The House of the Four Winds, by John Buchan

Chapter 2

The House of the Four Winds

The night brought no inspiration to Jaikie, for his head was no sooner on his chaff-filled pillow than he seemed to be awake in broad daylight. But the morning decided him. There had been an early shower, the dust was laid in the streets, and every cobble of the side-walk glistened. From the hills blew a light wind, bearing a rooty fragrance of pine and moss and bracken. A delicious smell of hot coffee and new bread ascended from below; cats were taking their early airing; the vintner opposite, who had a face like a sun, was having a slow argument with the shoemaker; a pretty girl with a basket on her arm was making eyes at a young forester in velveteen breeches and buckskin leggings; a promising dog-fight was in progress near the bridge, watched by several excited boys; the sky above had the soft haze which promises a broiling day.

Jaikie felt hungry both for food and enterprise. The morning’s freshness was like a draught of spring water, and every sense was quick and perceptive. He craned his head out of the window, and looked back along the way he had come the night before. It showed a dull straight vista between trees. He looked eastward, and there, beyond the end of the village, the world dropped away, and he was looking at the blue heavens and a most appetising crook in the road, which seemed to hesitate, like a timid swimmer, before plunging downwards. There could be no question about it. On this divinest of mornings he refused dully to retrace his steps. He would descend for one day into Evallonia.

He breakfasted on fried eggs and brook trout, paid a diminutive bill, buckled on his knapsack, and before ten o’clock had left Kremisch behind him. The road was all that it had promised. It wound through an upland meadow with a strong blue-grey stream to keep it company, and every now and then afforded delectable glimpses of remote and shining plains. The hills shouldered it friendlily, hills with wide green rides among the firs and sometimes a bald nose of granite. Jaikie had started out with his mind chiefly on Randal Glynde, that suddenly-discovered link with Alison. Evallonia and its affairs did not interest him, or Mr Glynde’s mysterious summons to adventure. His meditations during recent weeks had been so much on his own land and the opportunities which it might offer to a deserving young man that he was not greatly concerned with the doings of foreigners, even though some of them were his acquaintances. But he was strongly interested in Mr Glynde. He had never met anybody quite like him, so cheerful and secure in his absurdities. The meeting with him had rolled from Jaikie’s back many of the cares of life. The solemnity with which he had proposed a visit to Evallonia seemed in the retrospect to be out of the picture and therefore negligible. Mr Glynde was an apostle of fantasy and his seriousness was itself a comedy. The memory of him harmonised perfectly with this morning world, which with every hundred yards was unveiling a new pageant of delight.

Presently he forgot even Mr Glynde in the drama of the roadside. There was a pool in the stream, ultramarine over silver sand, with a very big trout in it — not less than three pounds in weight. There was a bird which looked like a dipper, but was not a dipper. There was a hawk in the sky, a long-winged falcon of a kind he had never seen before. And on a boulder was perched — rarity of rarities — an unmistakable black redstart. . . . And then the glen seemed to lurch forward and become a defile, down which the stream dropped in a necklace of white cascades. At the edge was a group of low buildings, and out of them came two men carrying rifles.

Jaikie looked with respect at the first Evallonians he had seen on their native heath. They were small men with a great breadth of shoulder, and broad good-humoured countenances — a typical compound, he thought, of Slav and Teuton. But their manner belied their faces, for they were almost truculent, as if they had been soured by heavy and unwelcome duties. They examined everything in his pack and his pockets, they studied his passport with profound suspicion, and they interrogated him closely in German, which he followed with difficulty. Several times they withdrew to consult together; once they retired into the block-house, apparently to look up some book of regulations. It was the better part of an hour before they allowed him to pass. Then something ingenuous in Jaikie’s face made them repent of their doubts. They grimaced and shook hands with him, and shouted Grüss Gott till he had turned a corner.

“Evallonia is a nervous country,” thought Jaikie. “Lucky I had nothing contraband on me, or I should be bankrupt.”

After that the defile opened into a horseshoe valley, with a few miles ahead the spires of a little town. He saw the loop of a river, of which the stream he had followed must be a tributary. On the north side was something which he took for a hill, but which closer inspection revealed to be a dwelling. It stood high and menacing, with the town huddled up to it, built of some dark stone which borrowed no colour from the bright morning. On three sides it seemed to be bounded by an immense park, for he saw great spaces of turf and woodland which contrasted with the chessboard tillage of other parts of the plain.

