That night after dinner we held a council of war, at which we all agreed that Peter John should be present. That was a comfort to him, for since Anna’s coming he had been rather left out of things. Sandy, as was his habit at Laverlaw, wore the faded green coat of a Border dining club, but it didn’t make him look, as it usually did, a Scots laird snug among his ancestral possessions. His face had got that special fining-down which I so well remembered, and his eyes that odd dancing light which meant that he was on the warpath again.
We had heard nothing of him for weeks, so I had a good many questions to ask.
‘What have I been doing?’ he said. ‘Going to and fro on the earth. Trying to get a line on various gentry. My old passion for queer company has stood me in good stead, and by voluptuous curves I’ve been trying to get in on their flanks. One way and another I’ve learned most of what I wanted to know. Several of the unknown quantities I can now work out to four places of decimals. We’re up against a formidable lot — no mistake about that.’
‘More formidable than you thought?’ asked Lombard.
‘Ye-es,’ he said slowly. ‘But in a different way. That is my chief discovery.’
‘What was your method’ I asked. ‘Have you been up to your old tricks?’ I turned to Lombard. ‘Perhaps you don’t know that he’s one of the best quick-change artists in the world.’
‘Partly,’ Sandy replied. ‘I’ve had quite a lot of fun in the business. But I met some of them in my own name and person. We had better be clear about one thing — they know all about us. Dick they marked down long ago; and Lombard since he levanted with Miss Anna. They don’t know our motive, but they realize that we are backing Haraldsen. If I’ve got a good deal of their dossiers, they’ve got plenty of ours. You’d be surprised, Dick, to know how zealously they have been searching into your tattered past, and I’m glad to think that what they found has made them fairly uncomfortable. They’ve been pumping, very cleverly and quietly, all your old pals like Artinswell and Julius Victor and Archie Roylance. They even got something out of Macgillivray, though he wasn’t aware of it.’
‘What do they make of YOU?’
Sandy laughed. ‘Oh, I puzzle them horribly. I’ve got the jade tablet, so I’m in the thick of it, and they’re gunning for me just as much as for Haraldsen. But I’m a troublesome proposition, for they understand quite well that I’ve taken the offensive, and they’ve an idea that when I fix my teeth in anything I’m apt to hang on. That’s the worst of my confounded melodramatic reputation. It sounds immodest, but I’ve a notion that they’ve got the wind up badly about me, and if we had only the first lot to deal with I might make them cry off. . . . Only of course we haven’t.’
‘What’s the new snag?’ I asked.
‘Patience,’ he said. ‘We’ll go through the list one by one. First, Varrinder, the youth with the rabbit teeth. We can count him out, for he’ll worry us no more. He was what I suspected — an indicateur, and at heart a funk. I laid myself out to scare Master Varrinder, and I succeeded. He was very useful to me, so far as his twittering nerves allowed him. Yesterday he sailed, under another name, for Canada, and he won’t come back for a long, long time. Next, Dick.’
‘Albinus,’ I said.
‘Right. He’s the second least important. Well, I’ve seen a lot of Mr. Erick Albinus. I played bridge with him at Dillon’s, which cost me twenty pounds. We went racing together, and I had a boring but illuminating day. I gave a little dinner for him, to which I made a point of asking one or two of his City friends about whom he is most nervous. He’s a nasty piece of work, that lad, and it beats me how people tolerate him as they do, for he’s the oily faux bonhomme if there ever was one. He’s in the job for greed, for financially he’s on the edge of Queer Street, and also Troth has some kind of family pull on him. But I think I could scare him out of it, like Varrinder, if I wanted to. But I don’t. I’ve decided that he’s safer in than out, for he has a big yellow streak in him, and, though he’s a clever devil, he’ll be a drag on his friends in the long run. So I’ve remained on good terms with Mr. Albinus, and he flatters himself that he has thrown dust in my eyes, more power to him.
