The House of the Four Winds - John Buchan - ebook

The House of the Four Winds ebook

John Buchan



Third and final part of the Dickson McCunn trilogy, where he and the usual sidekicks fall into a plot involving an exiled prince’s attempt to regain the throne despite the efforts of bad guys to keep him from it. The novel is set in the fictional Central European country of Evallonia in the early 1930s. It concerns the involvement of some Scottish visitors in the overthrow of a corrupt republic and the restoration of the monarchy. It is a sequel to Castle Gay, in which some Evallonians visited Scotland on a secret mission two years before the start of this novel. The three McCunn books are best read in order as there are a number of references to events that happened in previous books. This book chronicles the methodology of a bloodless patriotic coup that might be helpful today around the world!

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Chapter 1. The Man With The Elephant

Chapter 2. The House Of The Four Winds

Chapter 3. Diversions Of A Marionette

Chapter 4. Difficulties Of A Revolutionary

Chapter 5. Surprising Energy Of A Convalescent

Chapter 6. Arrivals At An Inn

Chapter 7. “Si Vieillesse Pouvait”

Chapter 8. Splendide Mendax

Chapter 9. Night In The Woods

Chapter 10. Aurunculeia

Chapter 11. The Blood-Red Rook

Chapter 12. The Street Of The White Peacock

Chapter 13. The March On Melina



Great events, says the philosophic historian, spring only from great causes, though the immediate occasion may be small; but I think his law must have exceptions. Of the not inconsiderable events which I am about to chronicle, the occasion was trivial, and I find it hard to detect the majestic agency behind them. What world-force, for example, ordained that Mr Dickson McCunn should slip into the Tod’s Hole in his little salmon-river on a bleak night in April; and, without changing his clothes, should thereafter make a tour of inspection of his young lambs? His action was the proximate cause of this tale, but I can see no profounder explanation of it than the inherent perversity of man.

The performance had immediate consequences for Mr McCunn. He awoke next morning with a stiff neck, an aching left shoulder, and a pain in the small of his back–he who never in his life before had had a touch of rheumatism. A vigorous rubbing with embrocation failed to relieve him, and, since he was accustomed to robust health, he found it intolerable to hobble about with a thing like a toothache in several parts of his body. Dr Murdoch was sent for from Auchenlochan, and for a fortnight Mr McCunn had to endure mustard plasters and mustard baths, to swallow various medicines, and to submit to a rigorous diet. The pains declined, but he found himself to his disgust in a low state of general health, easily tired, liable to sudden cramps, and with a poor appetite for his meals. After three weeks of this condition he lost his temper. Summer was beginning, and he reflected that, being now sixty-three years of age, he had only a limited number of summers left to him. His gorge rose at the thought of dragging his wing through the coming delectable months–long- lighted June, the hot July noons with the corncrakes busy in the hay, the days on August hills, red with heather and musical with bees. He curbed his distaste for medical science, and departed to Edinburgh to consult a specialist.

That specialist gave him a purifying time. He tested his blood and his blood pressure, kneaded every part of his frame, and for the better part of a week kept him under observation. At the end he professed himself clear in the general but perplexed in the particular.

“You’ve never been ill in your life?” he said. “Well, that is just your trouble. You’re an uncommonly strong man–heart, lungs, circulation, digestion, all in first-class order. But it stands to reason that you must have secreted poisons in your body, and you have never got them out. The best prescription for a fit old age is a bad illness in middle life, or, better still, a major operation. It drains off some of the middle-age humours. Well, you haven’t had that luck, so you’ve been a powder magazine with some nasty explosives waiting for the spark. Your tom-fool escapade in the Stinchar provided the spark, and here you are–a healthy man mysteriously gone sick. You’ve got to be pretty careful, Mr McCunn. It depends on how you behave in the next few months whether you will be able to fish for salmon on your eightieth birthday, or be doddering round with two sticks and a shawl on your seventieth.”

Mr McCunn was scared, penitent and utterly docile. He professed himself ready for the extremest measures, including the drawing of every tooth in his head.

The specialist smiled. “I don’t recommend anything so drastic. What you want first of all is an exact diagnosis. I can assess your general condition, but I can’t put my finger on the precise mischief. That needs a technique which we haven’t developed sufficiently in this country. Next, you must have treatment, but treatment is a comparatively simple affair if you first get the right diagnosis. So I am going to send you to Germany.”

Mr McCunn wailed. Banishment from his beloved Blaweary was a bitter pill.