A peasant was carrying hay from a roadside meadow. Jaikie pointed to the place and asked its name.

The man nodded. “Yes, Tarta.”

“And the castle?”

At first the man puzzled; then he smiled. He pronounced a string of uncouth vocables. Then in halting German: “It is the great Schloss. I have given you its name. It means the House of the Four Winds.”

As Jaikie drew nearer the town he saw the reason why it was so called. Tarta stood in the mouth of a horseshoe and three glens debouched upon it, his own from the west and two other sword-cuts from the north and south. It was clear that the castle must be a very temple of Aeolus. From three points of the compass the winds would whistle down the mountain gullies, and on the east there was no shelter from the devilments bred in the Asian steppes.

Before noon he was close to the confines of the little town. His stream had ceased to be a mountain torrent, and had expanded into broad lagoons, and just ahead was its junction with the river. Over the latter there was a high-backed bridge flanked by guard-houses, and beyond a jumble of masonry which promised narrow old — world streets. The castle, seen at closer range, was more impressive than ever. It hung over the town like a thundercloud, but a thundercloud from which the lightnings had fled, for it had a sad air of desolation. No flag flew from its turrets, no smoke issued from its many chimneys, the few windows in the great black sides which rose above the streets were like blind eyes. Yet its lifelessness made a strong appeal to Jaikie’s fancy. This bustling little burgh under the shadow of a mediæval relic was like a living thing tied to a corpse. But was it really a corpse? He guessed at its vast bulk stretching northward into its wild park. It might have turned a cold shoulder on Tarta and yet within its secret demesne be furiously alive. Meantime it belied its name, for not a breath of wind stirred in the sultry noon. Somewhere beyond the bridge must be Luigi, the chief fiddler of the Cirque Doré. He hoped that Luigi would take him where he could get a long drink.

He was to get the drink, but not from Luigi’s hands. On the side of the bridge farthest from the town the road passed through a piece of rough parkland, perhaps the common pasturage of the mediæval township. Here a considerable crowd had gathered, and Jaikie pressed forward to discover the reason of it. Down the road from Tarta a company of young men was marching, with the obvious intention of making camp in the park; indeed, certain forerunners had already set up a grove of little shelter-tents. They were remarkable young men, for they carried themselves with disciplined shoulders, and yet with the free swing from the hips of the mountaineer. Few of them were tall, but their leanness gave the impression of a good average height, and they certainly looked amazingly hard and fit. Jaikie, accustomed to judge physique on the Rugby field, was impressed by their light-foot walk and their easy carriage. They were not in the least like the Wandervögel whom he had met on many German roads, comfortable sunburnt folk out for a holiday. These lads were in serious training, and they had some purpose other than amusement.

As they passed, the men in the crowd saluted by raising the left hand and the women waved their handkerchiefs. In the rear rode a young man, a splendid figure on a well-bred flea-bitten roan. The rank-and-file wore shorts and green shirts open at the neck, but the horseman had breeches and boots and a belted green tunic, while a long hunting-knife swung at his middle. He was a tall fellow with thick fair hair, a square face and dark eyebrows — a face with which Jaikie was familiar in very different surroundings.

Jaikie, in the front row of the crowd, was so overcome with amazement that his left hand remained unraised and he could only stare. The horseman caught sight of him, and he too registered surprise, from which he instantly recovered. He spoke a word to the ranks; a man fell out, and beckoned Jaikie to follow. The other spectators fell back from him as from a leper, and he and his warder followed the horse’s tail into the open space, where the rest were drawing up in front of the tents.

Then the horseman turned to him.

“Salute,” he said. Jaikie’s arm shot up obediently.

The leader cast an eye over the ranks, and bade them stand easy and then fall out. He dismounted, flinging his bridle to an orderly. “Follow me,” he said to Jaikie in English, and led him to a spot on the river-bank, where a larger tent had been set up. Two lads were busy there with kit and these he dismissed. Then he turned to Jaikie with a broad grin. “What on earth are you doing here?” he asked.

“Give me a drink first, Ashie,” was the answer.

The young man dived into the tent and produced a bottle of white wine, a bottle of a local mineral water, and two tumblers. The two clinked glasses. Then he gave Jaikie a cigarette. “Now,” he said, “what’s your story?”

“I have been across half Europe,” said Jaikie. “I must have tramped about five hundred miles. My money’s done, and I go home tomorrow, but I thought I’d have a look inside Evallonia first. But what are YOU doing, Ashie? Is it Boy Scouts or a revolution?”