‘Now we get to bigger business. Troth — Mr. Lancelot Troth. I’ve come to a clear decision about Troth. He’s a ruffian, but I don’t think he’s altogether a rogue. A fine distinction, you say. Maybe, but it’s important. First, he has his friends who genuinely like him, quite honest fellows, some of them. I got myself invited to the annual dinner of his Fusilier regiment, where he made a dashed good speech. I gathered that in the War he was a really good battalion officer, and very popular with the men. I did my best to follow his business tracks, and pretty tangled they are, but my impression is that he is more of a buccaneer than a swindler. He’s a bold fellow who runs his head now and then against the law, because he likes taking risks. Did you ever read The Wrong Box? There’s a touch of Michael Finsbury in Troth.’
‘Did you meet him — I mean as yourself?’ I asked.
‘Indeed I did. Had quite a heart-to-heart talk with him. I went down to his office, sent in my card, and begged for a few minutes’ conversation on private business. There was a fine commotion in that office, a client was cleared like a shot out of his private room, and he told his secretary that on no account must we be disturbed. I suppose he thought that I had come to offer terms. I was the guileless innocent — asked if he had read my letter to the Times — said I was very anxious to get all the information I could about old Haraldsen, and that I had heard that he had known him in South Africa. That puzzled him, and in self-defence he became very stiff and punctilious — said he had had nothing to do with Haraldsen, though his father might have met him. You see, he hadn’t yet linked me up with you, Dick, and was playing for safety. Then I said that I was trying to get on the track of Haraldsen’s family — believed he had a son somewhere, and could he help me to locate him? I had come to him solely as a matter of business, for I had heard good reports of his skill. I said I had got this jade tablet, which I couldn’t possibly stick to, and that I proposed to present it to the British Museum unless I could find Haraldsen’s heirs, in which case they should have it.
‘That fetched him. He suggested luncheon, and took me to one of the few old City places remaining where you feed in a private box. He insisted on champagne, so I remembered a saying of my father’s, that if a man gave you champagne at luncheon, you should suspect a catch. He was very civil and forthcoming, and began, quite cleverly, to dig things out of his memory which his father had told him about Haraldsen. He dared say that with a little trouble he could get some information for me about the people who had a claim to the equities in Haraldsen’s estate. We parted on excellent terms, after some highly technical talk about spring salmon in Caithness, and he promised to ring me up as soon as he had anything to tell me.’
‘Did he?’ Lombard asked eagerly. He was the one of us who knew most about Troth.
‘No. For in the next day or two his scouts linked me up with Dick — Laverlaw was enough for that — and he must have realized that I knew everything and had been playing with him. But I rang him up myself and got a very dusty answer. However, he agreed to see me again, and I made him lunch with me at Claridge’s — planted him down in the middle of a crowded restaurant, where he couldn’t make an exhibition of himself. For I meant to make him lose his temper, and if that had happened in his office the end would only have been a shindy. I managed it all right. I orated about old Haraldsen, that wonderful figure half-saint and half-adventurer, and the sacred trust that had been laid on me, and so forth. He listened with a squared jaw and ugly suspicious eyes while I strummed on the falsetto. Then he broke out. “See here, Lord Clanroyden,” he said. “I’ve had enough of this stuff. You’ve been trying to fool me and I don’t like it. I see what your game is, and I don’t like it either. You take my advice and keep out of this business, or you’ll get hurt, big swell as you are. Old Haraldsen was a scoundrel, and there’s some of us who have a lot to get back from him and his precious son.”
‘I opened my eyes and started on another tack. I said that all this shocked me, and I’m hanged if I didn’t get him to believe that I meant it. You see, I was the new-comer who might have heard any kind of story from the other side. He actually seemed to want to put himself right in my eyes, and he gave me his own version. What it was doesn’t signify, except that he has a full-sized vendetta on his hands inherited from his father, and isn’t going to forget it. I must say I respected his truculence. It was rather like the kind of family legacy you have among the Indian frontier tribes. I pretended to be surprised, and not altogether unsympathetic, and we parted on very fair terms. I had got the two things I wanted. I had kept the gang uncertain what part I meant to play, and I had taken the measure of Troth. A bit of a ruffian as I have said, but not altogether a rogue. If he were the only one in the show I think he might be squared. He wants what he considers to be his rights, not loot in the general way. But of course he’s not alone, for there’s a bigger and subtler mind behind him. Can you put a name to it?’