“Yes, to Germany. To quite a pretty place called Rosensee, in Saxon Switzerland. There’s a kurhaus there run by a man called Christoph. You never heard his name, of course–few people have–but he is a therapeutic genius of the first order. You can take my word for that. I’ve known him again and again pull people out of their graves. His main subject is nerves, but he is good for everything that is difficult and mysterious, for in my opinion he is the greatest diagnoser in the world… By the way, you live in Carrick? Well, I sent one of your neighbours to Rosensee last year–Sir Archibald Roylance–he was having trouble with a damaged leg–and now he walks nearly as well as you and me. It seems there was a misplaced sinew which everybody else had overlooked… Dr Christoph will see you three times a day, stare at you like an owl, ask you a thousand questions and make no comment for at least a fortnight. Then he will deliver judgment, and you may take it that it will be right. After that the treatment is a simple matter. In a week or two you will be got up in green shorts and a Tyrolese hat and an alpenstock and a rope round your middle, climbing the little rocks of those parts… Yes, I think I can promise you that you’ll be fit and ready for the autumn salmon.”

Mr McCunn, trained to know a competent man when he saw him, accepted the consultant’s prescription, and rooms were taken for him at the Rosensee kurhaus. His wife did not accompany him for three reasons: first, she had a profound distaste for foreign countries and regarded Germany as still a hostile State; second, she could not believe that rheumatism, which was an hereditary ailment in her own family, need be taken seriously, so she felt no real anxiety about his health; third, he forbade her. She proposed to stay at Blaweary till the end of June, and then to await her husband’s return at a Rothesay hydropathic. So early in the month Mr McCunn a little disconsolately left these shores. He took with him as body-servant and companion one Peter Wappit, who at Blaweary was game-keeper, forester and general handy-man. Peter, having fought in France with the Scots Fusiliers, and having been two years a prisoner in Germany, was believed by his master to be an adept at foreign tongues.

Nor was there any profound reason in the nature of things why Lord Rhynns, a well-preserved gentleman of sixty-seven, should have tumbled into a ditch that spring at Vallescure and broken his left leg. He was an active man and a careful, but his mind had been busy with the Newmarket entries, so that he missed a step, rolled some yards down a steep slope of rock and bracken, and came to rest with a leg doubled unpleasantly under him. The limb was well set, but neuritis followed, with disastrous consequences to the Rhynns ménage. For his wife, whose profession was a gentle invalidism, found herself compelled to see to household affairs, and as a result was on the verge of a nervous breakdown. The family moved from watering-place to watering-place, seeking a cure for his lordship’s affliction, till at the mountain village of Unnutz Lady Rhynns could bear it no longer. A telegram was despatched to their only child requiring her instant attendance upon distressed parents.

This was a serious blow to Miss Alison Westwater, who had been making very different plans for the summer. She was then in London, living with her Aunt Harriet, who two years before had espoused Mr Thomas Carlyle Craw, the newspaper magnate. It was the Craws’ purpose to go north after Ascot to the Westwater house, Castle Gay, in the Canonry, of which Mr Craw had a long lease, and Alison, for whom a very little of London sufficed, had exulted in the prospect. Now she saw before her some dismal weeks–or months–in an alien land, in the company of a valetudinarian mother and a presumably irascible father. Her dreams of Scotland, to which she was passionately attached, of salmon in the Callowa and trout in the hill lochs and bright days among the heather, had to be replaced by a dreary vista of baking foreign roads, garish foreign hotels, tarnished pine-woods, tidy clothes and all the things which her soul abominated.

There was perhaps more of a cosmic motive in the determination that summer of the doings of Mr Dougal Crombie and Sir Archibald Roylance, for in their cases we touch the fringe of high politics. Dougal was now a force, almost the force, in the Craw Press. The general manager, Mr Archibald Bamff, was growing old, he had taken to himself a wife, and his fancy toyed pleasantly with retirement to some country hermitage. So in the past year Dougal had been gradually taking over his work, and, since he had the complete confidence of Mr Craw, and the esteem of Mr Craw’s masterful wife, he found himself in his early twenties charged with much weighty and troublesome business. He was a power behind the throne, and the more potent because few suspected his presence. Only one or two people–a Cabinet minister, an occasional financial magnate, a few highly placed Government officials–realised the authority that was wielded by this sombre and downright young man. Early in June he set out on an extensive Continental trip, the avowed purpose of which was to look into certain paper-making concerns which Mr Craw had acquired after the war. But his main object was not disclosed, for it was deeply secret. Mr Craw had long interested himself in the republic of Evallonia, his sympathies being with those who sought to restore the ancient monarchy. Now it appeared that the affairs of that country were approaching a crisis, and it was Dougal’s mission to spy out the land.