The other smiled and did not at once reply. That was a mannerism which the University of Cambridge had taught him, for when Count Paul Jovian (he had half a dozen other Christian names which we may neglect) entered St. Mark’s he had been too loquacious. He and a cousin had shared lodgings, and at first they were not popular. They had an unpleasant trick of being easily insulted, talking about duels, and consequently getting their ears boxed. When they migrated within the College walls, the dislike of the cousin had endured, but Count Paul began to make friends. Finally came a night when the cousin’s trousers were removed and used to decorate the roof, as public evidence of dislike, while Paul was unmolested. That occasion gave him his nickname, for he was christened Asher by a piously brought-up contemporary, the tribe of Asher having, according to the Book of Judges, “abode in its breaches.” “Ashie” he had remained from that day.

Jaikie had begun by disliking him, he was so noisy and strange and flamboyant. But Count Paul had a remarkable gift of adapting himself to novel conditions. Presently his exuberance quieted down, he became more sparing in speech, he developed a sense of humour and laboured to acquire the idiom of their little society. In his second year he was indistinguishable from the ordinary English undergraduate. He had a pretty turn of speed, but it was found impossible to teach him the Rugby game; at boxing too he was a complete duffer; but he was a brilliant fencer, and he knew all that was to be known about a horse. Indeed, it was in connection with horses that Jaikie first came to like him. A groom from a livery stable lost his temper with a hireling, who was badly bitted and in a fractious temper. The Count’s treatment of the case rejoiced Jaikie’s heart. He shot the man into the gutter, eased the bit, and quieted the animal with a curious affectionate gentleness. After that the two became friends, in spite of the fact that the Count’s taste for horses and hunting took him into a rather different set. They played together in a cricket eleven of novices called the “Cads of all Nations,” who for a week of one long vacation toured the Midlands, and were soundly beaten by every village team.

There was a tough hardihood about the man which made Jaikie invite him more than once to be his companion in some of his more risky enterprises — invitations regretfully refused, for some business always took Ashie home. That home Jaikie knew to be in Eastern Europe, but he had not associated him with Evallonia. There was also an extreme innocence. He wanted to learn everything about England, and took Jaikie as his mentor, believing that in him he had found the greatest common measure of the British people. Whether he learned much may be doubted, for Jaikie was too little of a dogmatist to be a good instructor. But they slipped into a close friendship, and rubbed the corners off each other’s minds.

“I know what I’m doing,” said Ashie at last; “but I am not quite sure where it will finish. But that’s a long story. You’re a little devil, Jaikie, to come here at the tag-end of your holiday. If you had come a month ago we might have had all sorts of fun.”

He had relapsed into the manner of the undergraduate, but there was something in him now which made it a little absurd. For the figure opposite Jaikie was not the agreeable and irresponsible companion he had known. Ashie looked desperately foreign, without a hint of Cambridge and England; bigger too, more mature, and rather formidable. The thick dark eyebrows in combination with the fair hair had hitherto given his appearance a touch of comedy; now the same brows bent above the grey eyes had something in them martial and commanding. Rob Roy was more of a man on his native heath than on the causeways of Glasgow.

“If you can arrange to stay here for a little,” said Ashie, “I promise to show you life.”

“Thank you very much, but I can’t. I must be off home tomorrow — a week’s tramping, and then the train.”

“Give me three weeks.”

“I’m sorry, but I can’t.” Jaikie found it hard to sort out his feelings, but he was clear that he did not want to dally in Evallonia.

Ashie’s voice became almost magisterial.

“What are you doing here today?” he asked.

“I’m lunching with a friend and going back to Kremisch in the evening.”

“Who’s your friend?”

“I’m not quite sure of his name.” Jaikie’s caution told him that Mr Glynde might have many aliases. “He’s in a circus.”

Ashie laughed — almost in the old light-hearted way. “Just the kind of friend you’d have. The Cirque Doré? I saw some of the mountebanks in the streets. . . . You won’t accept my invitation? I can promise you the most stirring time in your life.”

“I wish I could, but — well, it’s no use, I can’t.”

“Then we must part, for I have a lot to do.”

“You haven’t told me what you’re doing.”

“No. Some day I will — in England, if I ever come back to England.”

He called one of his scouts, to whom he said something in a strange tongue. The latter saluted and waited for Jaikie to follow him. Ashie gave him a perfunctory handshake —“Good-bye. Good luck to you”; and entered his tent.