‘Barralty,’ said Lombard and I in unison.
‘Yes, Barralty. He is the mind all right. I had to get a full view of Barralty, so I approached him from all kinds of angles. I’ve told you already about the Bloomsbury party, where he was a king among the half-baked. I followed up his trail in the City — Lombard started me on that — and my conclusion is that the Lepcha business hasn’t done him much harm. He has still plenty of money in the ordinary way, though not a hundredth part of what he wants, and his reputation is still high. I thought I’d have a peep at his political side, so I got Andrew Amos to arrange that I should attend a private conference between some of the intellectuals and the trade-union leaders — I was a boiler-maker from the Clyde and a fairly shaggy comrade. His performance there rather impressed me, for he managed to make himself a bridge between two utterly different worlds — put the idealistic stuff with a flavour of hard good sense, and the practical view with a touch of idealism. There’s a considerable future for him in politics, if he decides that way.
‘Then I thought that I’d better make his acquaintance. You know Charles Lamancha’s taste for freak parties? Well, I got him to give a dinner at the club — himself, Christopher Stannix, an Under–Secretary, a couple of bankers, and Ned Leithen, and I had myself placed next to Barralty. Of course by this time he knew all about me, for the Laverlaw party had begun, and his friends had discovered the way we have tied up Haraldsen’s fortune, so naturally I was considered the villain of the piece. He made no mistakes that night. He was very polite to me, and talked intelligently about my Far East Commission and foreign affairs generally, and even condescended to be enthusiastic about this Border country in which he said he often motored. He did not attempt to pump me, but behaved as if I were an ordinary guest of whom he had heard and whom he was quite glad to meet. There was some pretty good talk, for Stannix always manages to put life into a dinner table, and Barralty kept his end up. He had a wrangle with one of the bankers over some financial point, and I thought he put his case uncommonly well. So did the others, for he was listened to with respect. There’s no doubt that he has a pretty solid footing in the world, and there’s no mistake about his brains. He’s as quick as lightning on a point, and I can see him spinning an immense web and keeping his eye on every thread in it.’
‘I told you that weeks ago,’ said Lombard. ‘Barralty is as clever as the devil. But what about the rest of him — besides his mind?’
‘I’m coming to that. That was the thing I most wanted to know about, and it wasn’t easy to get cross-bearings. I had to dive into queer worlds and half-worlds and, as I’ve already said, I found that my unfortunate liking for low society came in useful. I found out most of what I wanted, but it has been a long job and not a particularly pleasant one. One piece of luck I had. There was bound to be a woman somewhere, and I scraped up acquaintance with Barralty’s particular friend. She’s a lovely creature, a red-haired Jewess, who just missed coming off as a film-star. Heaven knows what her real name is, but she calls herself Lydia Ludlow.’
‘She came to tea at Fosse,’ Peter John put in. ‘I remember her name. My mother said she was an actress.’
‘Dick,’ said Sandy solemnly, ‘I think Peter John should be in bed. But I won’t enlarge upon Miss Ludlow, except to say that she was hard to get to know, but that she repaid me for my trouble. I was an American film magnate, very well made up, and I don’t think she is likely to recognize me again. I had a wonderful scheme for a super-film about Herod Agrippa, which would star her. So we had a number of confidential talks, in which Barralty’s name cropped up as a friend who would take a share in the venture. You see, it was to be a great Anglo–American show, a sort of proof of the unity of art and the friendship of the Anglo–Saxon race. I learned from her a good deal about Barralty. He is her slave, it appears, but the fetters don’t gall, for his success is to be her success. The two of them represent a pretty high-powered ambition, and Miss Ludlow won’t let the pressure slacken.’
‘What’s your conclusion?’ I asked. ‘A first-class brain, but how much stuff behind it?’
