy, had not done its work thoroughly. The rain stopped, the weather cleared, there was a magnificent red sunset over Teesdale, and just as I was swinging into my chosen road with an easier mind, Anna reported that the Wasp was coming into view.

That, as they say, fairly tore it. I had not diverted the hounds and the next half-hour was a wild race, for I wanted to get out of empty country into the colliery part. I broke every rule of decent driving, but I managed to keep a mile or so ahead. The Stutz was handicapped by the softness of the surface after the rain, and by not knowing the road as I knew it. It was beginning to grow dark, and to the best of my knowledge what there was of a moon would not rise till the small hours. My only hope was that it might be possible somewhere in the Tyne valley to give the pursuers the slip. I had tramped a good deal there, in the days when I was keen about Hadrian’s Wall, and knew the deviousness of the hill-roads.

I reached the mining country without mishap, and the lights of the villages and the distant glow of ironworks gave me a comforting sense of people about and therefore of protection. Beyond Consett the dark fell, and I reflected uneasily that we were now getting into a wild moorland patch which would last till we dropped down on the Tyne. Somehow I felt that the latter event would not happen unless I managed to create a diversion. I could see the great headlights of the Stutz a mile behind, but I was pretty certain that when it saw its chance it would accelerate and overhaul us. I realized desperately that in the next ten minutes I must find some refuge or be done in.

Just then we came to a big hill which shut off any view of us from behind. I saw a bright light in front, and a big car turned in from a side-road and took our road a little ahead of us. That seemed to give me a chance. On the left there was a little road, which looked as if it led to a farm-house, and which turned a corner of a fir-wood. If I turned up that, the Stutz, topping the hill behind us, would see the other car far down the hill and believe it to be ours. . . . There was no time to waste, so I switched off our lights and moved into the farm road, till we were in the lee of the firs. We had scarcely got there when, out of the corner of my eye, I saw the glow of the Stutz’s lights over the crest, and I had scarcely shut off my engine when it went roaring down the hill fifty yards away.

‘Golly,’ said Anna, ‘this is an adventure! Where is the chocolate, Mr. Lombard? We’ve had no tea, and I’m very hungry.’

While she munched chocolate I started the engine, and after passing two broken-hinged gates we came to a little farm. There was nobody about except an old woman, who explained to me that we were off the road, which was obvious enough, and gave us big glasses of milk warm from the cow. I had out the map (luckily I had a case of them in the car with me) and I saw that a thin red line, which meant some sort of road, continued beyond the farm and seemed to lead ultimately to the Tyne valley. I must chance its condition, for it offered some sort of a plan. I reasoned that the Stutz would continue down the hill and might go on for miles before it spotted that the other car was not ours. It would come back and fossick about to see which side-road we had taken, but there were several in the area, and it would take a little time to discover our tracks on the farm road. If it got thus far, the woman at the farm would report our coming, and say that we had gone back to the main road. I made a great pretence to her of being in a hurry to return to that road. But, when she had shut the door behind us, we crossed a tiny stack yard, found the continuation of the track trickling through a steep meadow, and, very carefully shutting every gate behind us, slipped down into a hollow where cattle started away from our lights and we had to avoid somnolent sheep.

The first part was vile, but in the end it was joined by another farm-track, and the combination of the two made a fair road, stony, but with a sound bottom. My great fear was of ditching in one of the moorland runnels. After a little it was possible to increase the speed, and, though I had often to stop and examine the map, in half an hour we had covered a dozen miles. We were in a lonely bit of country, with no sign of habitation except an occasional roadside cottage and the lights from a hillside farm, and we passed through many plantations of young firs. Here, I thought, was a place to get a little sleep, for Anna was nodding with drowsiness and I was feeling pretty well done up. So we halted at the back of a fir clump and I made a bed for Anna with the car rugs — not much of a bed, for, the weather in the south having been hot, I had only brought summer wraps. We both had some biscuits and chocolate, but the child went to sleep with her mouth full, snuggled against my side, and I wasn’t long in following. I was so tired that I didn’t want to smoke.

I woke about four. Every little pool left by the rain was flushed rose-pink with the reflection of the sky, and I knew that that meant dirty weather. I roused Anna, and we laved our faces in the burn, and had another go at the biscuits. The air was cold and raw, and we would have given pounds for hot coffee. The whole place was as quiet as a churchyard, not even a bird whistled or a sheep bleated, and both of us felt a bit eerie. But the sleep had done us good, and I was feeling pretty confident that we had puzzled the Stutz. It must have spent a restless night if it had been prospecting the farm roads in north Durham. My plan now was to make straight for Laverlaw and trust to luck.