The boy led Jaikie beyond the encampment, and, with a salute and a long stare, left him at the entrance to the bridge. A clock on a steeple told him that it was a quarter-past twelve, pretty much the time that Mr Glynde had appointed. The bridge was almost empty, for the sight-seers who had followed Ashie’s outfit had trickled back to their midday meals. Jaikie spent a few minutes looking over the parapet at the broad waters of the river. This must be the Rave, the famous stream which sixty miles on flowed through the capital city of Melina. He watched its strong current sweep past the walls of the great Schloss, which there dropped sheer into it, before in a wide circuit it formed the western boundary of the castle park. What an impregnable fortress, he thought, must have been this House of the Four Winds in the days before artillery, and how it must have lorded it over the little burgh under its skirts!

There was a gatehouse on the Tarta side of the bridge, an ancient crumbling thing bright with advertisements of the Cirque Doré. Beyond it a narrow street wound under the blank wall of the castle, ending in a square in which the chief building was a baroque town-house. From where Jaikie stood this town-house had an odd apologetic air, a squat thing dwarfed by the Schloss: like a dachshund beside a mastiff. The day was very warm, and he crossed over from the glare of one side of the street to the shadow of the other. The place was almost empty, most of the citizens being doubtless engaged with food behind shuttered windows. Jaikie was getting hungry, and so far he had looked in vain for Mr Glynde’s Luigi. But as he moved towards the central square a man came out of an entry, and, stopping suddenly to light a cigarette, almost collided with him. Jaikie saw a white cap and scarlet lettering, and had a glimpse of gold earrings and a hairy face. He remembered his instructions.

“Can you show me the way to the Cirque Doré?” he asked.

The man grinned. “I will lead you to a better restaurant,” he said in French with a villainous accent. He held out his hand and shook Jaikie’s warmly, as if he had found a long-lost friend. Then he gripped him by the arm and poured forth a torrent of not very intelligible praise of the excellence of the cuisine to which he was guiding him.

Jaikie found himself hustled up the street and pulled inside a little dark shop, which appeared to be a combination of a bird-fancier’s and a greengrocer’s. There was nobody there, so they passed through it into a court strewn with decaying vegetables and through a rickety door into a lane, also deserted. After that they seemed to thread mazes of mean streets at a pace which made the sweat break on Jaikie’s forehead, till they found themselves at the other end of the town, where it ebbed away into shacks and market-gardens.

“I am very hungry,” said Jaikie, who saw his hopes of luncheon disappearing.

“The Signor must have patience,” was the answer. “He has still a little journey before him, but at the end of it he will have honest food.”

Luigi was an adept at under-statement. He seemed to wish to escape notice, which was easy at this stagnant hour of the day. Whenever anyone appeared he became still as a graven image, with an arresting hand on Jaikie’s arm. They chose such cover as was available, and any track they met they crossed circumspectly. The market-gardens gave place to vineyards, which were not easy to thread, and then to wide fields of ripe barley, hot as the Sahara. Jaikie was in good training, but this circus-man Luigi, though he looked plump and soft, was also in no way distressed, never slackening pace and never panting. By and by they entered a wood of saplings which gave them a slender shade. At the far end of it was a tall palisade of chestnut stakes, lichened and silvery with age. “Up with you,” said Luigi, and gave Jaikie a back which enabled him to grasp the top and swing himself over. To his annoyance the Italian followed him unaided, supple as a monkey.

“Rest and smoke,” he said. “There is now no reason for hurry except the emptiness of your stomach.”

They rested for ten minutes. Behind them was the palisade they had crossed, and in front of them glades of turf, and wildernesses of fern and undergrowth, and groves of tall trees. It was like the New Forest, only on a bigger scale.

“It is a noble place,” said Luigi, waving his cigarette. “From here it is seven miles to Zutpha, where is a railway. Tarta in old days was only, so to say, the farmyard behind the castle. From Zutpha the guests of the princes of this house were driven in great coaches with outriders. Now there are few guests, and instead of a coach-and-eight a Ford car. It is the way of the world.”