As for Sir Archibald Roylance, he had been saddled with an honourable but distasteful duty. He had been the better part of two years in the House of Commons, and had already made a modest mark. He spoke infrequently and always on matters which he knew something about–the air, agriculture, foreign affairs–and his concise and well-informed speeches were welcomed amid the common verbiage of debate. He had become parliamentary private secretary to the Under-Secretary for Foreign Affairs, who had been at school with him. That summer the usual Disarmament Conference was dragging its slow length along; it became necessary for Mr Despenser, the Under-Secretary, to go to Geneva, and Sir Archie was ordered to accompany him. He received the mandate with little pleasure. The session that summer would end early, and he wanted to get to Crask, for he had been defrauded of his Easter holiday in the Highlands. Geneva he believed might last for months and he detested the place, which, as Lord Lamancha had once said, was full of the ghosts of mouldy old jurisconsults, and the living presence of cosmopolitan bores. But his spirits had improved when he discovered that he might take Janet with him.

“We’ll find a chance of slipping away,” he told his wife. “One merit of these beastly conferences is that they are always adjourning. We’ll hop it into eastern Europe or some other fruity place. Hang it all, now that I’ve got the use of both legs, I don’t see why we shouldn’t climb a mountain or two. Dick Hannay’s yarns have made me rather keen to try that game.”

Certain of these transmigrations played havoc with the plans of Mr John Galt, of St. Mark’s College, Cambridge, who, having just attained a second class in his Tripos and having so concluded his university career, felt himself entitled to an adequate holiday. He had intended to make his headquarters at Blaweary, which was the only home he had ever known, and thence to invade the Canonry, fishing its lochs and sleeping in its heather. But Blaweary would presently be shut up in Mr McCunn’s absence, and if Alison Westwater was not at Castle Gay, the Canonry lost all its charm. Still, he must have some air and exercise. The summer term had been busy and stuffy, and to a Rugby player there were few attractions in punts among lilied backwaters. He would probably have to go alone to the Canonry, but his fancy had begun to toy with another scheme–a walking-tour in southeastern France or among the Jura foothills, where new sights and smells and sounds would relieve his loneliness. It was characteristic of him that he never thought of finding a male companion; for the last two years Alison had been for him the only companion in the world.

On the 13th of June he was still undecided, but that night his thoughts were narrowed to a happy orbit. For Alison was dining with him before her journey abroad, and together they were going on to a party which the Lamanchas were giving to the delegates to an international conference then in session in London. For one evening at least the world was about to give him all he desired.

It was a warm night, but the great room at Maurice’s was cool with fans and sunblinds, though every table was occupied. From their corner, at the foot of the shallow staircase which is the main entrance, they had an excellent view of the company. There seemed to be a great many uniforms about, and a dazzling array of orders, no doubt in view of the Lamancha function. It was easy to talk, for at Maurice’s there is no band till supper-time.

“You shouldn’t have brought me here, Jaikie,” said Alison. “It’s too extravagant. And you’re giving me far too good a dinner.”

“It’s a celebration,” was the answer. “I’ve done with Cambridge.”

“Are you sorry?”

“No. I liked it, for I like most things, but I don’t want to linger over them.”

The girl laughed merrily, and a smile slowly crept into Jaikie’s face.

“You’re quite right,” he said. “That was a priggish thing to say, but it’s true, all the same.”

“I know. I never met anyone who wasted so little time in regrets. I wish I were like you, for I want anything I like to go on for ever. Cambridge must have slipped off you like water off a duck’s back. What did you get out of it?”

“Peace to grow up. I’ve very nearly grown up now. I have discovered most of the things I can do and the things I can’t. I know the things I like and the things I don’t.”

Alison knitted her brows. “That’s not much good. So do I. The thing to find out is, what you can do BEST and what you like MOST. You told me a year ago that that was what you were after. Have you decided?”

“No,” was the glum answer. “I think I have collected the material, so to speak, but I haven’t sorted it out. I was looking to you to help me this summer in the Canonry, and now you’re bolting to Italy or somewhere.”

“Not Italy, my dear. A spot called Unnutz in the Tirol. You’re not very good at geography.”

“Mayn’t I come too?”

“No, you mayn’t. You’d simply loath it. A landscape like a picture postcard. Tennis and bumble-puppy golf and promenades, all in smart clothes. Infinite boring evenings when I have to play picquet with Papa or talk hotel French to Mamma’s friends. Besides, my family wouldn’t understand you. You haven’t been properly presented to them, and Unnutz is not the place for that. You wouldn’t be at your best there.”