We weren’t long in getting to the Tyne valley near Hexham. The fine morning still held, but the mist was low on the hills, and I counted on a drizzle in an hour or two. Anna looked chilly, and I decided that we must have a better breakfast. We were on a good road now and I kept my eye lifting for an inconspicuous pub. Presently I found one a little off the road, and its smoking chimney showed us that the folk were out of bed. I turned into its yard, which was on the side away from the road, and Anna and I stumbled into the kitchen, for we were both as stiff as pokers. The landlord was a big, slow-spoken Northumbrian, and his wife was a motherly creature who gave us hot water to wash in and a comb for Anna’s hair. She promised, too, bacon and eggs in a quarter of an hour, and in the meantime I bought some cans of petrol to fill up my tank. It was while the landlord was on this job that, to stretch my legs, I took a stroll around the inn to where I had a view of the highroad.

I got a nasty jar, for there was the sound of a big car, and the Stutz came racing past. I guessed what had happened. It had lost us right enough in the Durham moorlands, but its occupants had argued that we must be making for Laverlaw, and that, if we had tangled ourselves up in by-roads, we must have made poor speed during the night. They would therefore get ahead of us, and watch the road junctions for the North. There was one especially that I remembered well, where the road up the North Tyne forked from the main highway over the Cheviots by the Carter Bar. Both were possible, and there was no third by which a heavy car could make fair going. Their strategy was sound enough. If we hadn’t turned into that pub for breakfast we should have been fairly caught, and if I hadn’t seen them pass, in another hour we should have been at their mercy.

Yet after the first scare I didn’t feel downhearted. I felt somehow that we had the game in our hands, and had got over the worst snags. I said nothing about the Stutz to Anna, and we peacefully ate an enormous breakfast. Then I had a word with the landlord about the countryside, and he told me a lot about the side-ways into the upper glens of Tyne. At eight o’clock we started again in a drizzle, and soon I turned off the main highway to the left by what I had learned was one of the old drove-roads.

All morning we threaded our way in a maze of what must be about the worst roads in Britain. I had my map and my directions from the inn, but often I had to stop and ask the route at the little moorland farms. Anna must have opened fifty gates, and there were times when I thought we were bogged for good. I can tell you it was a tricky business, but I was beginning to enjoy myself, for I felt that we had won, and Anna was in wild spirits. The sight of bent and heather intoxicated her, and she took to singing and reciting poems. The curlews especially she hailed as old friends, and shouted a Danish poem about them. . . .

Well, that’s about the end of my story. We never met the Stutz again, and for all I know it is still patrolling the Carter Bar. But I was taking no risks, and when we got into the main road up the Tyne to Liddesdale, I didn’t take the shortest way to Laverlaw, which would have been by Rule Water, or by Hermitage and the Slitrig. You see, I had a fear that the Stutz, if it found no sign of us on the Carter or Bellingham roads, might have the notion of keeping watch on the approaches nearer Laverlaw. So I decided to come in on you from the side where it wouldn’t expect us. The sun came out after midday, and it was a glorious afternoon. Lord, I think we must have covered half the Border. We went down Liddel to Langholm, and up the Esk to Eskdalemuir, and so into Ettrick. For most of the way we saw nothing but sheep and an odd baker’s van.

Lombard finished with a cavernous yawn. He grinned contentedly. ‘Bed for me,’ he said, ‘and for Heaven’s sake let that child have her sleep out. A queer business for a sedentary man getting on in years! I’m glad I did it, but I don’t fancy doing it often.’

I asked one question. ‘What was the chauffeur in the Stutz like?’

‘I only got a glimpse of him,’ he replied; ‘but I think I should know him if I saw him again. An odd-looking chap. Tall and very thin. A long, brown face, a pointed chin, and eyes like a cat’s. A foreigner, I should say, and a bit of a swine.’

I remembered the man who had come to Fosse with the youth Varrinder, and whom Sandy had recognized as Jacques D’Ingraville. We had not been quite certain if he was in the Haraldsen affair, and it had been Sandy’s business to find that out. Now I knew, and the knowledge disquieted me, for of this man Sandy had spoken with a seriousness which was almost fear.

http://ebooks.adelaide.edu.au/b/buchan/john/sheep/chapter9.html

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