When they resumed their journey it was at an easier pace. They bore to their left, and presently came in view of what had once been a formal garden on a grandiose scale. Runnels had been led from the river, and there was a multitude of stone bridges and classic statuary and rococo summer-houses. Now the statues were blotched with age, the bridges were crumbling, and the streams were matted beds of rushes. Beyond, rising from a flight of terraces, could be seen the huge northern façade of the castle, as blank as the side it showed to Tarta. It had been altered and faced with a white stone a century ago, but the comparative modernity of this part made its desolation more conspicuous than that of the older Gothic wings. What should have been gay with flowers and sun-blinds stood up in the sunlight as grim as a deserted factory; and that, thought Jaikie, is grimmer than any other kind of ruin.

Luigi did not take him up the flights of empty terraces. Beyond the formal garden he turned along a weedy path which flanked a little lake. On one side was the Cyclopean masonry of the terrace wall, and, where it bent at an angle, cloaked by a vast magnolia, they came suddenly upon a little paved court shaded by a trellis. It was cool, and it was heavily scented, for on one side was a thicket of lemon verbena. A table had been set for luncheon, and at it sat two men, waited on by a foot-man in knee breeches and a faded old coat of blue and silver.

“You are not five minutes behind time,” said the elder of the two. “Anton,” he addressed the servant, “take the other gentleman indoors and see to his refreshment.” . . . To Jaikie he held out his hand. “We have met before, Mr Galt. I have the honour to welcome you to my poor house. Mr Glynde I think you already know.”

“You expected me?” Jaikie asked in some surprise.

“I was pretty certain you would come,” said Mr Glynde.

Jaikie saw before him that Prince Odalchini whom two years ago he had known as one of the tenants of the Canonry shooting of Knockraw. The Prince’s hair was a little greyer, his well-bred face a little thinner, and his eyes a little darker round the rims. But in the last burned the same fire of a gentle fanaticism. He was exquisitely dressed in a suit of white linen with a tailed coat, and shirt and collar of turquoise-blue silk — blue and white being the Odalchini liveries. Mr Randal Glynde had shed the fantastic garments of the previous night, but he had not returned to the modishness of his English clothes; he wore an ill-cut suit of some thin grey stuff that made him look like a commis-voyageur in a smallish way of business, and to this part he had arranged his hair and beard to conform. To his outfit a Guards tie gave a touch of startling colour. “We will not talk till we have eaten,” said the Prince. “Mr Galt must have picked up an appetite between here and Kremisch.”

Jaikie had one of the most satisfying meals of his career. There was an omelet, a dish of trout, and such peaches as he had never tasted before. He had acquired a fresh thirst during his journey with Luigi, and this was assuaged by a white wine which seemed to be itself scented with lemon verbena, a wine in slim bottles beaded with the dew of the ice-cellar. He was given a cup of coffee made by the Prince’s own hands, and a long fat cigarette of a brand which the Prince had specially made for him in Cairo.

“Luigi spoke the truth,” said Mr Glynde smiling, “when he said that he would conduct you to a better restaurant.”

The footman withdrew and silence fell. Bees wandered among the heliotrope and verbena and pots of sapphire agapanthus, and even that shady place felt the hot breath of the summer noon. Sleep would undoubtedly have overtaken Jaikie and Mr Glynde, but for the vigour of Prince Odalchini, who seemed, like a salamander, to draw life and sustenance from the heat. His high-pitched, rather emotional voice kept his auditors wakeful. “I will explain to you,” he told Jaikie, “what you cannot know or have only heard in a perversion. I take up the history of Evallonia after Prince John sailed from your Scotch loch.”

He took a long time over his exposition, and as he went on Jaikie found his interest slowly awakening. The cup of the abominations of the Republican Government had apparently long ago been filled. Evallonia was ready to spew them out, but unfortunately the Monarchists were not quite ready to take their place. This time it was not trouble with other Powers or with the League of Nations. Revolutions had become so much the fashion in Europe that they were taken as inevitable, whether their purpose was republic, monarchy, or dictatorship. The world was too weary to argue about the merits of constitutional types, and the nations were too cumbered with perplexed economics to have any desire to meddle in the domestic affairs of their neighbours. Aforetime the Monarchists had feared the intervention of the Powers or some finding of the League, and therefore they had sought the mediation of British opinion. Now their troubles were of a wholly different kind.

Prince Odalchini explained. Communism was for the moment a dead cause in Evallonia, and Mastrovin and his friends had as much chance of founding a Soviet republic as of plucking down the moon. Mastrovin indeed dared not show himself in public, and the present administration of his friends staggered along, corrupt, incompetent, deeply unpopular. It would collapse at the slightest pressure. But after that?