Two people passed on the way to their table, a tall young man with a lean ruddy face, and a pretty young woman, whose hair was nearly as bright a thing as Alison’s. The young woman stopped.

“My dear Allie,” she cried, “I haven’t seen you for ages. Archie, it’s Cousin Allie. They tell me you’re being dragged abroad, the same as us. What’s your penitentiary? Ours is Geneva.”

“Mine’s a place in the Tirol. Any chance of our meeting?”

“There might be. Archie has a notion of dashing about, for apparently an international conference is mostly adjournments. He’s so spry on his legs since Dr Christoph took him in hand that he rather fancies himself as a mountaineer. What’s your address?”

The lady scribbled it down in a notebook which she took from her bag, nodded gaily, and followed her husband and a waiter to their own table. Alison looked after them.

“That’s the nicest couple on earth. She was Janet Raden, a sort of cousin of mine. Her husband, Archie Roylance… “

Jaikie interrupted.

“Great Scot! Is that Sir Archibald Roylance? I once knew him pretty well–for one day. I’ve told you about the Gorbals Diehards and Huntingtower. He was the ally we enlisted– lived at a place called the Mains of Garple. Ask Mr McCunn about him. I’ve often wondered when I should see him again, for I felt pretty certain I would–some day. He hasn’t changed much.”

“He can’t change. Sir Archie is the most imperishable thing God ever created. He’ll be a wild boy till he’s ninety. Even with Janet to steady him I consider him dangerous, especially now that he has no longer a game leg… Hullo, Jaikie. We’re digging into the past to-night. Look who’s over there.”

She nodded towards a very brilliant table where some twenty people were dining, most of them in uniform. Among them was a fair young man in ordinary evening dress, without any decorations. He suddenly turned his face, recognised Alison, and, with a word of apology to the others, left his seat and came towards her. When she rose and curtsied, Jaikie had a sudden recollection.

“It is Miss Westwater, is it not?” said the young man, bowing over her hand. “My adorable preserver! I have not forgotten Prince Charlie and the Solway sands.”

He turned to Jaikie.

“And the Moltke of the campaign, too! What is the name? Wait a minute. I have it–Jaikie. What fun to see you again! Are you two by any happy chance espoused?”

“Not yet,” said Alison. “What are you doing in England, sir?”

“Holidaying. I cannot think why all the world does not holiday in England. It is the only really peaceful and pleasant place.”

“How true, sir! I have to go abroad to-morrow, and I feel like an exile.”

“Then why do you go?”

“I am summoned by neglected parents. To Unnutz, in the Tirol.”

The young man’s pleasant face grew suddenly grave.

“Unnutz. Above the Waldersee, in the Firnthal?”

“The same. Do you know it, sir?”

“I know it. I do not think it a very good place for a holiday–not this summer. But if it becomes unpleasant you can return home, for you English are always free to travel. But I should be careful in Unnutz, my dear Miss Westwater, and I should take Mr Jaikie with you as a protector.”

He shook hands and departed smiling, but he left on the two the impression of an unexpected solemnity.

“What do you suppose is worrying Prince John?” Alison asked.

“The affairs of Evallonia. You remember at Castle Gay we thought the Republic would blow up any moment and that a month or two would see Prince John on the throne. That’s two years ago and nothing has happened. Dougal is out there now looking into the situation. He may ginger them up.”

“What makes him so solemn about Unnutz? By all accounts it’s the ordinary gimcrack little foreign watering-place. He talked of it as if it were a sort of Chicago slum.”

“He is a wise man, for he said you should take me with you.”

They had reached the stage of coffee and cigarettes, and were now more free to watch their neighbours. It was a decorous assembly, in accordance with the tradition of Maurice’s, and the only gaiety seemed to be among the womenkind of Prince John’s party. The Prince’s own face was very clear in the light of an overhanging lamp, and both Alison and Jaikie found themselves watching it–its slight heaviness in repose, its quick vivacity when interested, the smile which drew half its charm from a most attractive wrinkling around the eyes.

“It is the face of a prince,” said Alison, “but not of a king–at any rate, not the kind of king that wins a throne. There’s no dynamite in it.”

“What sort of face do you give makers of revolutions?” Jaikie asked.

The girl swung round and regarded him steadily.

“Your sort,” she said. “You look so meek and good that everybody loves you. And wise, wise like an old terrier. And yet, in the two years I have known you, you have filled up your time with the craziest things. First”–she counted on her fingers–”you went off to Baffin Island to trade old rifles for walrus ivory.”