‘Not a great deal. I have collected all my evidence and carefully weighed it, and that is my verdict. Barralty has three spurs to prick him on — ambition, greed, which is part of his ambition, and his lady. But he has a lot of tethers to keep him still — fear of his reputation, fear of his skin, all sorts of funks. He’s not the bold class of lad. Rather a sheep in wolf’s clothing. If things were as they were a year ago, I believe we could settle the whole business out of hand.’
‘You mean — what?’ Haraldsen spoke for the first time.
‘Well, we could do a deal with Troth, a reasonable deal, and I believe he would stick to it. I could scare Albinus as I have scared Varrinder. And in spite of Miss Ludlow I think I could scare Barralty. Only you see that is impossible now, for a fifth figure has appeared, who puts a darker complexion on the thing. Before, it was not much more than melodrama, but now the tragic actor is on the boards. For the real wolf has arrived.’
‘We knew for certain that D’Ingraville was in it after Lombard’s escapade,’ I said.
I had to tell Sandy some of the details of Lombard’s story, for he had not heard them.
‘Yes,’ he said reflectively. ‘He must have been the man who drove the Stutz.’ He referred to a pocket diary. ‘There were three days when he slipped away from me, and now I know what he was doing. Otherwise I didn’t let him often out of my sight. No, I never was in his sight, but there wasn’t much he did in those weeks in London that I didn’t know. You see, I was on my own ground and he was a stranger, so I had a pull on him. He tried a little contre-espionage, but it was clumsy. I’ve been sitting tight and watching him, and all I can say is, that if he was formidable in Olifa he’s a dashed sight more formidable today.’
I whistled, for I had Sandy’s Olifa doings clear in my head, and I remembered just how big a part D’Ingraville had played there.
‘He’s a beast of prey,’ Sandy went on. ‘But in Olifa he was a sick beast, living an unnatural life on drugs which must have weakened his nerve. Now he’s the cured beast, stronger and much more dangerous than if he had never been sick. It’s exactly what happens with a man who gets over infantile paralysis — the strength of will and mind and body required to recover from the disease give the patient a vitality and self-confidence that lasts him for the rest of his days. I don’t know why God allowed it and by what magic he achieved it, but D’Ingraville today is as fit a man as any of us here, and with ten times our dæmonic power. . . . And he isn’t alone. You remember, Dick, the collection of toughs that Castor called his Bodyguard. I thought that all of them had been gathered in, but I was mistaken. Two at least survive — the ones called Carreras and Martel, the Spaniard and the Belgian. At this moment they’re with D’Ingraville in London, and you may bet they’re in with him in this show.’
‘But Martel was killed in your last scrap,’ I put in. ‘What was the name of the place? Veiro? You told me so. I don’t remember about Carreras, but I’m positive about Martel.’
‘So I thought,’ said Sandy; ‘but I was wrong. Carreras managed to leak out quite early, but I thought Martel was one of the bag at Veiro. But he’s very much alive. I could take you any day into a certain Soho restaurant, and show you Martel in a neat blue suit and yellow boots having his apéritif. The same lithe, hard-trained brute, with the scar over his left eye that he got from Geordie Hamilton. We have the genuine beasts of prey on our trail this time, Dick, my lad. . . . And I’ll tell you something more. We could have bought off, or scared off, the others, I think, but there’s no scaring D’Ingraville’s pack, and there’s only one price to buy them with and that’s every cent of Haraldsen’s fortune and my jade tablet. D’Ingraville, I understand, is particularly keen on the jade tablet — naturally, for he’s an imaginative blackguard.’
‘But how will the old lot mix with the new?’ I asked.
‘They won’t,’ said Sandy grimly. ‘But if I’m any judge of men, they’ll have to do as they’re told. None of them can stand up for a moment against D’Ingraville. Troth, the ordinary, not too scrupulous, sedentary attorney — Barralty, the timid intellectual — what can they do against the real desperado? I could almost be sorry for them, for they’re young rabbits in the fox’s jaw. D’Ingraville is the leader now, and the rest must follow, whether they like it or not. He won’t loosen his grip on either his opponents or his allies. He’s the real enemy. My old great-great-great-grandfather at Dettingen led his regiment into action after telling them, “Ye see those lads on yon hill? Well, if ye dinna kill them, they’ll kill you.” That’s what I say about D’Ingraville.’