“Everywhere in the world,” said the Prince, “there is now an uprising of youth. It does not know what it seeks. It did not know the hardships of war. But it demands of life some hope and horizon, and it is determined to have the ordering of things in its hands. It is conscious of its ignorance and lack of discipline, so it seeks to inform and discipline itself, and therein lies its danger.”

“Ricci,” he went on. “You remember him in the Canonry? — a youngish man like a horse-dealer. At that time he was a close ally of the Republican Government, but eighteen months ago he became estranged from it — he and Count Jovian, who was not with the others in Scotland. Well, Ricci had an American wife of enormous wealth, and with the aid of her money he set out to stir up our youth. He had an ally in the Jovian I have mentioned, who was a futile vain man, like your Justice Shallow in Shakespeare, easily flattered and but little respected, but with a quick brain for intrigue. These two laid the foundations of a body called Juventus, which is now the strongest thing in Evallonia. They themselves were rogues, but they enlisted many honest helpers, and soon, like the man in the Arabian Nights, they had raised a jinn which they could not control. Jovian died a year ago — he was always sick — and Ricci is no longer the leader. But the thing itself marches marvellously. It has caught the imagination of our people and fired their pride. Had we an election, the Juventus candidates would undoubtedly sweep the board. As it is, it contains all the best of Evallonian youth, who give up to it their leisure, their ambition and their scanty means. It is in its way a noble thing, for it asks only for sacrifice, and offers no bribes. It is, so to speak, a new Society of Jesus, sworn to utter obedience. But, good or ill, it has most damnably spiked the guns of us Royalists.”

Jaikie asked why.

“Because it is arrogant, and demands that whatever is done for Evallonia it alone shall do it. The present Government must go, and at once, for it is too gross a scandal. If we delay, there will be a blind revolution of the people themselves. You will say — let Juventus restore Prince John. Juventus will do nothing of the kind, since Prince John is not its own candidate. If we restore him, Juventus will become anti-Monarchist. What then will it do? I reply that it does not yet know, but there is a danger that it may set up one of its own people as dictator. That would be tragic, for in the first place Evallonia does not need or desire a dictator, being Monarchist by nature, and in the second place Juventus does not want a dictatorship either. It is Nationalist, but not Fascist. Yet the calamity may happen.”

“Has Juventus any leader who could fill the bill?” Jaikie asked.

The Prince shook his head. “I do not think so — therefore its action would be only to destroy and obstruct, not to build. Ricci with his wife’s millions is now discredited; they have used him and cast him aside. There are some of the very young with power I am told — particularly a son of Jovian’s.”

“Is his name Paul?” Jaikie asked, and was told yes.

“I know him,” he said. “He was at Cambridge with me. I have just seen him, for about two hours ago he stood me a drink.”

The Prince in his surprise upset the coffee-pot, and even the sophisticated eyes of Mr Glynde opened a little wider.

“You know Paul Jovian? That is miraculous, Mr Galt. Will you permit me to speak a word in private with Mr Glynde? There are some matters still too secret even for your friendly ears.”

The two withdrew and left Jaikie alone in the alcove among bees and butterflies and lemon verbena. He was a little confused in his mind, for after a solitary month he had suddenly strayed into a place where he seemed to know rather too many people. Embarrassing people, all of whom pressed him to stay longer. He did not much like their country. It was too hot for him, too scented and airless. He was not in the least interested in the domestic affairs of Evallonia, either the cantrips of Ashie or the solemn intrigues of the Prince. It was not his world; that was a cool, bracing upland a thousand miles away, for which he had begun to feel acutely homesick. Alison would soon be back in the Canonry, and he must be there to meet her. He felt that for the moment he was fed up with foreign travel.

The two men returned, and sat down before him with an air of purpose.

“Where did you find Count Paul?” the Prince asked.

“On the Kremisch side of the Tarta bridge. He was going into camp with a detachment of large-sized Boy Scouts.”

“You know him well?”

“Pretty well. We have been friends ever since his first year. I like him — at least I liked him at Cambridge, but here he seems a rather different sort of person. He wanted me to stay on in Evallonia — to stay for three weeks.”

The two exchanged glances.

“So!” said the Prince. “And your answer?”

“I refused. He didn’t seem particularly well pleased.”

“Mr Galt, we also make you that proposal. Will you be my guest here in Evallonia for a little — perhaps for three weeks — perhaps longer? I believe that you can be of incalculable value to an honest cause. I cannot promise success — that is not commanded by mortals — but I can promise you an exciting life.”