Jaikie grinned. “I made seventy-three pounds clear: I call that a success.”

“Then you walked from Cambridge to Oxford within a day and a night.”

“That was a failure. I was lame for a fortnight and couldn’t play in the Welsh match.”

“You went twice as a deck hand on a Grimsby trawler– first to Bear Island and then to the Whales’ Back. I don’t know where these places are, but they sound beastly.”

“They were. I was sick most of the time.”

“Last and worst, it was only your exams and my prayers that kept you from trying to circumnavigate Britain in a sailing canoe, when you would certainly have been drowned. What do you mean by it, Jaikie? It looks as if you were as neurotic as a Bloomsbury intellectual, though in a different way. Why this restlessness?”

“I wasn’t restless. I did it all quite calmly, on purpose.” Into Jaikie’s small face there had come an innocent seriousness.

“You see,” he went on, “when I was a small boy I was rather a hardy citizen. I’ve told you about that. Then Mr McCunn civilised me, which I badly needed. But I didn’t want it to soften me. We are living in a roughish world to-day, and it is going to get rougher, and I don’t want to think that there is any experience to which I can’t face up. I’ve been trying to keep myself tough. You see what I mean, Alison?”

“I see. It’s rather like painting the lily, you know. I wish I were going to the Canonry, for there’s a lot of things I want to have out with you. Promise to keep quiet till I come back.”

The Lamanchas’ party was so large and crowded that Alison and Jaikie found it easy to compass solitude. Once out of the current that sucked through the drawing-rooms towards the supper-room there were quiet nooks to be discovered in the big house. One such they found in an alcove, where the upper staircase ascended from the first floor, and where, at a safe distance, they could watch the procession of guests. Alison pointed out various celebrities to the interested Jaikie, and a number of relations with whom she had no desire to have closer contact. But on one of the latter she condescended to details. He was a very tall man, whose clothes, even in that well-dressed assembly, were conspicuous for their elegance. He had a neatly trimmed blond beard, and hair worn a little longer than the fashion and as wavy as a smart woman’s coiffure. They only saw his profile as he ascended the stairs, and his back as he disappeared into the main drawing-room.

“There’s another cousin of mine,” said the girl, “the queerest in all our queer clan. His name is Randal Glynde, and he has been everything in his time from cow-puncher to film star, not to mention diplomat, and various sorts of soldier, and somebody’s private secretary. The family doesn’t approve of him, for they never know what he’ll do next, but he was very nice to me when I was a little girl, and I used to have a tremendous culte for him.”

Jaikie was not listening, for he felt very depressed. This was his last hour with Alison for months, and the light had suddenly gone out of his landscape. He had never been lonely in his life before he met her, having at the worst found good company in himself; but now he longed for a companion, and out of the many millions of the world’s inhabitants there was only one that he wanted.

“I can’t go to Scotland,” he said. “Blaweary is impossible, and if I went into the Canonry with you not there I’d howl.”

“Poor Jaikie!” Alison laid a hand upon his. “But it’s only another bit of the toughening you’re so fond of. I promise to write to you a great deal, and it won’t be long till the autumn. You won’t be half as lonely as I.”

“I wish I thought that,” said Jaikie, brightening a little. “I like being alone, but I don’t like being lonely. I think I’ll go abroad too.”

“Why don’t you join Mr McCunn?”

“He won’t let me. He’s doing a cure and is forbidden company.”

“Or Dougal?”

“He wouldn’t have me either. He thinks he’s on some silly kind of secret service, and he’s as mysterious about it as a sick owl. But I might go for a tramp somewhere. My finances will just run to it.”

“Hullo, here’s Ran,” said Alison. The tall man with the fair beard had drifted towards them, and was now looking down on the girl. On a closer view he appeared to be nearer forty than thirty. Jaikie noticed that he had Alison’s piercing blue eyes, with the same dancing light in them. There and then, being accustomed to rapid judgments, he felt well disposed towards the tall stranger.

“Alison dear.” Mr Glynde put his hand on the girl’s head. “I hear that your father has at last achieved gout.”

“No. It’s neuritis, which makes him much angrier. He would accept gout as a family legacy, but he dislikes unexpected visitations. I go out to him to-morrow.”

“Unnutz, isn’t it? A dreary little place. I fear you won’t enjoy it, my dear.”

“Where have you come from, Ran? We last heard of you in Russia.”

“I have been in many places since Russia.” Mr Glynde’s voice had an odd quality in it, as if he were gently communing with himself. “After a time in deep water I come up to breathe, and then go down again.”

“You’ve chosen very smart clothes to breathe in.”