‘So much for the lay-out,’ I said. ‘What do you propose to do about it?’
‘At first I was for peace,’ Sandy answered. ‘I thought that the gang could be squared or scared. I knew that D’Ingraville couldn’t, but I fancied he might be dealt with in another way — he and his Bodyguard. I saw the Olifa Embassy people, but it’s no good. There’s not enough positive evidence against them to make extradition possible. Besides, even if there were, it wouldn’t solve Haraldsen’s problem. These hounds will stick to his track, and, unless they could be decently strung up, there’s no lasting security for him. So I take it that things have come to a crisis. At any rate they’re coming, and we must face it. It’s no good our sheltering here any longer. I dare say we could stave them off for a bit, but it would be a rotten life for everybody, and some day they would get under our guard. We must fight them, and choose our own ground for it, and, since they are outside civilization, we must be outside it too.’
‘I don’t see the sense of that,’ I said. ‘This is a law-abiding country, and that will cramp D’Ingraville’s style. If we go down into the jungle the jungle beasts will have the advantage.’
Sandy shook his head.
‘First, you can’t bring things to the point in a law-abiding land. Second, a move will cramp the style of Troth and Barralty worse than ever. Third, D’Ingraville is a product of civilization, and I’d be more afraid of him in a Paris street than on a desert island. So I agree with what I overheard Haraldsen say when I overtook you on the hill. We must fight the last round in the Island of Sheep.’
Then Haraldsen spoke.
‘That is my resolution,’ he said in his slow, quiet voice. He stood up and stretched his great form to its full height, much as I had seen his father do on that moonlit hill long ago. ‘I will do as the old dog did this afternoon, and snap back at my tormentors.’
‘Right,’ said Sandy. We all felt the tension of the moment, and he wanted to keep the temperature down. ‘I think that is common sense. I will arrange that the papers announce that you are going back to the Norlands. We had better divide up. I have a friend, a trawler skipper in Aberdeen, who will take you. By the way, what about your daughter?’
‘Anna goes with me. I should be a wretched man if she were out of my sight. Also, it is right that she should share in my destiny.’
‘I dare say that’s wise. If you left her here, they might make a hostage of her. Dick, you can go by the monthly Iceland boat, which sails next week from Leith, and you’d better take Geordie Hamilton. I will come on later. You may be certain that the pack will be hot after us as soon as they learn our plans. Laverlaw and Fosse and Mary and Peter John and Barbara and the infant will be left in peace.’
There was a small groan from Peter John. He had been listening to our talk with eyes like saucers. ‘Mayn’t I come too?’ he pled.
‘No, my lad,’ I said, though his piteous face went to my heart. ‘You’re too young, and there’s no duty in it for you. We can’t afford camp-followers.’
‘But I will not permit it,’ Haraldsen cried passionately. ‘I go to meet my fate, whatever God may send, I and my daughter. But I will not have you endanger yourself for me. You have been most noble and generous; but your task is over, for you have restored me to myself and made me a man again. I go to my home to fight out the battle there with one or two of my own people. You, my friends, will remain in your homes, and thank God that He has given you peace.’
‘Not I,’ I said. ‘I promised your father to stand by you, and I’m jolly well going to stick to that. Besides, I’m getting fat and slack, and I need fining down. I wouldn’t be out of this for all your millions. What about you, Lombard?’
‘I’m on,’ was the answer. ‘I swore the same oath as you, and I want some exercise to stir up my liver. I’ve tidied up my affairs for a month or two, for I meant, anyhow, to take a long holiday. Beryl won’t object. She’s as keen on this job as I am.’