“That was what I said to you last night,” said Mr Glynde smiling. “My little stater would give you no guidance, but the fact that you have ventured into Evallonia encourages me to hope.”

Jaikie at the moment had no desire for excitement. He felt limp and drowsy and oppressed; the Prince’s luncheon had been too good, and this scented nook choked him; he wanted to be somewhere where he could breathe fresh air. Evallonia was wholly devoid of attractions.

“I don’t think so,” he said. “I’m tremendously honoured that you should want me, but I shouldn’t be any use to you, and I must get home.”

“You are not to be moved?” said Mr Glynde.

Jaikie shook his head. “I’ve had enough of the continent of Europe.”

“I understand,” said Mr Glynde. “I too sometimes feel that satiety, and think I must go home.” He turned to the Prince. “I doubt if we shall persuade Mr Galt. I wish Casimir were here. Where, by the way, is he?”

The Prince replied with a word which sounded to Jaikie like “Unnutz,” a word which woke a momentary interest in his lethargic mind.

“What then do you propose to do?” The Prince turned to him.

“Go back to Kremisch to-night, sleep there and set off home tomorrow.”

“What must be must be. But I do not think it wise for you to start yet awhile. Let us go indoors, and I will show you some of the few household gods which poverty has left me.”

Jaikie spent an hour or two pleasantly in the cool chambers of the great house. The place was shabby but not neglected, and there were treasures there which, judiciously placed on the market, might well have restored the Odalchini fortunes. He looked at long lines of forbidding family portraits; at a little room so full of masterpieces that it was a miniature Salle Carrée; at one of the finest collections of armour in the world; and at a wonderful array of sporting trophies, for the Odalchinis had been famous game-shots. He was given tea at a little table in the hall quite in the English fashion. But very soon he became restless. The sun was getting low, and he had a considerable distance to walk before supper.

“You had better go first to the Cirque Doré,” said Mr Glynde. “There I will meet you, and show you the way out of the town. You have been in dangerous territory, Mr Galt, and must be circumspect in leaving it. No, we cannot go together. I will take a different road and meet you there. Luigi will guide you. You will cross the park by the way you came, and Luigi will be waiting for you outside the pale.”

“I am sorry,” said the Prince. He shook hands with so regretful a face, and his old eyes were so solemn that Jaikie had a moment of compunction. When he left the castle the cool of the evening was beginning, and the twilight scents came freshly and pleasantly to his nostrils. This was a better place than he had thought, and he felt more vigorous and enterprising. He had the faintest twinge of regret about his decision. After all, there was nothing to call him home, for there would be no Dickson McCunn there yet awhile, and no Dougal, and perhaps no Alison. But there would be the Canonry, and he fixed his mind upon its delectable glens as he retraced his path of the morning. One of Jaikie’s endowments was an almost perfect instinct for direction, and he struck the high chestnut pale pretty much at the spot where he had first crossed it.

Getting over without Luigi’s help was a difficult business, and, Jaikie’s energy being wholly employed in the task, he did not trouble to prospect the land. . . . He tumbled over the top and dropped into what seemed to be a crowd of people.

Strong hands gripped him. A cloth was skilfully wound round his face, blinding his eyes and blanketing his voice. Another wrapped his arms to his side, and a third bound his legs. He struggled, but his sense of the physical superiority of his assailants was so great that he soon gave it up; he was like a thin rabbit in the clutch of an enormous gamekeeper. Yet the hands were not unkindly, and his bandages, though effective, were not painful.

He was carried swiftly along for a few minutes and then placed in some kind of car. Somebody sat down beside him. The car was started, and bumped for a little along very rough roads. . . . Then it came to a highway and moved fast. . . . Jaikie had by this time collected his thoughts, and they were wrathful. His first alarm had gone, for he reflected that there was no one likely to mean mischief to him. He was pretty certain what had happened. This was Prince Odalchini’s way of detaining an unwilling guest. Well, he would presently have a good deal to say to the Prince and to Mr Glynde.

The car slowed down, and his companion, whoever he was, began with deft hands to undo his bonds. First he loosed his legs. Then, almost with the same movement, he released his arms and drew the bandages from his face. Then he snapped a switch which lit up dimly the interior of the limousine in which the blinds had been drawn.

Jaikie found himself looking at the embarrassed face of Ashie.

Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 11:50