“I always try to suit my clothes to my company. It is the only way to be inconspicuous.”

“Have you been writing any more poetry?”

“Not a word in English, but I have written some rather charming things in mediæval Latin. I’ll send you them. It is the best tongue for a vagabond.”

Alison introduced Jaikie.

“Here’s another of your totem, Cousin Ran. You can’t corrupt him, for he is quite as mad as you.”

Mr Glynde smiled pleasantly as he shook hands, and Jaikie had an impression that his eyes were the most intelligent that he had ever seen, eyes which took in everything, and saw very deep, and had a mind behind them that did not forget. He felt too that something in his own face pleased the other, for there was friendliness behind the inquisition.

“He has just finished Cambridge, and finds himself at a loose end. He is hesitating between Scotland and a tramp on the Continent. What do you advise?”

“When you are young these decisions may be fateful things. I have always trusted to the spin of a coin. I carry with me a Greek stater which has made most of my decisions for me. What about tossing for it?”

He took from the pocket of his white waistcoat a small gold coin and handed it to Jaikie.

“It’s a lucky coin,” he said. “At least it has brought me infinite amusement. Try it.”

Jaikie had a sudden queer feeling that the occasion had become rather solemn, almost sacramental. “Heads Scotland, tails abroad,” he said and tossed. It fell tails.

“Behold,” said Mr Glynde, “your mind is made up for you. You will wander along in the white dust and drink country wine and doze in the woods, knowing that the unseen Powers are with you. Where, by the way, did you think of going? You have no preference? You have been very little abroad? How fortunate to have all Europe spread out for your choice. But I should not go too far east, Mr Galt. Keep to the comfortable west if you want peace. If you go too far east this summer, you may find that the spin of my little stater has been rather too fateful.”

As Jaikie put Alison into a taxi, he observed Mr Glynde leaving the house on foot with a companion. He had a glimpse of that companion’s face, and saw that it was Prince John of Evallonia.



The inn at Kremisch, the Stag with the Two Heads, has an upper room so bowed with age that it leans drunkenly over the village street. It is a bare place, which must be chilly in winter, for the old casement has many chinks in it, and the china stove does not look efficient, and the rough beechen table, marked by many beer mugs, and the seats of beechwood and hide are scarcely luxurious. But on this summer night to one who had been tramping all day on roads deep in white dust under a merciless sun it seemed a haven of ease. Jaikie had eaten an admirable supper on a corner of the table, a supper of cold ham, an omelet, hot toasted rye-cakes and a seductive cheese. He had drunk wine tapped from a barrel and cold as water from a mountain spring, and had concluded with coffee and cream in a blue cup as large as a basin. Now he could light his pipe and watch the green dusk deepen behind the onion spire of the village church.

The milestones in his journey had been the wines. Jaikie was no connoisseur, and indeed as a rule preferred beer, but the vintage of a place seemed to give him the place’s flavour and wines made a diary of his pilgrimage. His legs bore him from valley to valley, but he drank himself from atmosphere to atmosphere. He had begun among strong burgundies which needed water to make a thirst-quenching drink, and continued through the thin wines of the hills to the coarse red stuff of south Germany and a dozen forgotten little local products. In one upland place he had found a drink like the grey wine of Anjou, in another a sweet thing like Madeira, and in another a fiery sherry. Each night at the end of his tramp he concocted a long drink, and he stuck manfully to the juice of the grape; so, having a delicate palate and a good memory, he had now behind him a map of his track picked out in honest liquors.

Each was associated with some vision of sun-drenched landscape. He had been a month on the tramp, but he seemed to have walked through continents. As he half dozed at the open window, it was pleasant to let his fancy run back along the road. It had led him through vineyards grey at the fringes with dust, through baking beet-fields and drowsy cornlands and solemn forests; up into wooded hills and flowery meadows, and once or twice almost into the jaws of the great mountains; through every kind of human settlement, from hamlets which were only larger farms to brisk burghs clustered round opulent town-houses or castles as old as Charlemagne; by every kind of stream– unfordable great rivers, and milky mountain-torrents, and reedy lowland waters, and clear brooks slipping through mint and water-cress. He had walked and walked, seeking to travel and not to arrive, and making no plans except that his face was always to the sunrise. He was very dimly aware at any moment of his whereabouts, for his sole map was a sketchy thing out of a Continental Bradshaw.