I had spoken briskly, but my heart was in my boots. I was certain that Mary would raise no objections, as she had raised none in the ‘Three Hostages’ business, but I knew that she would be desperately anxious. I had no fears for her and Peter John, for the battle-ground would be moved a thousand miles off, but I saw a miserable time ahead for those that I loved best.
Haraldsen stared at us and his eyes filled with tears. He seized on Lombard, who was nearest him, and hugged him like a bear. I managed to avoid an embrace, but he wrung my hand.
‘I did not know there was such honour in the world,’ he said with his voice breaking. ‘Now indeed I may be bold, for I have on either side of me a friend.’
Then he looked at Sandy, of whom he had hitherto been rather in awe.
‘But of you, Lord Clanroyden, I can ask nothing. You have sworn no oath, and you are a great man who is valuable to his country. Also, you have a young wife and a little baby. I insist that you stay at home, for this enterprise of ours, I must tell you, will be very difficult. And I think it may be very dangerous.’
‘Oh, I know that,’ was the answer. ‘Barbara knows it too, and she would be the first to tell me to go. I have a bigger interest in this than any of you. Give me some beer, Dick, and I’ll tell you a story.’
I filled up his tankard and very deliberately he lit his pipe. His eyes rested on each of us in turn — Lombard a little flushed and excited, me rather solemnized by the line things were taking, Peter John who had suddenly gone pale, and Haraldsen towering above us like a Norse rover. In the end they caught Haraldsen’s eyes, and some compelling force in them made him pull up a chair and sit down stiffly, like a schoolboy in the headmaster’s room.
‘Three days ago,’ said Sandy, ‘I had a little trip across the Channel. I flew to Geneva, and there got a car and motored deep into the Savoy glens. In the evening I came to a small, ancient chateau high up on the knees of the mountains. In the twilight I could see a white wedge poking up in the eastern sky, which I knew to be Mont Blanc. I spent the night there, and my host was D’Ingraville.’
We all exclaimed, for it sounded the maddest risk to take.
‘There was no danger,’ Sandy went on. ‘I was perfectly certain about my man. He belongs to a family that goes back to the Crusades and has come badly down in the world. That little dwelling is all that is left to a man whose forbears once owned half Haute Savoie. There’s a sentimental streak in D’Ingraville, and that hill-top of his is for him the dearest thing on earth. I had discovered that, never mind how, and I wasn’t afraid of his putting poison in my coffee. He’s a scoundrel, but on a big scale, and he has some rags of gentility left.
‘Well, we had an interesting evening. I didn’t try to bargain with him, but we exchanged salutes, so to speak, before battle. I wanted to find out the mood he was in, now that he was a cured man, and to discover just how far he meant to go. There’s no doubt on that point. He is playing up to the limit. He is going to skin Haraldsen, and perhaps Troth and Barralty into the bargain. But there’s more in it than greed. Once it might have been possible to buy him off with an immense sum — but not now, since he knows I’m in it. He has come to regard me as his eternal enemy. The main quarrel now is not between Haraldsen and the Pack, but between D’lngraville and me. He challenged me, and I accepted the challenge.’
He must have seen disapproval in my face, for he went on.
‘There was no other way, Dick. It wasn’t vanity. He might go about the world boasting that he had beaten me, and I would never give it a thought. I’m quite content that he should find his own way to Hell. But there’s more to it than that. He’s what is left over from my Olifa job, and till those remains are swept up, that job isn’t finished. I can’t leave the thing half done. I can’t let that incarnate devil go loose in the world. If I shirked his challenge I should never sleep in my bed again.’
There had come into Sandy’s face that look that I had seen once or twice before — on the little hill outside Erzerum, in Medina’s library in Hill Street — and I knew that I might just as well argue with a whirlwind. He was smiling, but his eyes were solemn.
‘He saw me off next morning in a wonderful mountain dawn. “It’s good to be alive in such a world,” he said. “Au revoir. It will not be long, I hope, till we meet again.” Well, I’m going to hurry on that meeting. I’m going to join him on your island, and I think that one or the other of us won’t leave it.’
Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 11:50