But he had walked himself into contentment. At the start he had been restless and lonely. He wished that he could have brought Woolworth, now languishing at Blaweary, but he could not condemn that long-suffering terrier to months of quarantine. He wrote disconsolate letters to Alison in his vile handwriting, and received from her at various postes-restantes replies which revealed the dullness of her own life at Unnutz. She had nothing to write about, and it was never her habit to spoil good paper with trivial reflections. There was a time at the start when Jaikie’s mind had been filled with exasperating little cares, so that he turned a blank face to the world he was traversing. His future–what was he to do now that he was done with Cambridge? Alison–his need of her grew more desperate every day, but what could he offer her worthy of her acceptance? Only his small dingy self, he concluded, with nothing to his credit except a second-class degree, some repute at Rugby football, and the slenderest of bank balances. It seemed the most preposterous affair of a moth and a star.

But youth and the sun and wide spaces played their old healing part. He began to rise whistling from his bed in a pinewood or in a cheap country inn, with a sense that the earth was very spacious and curious. The strong aromatic sunlight drugged him into cheerfulness. The humours of the road were spread before him. He had learned to talk French fairly well, but his German was scanty; nevertheless, he had the British soldier’s gift of establishing friendship on a meagre linguistic basis, and he slipped inside the life of sundry little communities. His passion for new landscapes made every day’s march a romance, and, having a love of the human comedy, he found each night’s lodging an entertainment. He understood that he was looking at things in a new perspective. What had seemed a dull track between high walls was now expanding into open country.

Especially he thought happily about Alison. He did not think of her as a bored young woman with peevish parents in a dull health resort, but as he knew her in the Canonry, an audacious ally in any venture, staunch as the hills, kind as a west wind. So far as she was concerned, prudential thoughts about the future were an insult. She was there waiting for him as soon as he could climb to her high level. He encountered no delicacy of scene or weather but he longed to have her beside him to enjoy it. He treasured up scraps of wayside humour for her amusement, and even some shy meditations which some day he would confide to her. They did not go into his letters, which became daily scrappier– but these letters now concluded with what for Jaikie were almost the messages of a lover.

He was in a calmer mood, too, about himself. Had he been more worldly-wise he might have reflected that some day he must be a rich man. Dickson McCunn had no chick nor child nor near relation, and he and Dougal were virtually his adopted sons. Dougal was already on the road to wealth and fame, and Dickson would see that Jaikie was well provided for. But characteristically he never thought of that probability. He had his own way to make with no man’s aid, and he was only waiting to discover the proper starting-point. But a pleasing lethargy possessed him. This delectable summer world was not the place for making plans. So far he was content with what he had done. Dickson had drawn him out of the depths into the normal light of day, and it had been his business to accustom his eyes to it. He was aware that, without Cambridge, he would have always been a little shy and suspicious of the life of a class into which he had not been born; now he knew it for what it was worth, and could look at it without prejudice but also without glamour. “Brother to a beggar, and fellow to a king”–what was Dougal’s phrase? Jaikie was no theorist, but he had a working philosophy, with the notion at the back of his head that human nature was much the same everywhere, and that one might dig out of the unlikeliest places surprising virtues. He considered that he had been lucky enough to have the right kind of education for the practice of this creed.

But it was no philosopher who sat with his knees hunched on the window-seat, but a drowsy and rather excited boy. His travels had given him more than content, for in these last days a faint but delicious excitement had been creeping into his mind. He was not very certain of his exact whereabouts on the map, but he knew that he had crossed the border of the humdrum world and was in a land of enchantments. There was nothing in the ritual of his days to justify this; his legs like compasses were measuring out the same number of miles; the environment was the same, the slow kindly peasants, the wheel of country life, the same bright mornings and cool evenings, the same plain meals voraciously eaten, and hard beds in which he fell instantly asleep. He could speak little of the language, and he did not know one soul within a hundred miles. He was the humblest of pilgrims, and the lowness of his funds would presently compel his return. Nevertheless, he was ridiculously expectant. He laughed at himself, but he could not banish the mood. He was awaiting something–or something was awaiting him.

The apple-green twilight deepened into emerald, and then into a velvet darkness, for the moon would rise late, and a haze obscured the stars. Long ago the last child had been hunted from the street into bed. Long ago the last villagers had left the seat under the vine trellis where they had been having their evening sederunt. Long ago the oxen had been brought into the byres and the goats driven in from the hillside. A wood-wagon had broken down by the bridge, and the blacksmith had been hammering at its axle, but his job was finished, and a spark of a lamp beaconed the derelict cart. Otherwise there was no light in earth or heaven, and no sound except the far-away drone of a waterfall in the high woods and an occasional stirring of beasts in byre or stable. Kremisch was in the deep sleep of those who labour hard, bed early, and rise with the dawn. Jaikie grew drowsy. He shook out his pipe, drew a long breath of the cool night air, and rose to take the lamp from the table and ascend to his bedroom.

Suddenly a voice spoke. It came from the outer air at about the level of the window. And it asked in German for a match.

Balaam was not more startled by the sudden loquacity of his ass than was Jaikie by this aerial summons. It shook him out of his sleepiness and made him nearly drop the lamp. “God bless my soul,” he said–his chief ejaculation, which he had acquired from Mr McCunn.

“He will,” said the voice, “if you’ll give me a light for my cigarette.”

The spirit apparently spoke English, and Jaikie, reassured, held the lamp to the darkness of the open casement. There was a face there, suspended in the air, a face with cheeks the colour of a dry beech leaf and a ragged yellow beard. It was a friendly face, and in the mouth was an unlit cigarette.

“What are you standing on?” Jaikie asked, for it occurred to him that this must be a man on stilts. He had heard of these as a custom in malarial foreign places.

“To be accurate, I am sitting,” was the answer. “Sitting on an elephant, if you must know. An agreeable female whom I call Aurunculeia. Out of Catullus, you remember. Almost his best poem.”

Jaikie lit a match, but the speaker waved it aside. “I think, if you don’t mind,” he said, “I’ll come in and join you for a minute. One doesn’t often meet an Englishman in these parts, and Aurunculeia has no vulgar passion for haste. As you have no doubt guessed, she and I are part of a circus–an integral and vital part–what you might call the primum mobile. But we were detained by a little accident. I was asleep, and we strayed from the road and did havoc in a field of marrows, which made some unpleasantness. So our lovely companions have faded and gone ahead to savour the fleshpots of Tarta, while we follow at our leisure. You have never ridden on an elephant? If you go slow enough, believe me it is the very poetry of motion, for you are part, as it were, of a cosmic process. How does it go? ‘Moved round in earth’s diurnal course, With rocks and stones and trees.’”

A word was spoken in a lower tone, there was the sound of the shuffling of heavy feet, and a man stepped lightly on to the window-sill and through the casement. His first act was to turn up the wick of the lamp on the table, and light his cigarette at its funnel.

Jaikie found himself gazing at a figure which might have been the Pied Piper. It was very tall and very ragged. It wore an old tunic of horizon-blue from which most of the buttons had gone, a scarlet cummerbund, and flapping cotton trousers which had once been white. It had no hat, and besides its clothes, its only other belonging was a long silver-mounted porcupine quill, which may have been used for the encouragement of Aurunculeia.

The scarecrow looked at Jaikie and saw something there which amused him, for he set his arms akimbo and laughed heartily. “How nature creeps up to art!” he cried. “Had this been an episode in a novel, it would have been condemned for its manifest improbability. There was an impish propulsive power about my little gold stater.”

He took a small coin from his pocket and regarded it affectionately. Then he asked a question which brought Jaikie out of his chair. “Have you any news of Cousin Alison, Mr Galt?”

Slowly, to Jaikie’s startled sight, the features of the scarecrow became the lineaments of the exquisite Mr Randal Glynde. The neat hair was now shaggy and very dusty, the beard was untrimmed, and every semblance of respectability had gone from his garments. But the long lean wrists were the same, the long slim fingers, and the penetrating blue eyes.

Mr Glynde replaced the stater in some corner of his person, and beamed upon Jaikie. He stretched an arm and grasped the jug of wine of which Jaikie had drunk about half, took a long pull at it, and set it down with a wry face.

“Vinegar,” he said. “I had forgotten that the Flosgebirge wine sours in an hour. Do not trouble yourself, Mr Galt, for I have long ago supped. We were talking about Cousin Alison, for whom I understand you have a kindness. So have I. So gracious is my memory of her that I have been reciting verses in her honour in the only tongue in which a goddess should be hymned.

Alison, bella puella candida, Quae bene superas lac et lilium Album, quae simul rosam rubidam Aut expolitum ebur Indicum, Pande, puella, pande capillulos Flavos, lucentes ut aurum nitidum.

What puzzles me is whether that is partly my own or wholly John the Silentiar’s. I had been reading John the Silentiar, but the book was stolen from me, so I cannot verify… No, I will not sleep here. I must sleep at Tarta, though it will be broad daylight before I shut my eyes. Tatius, my manager, is a worthy man, but he is to Meleager my clown as acid to a raw wound, and without me to calm them they will be presently rubbing each other’s noses in the mud.”

“Are you a circus proprietor?” Jaikie asked.

Mr Glynde nodded pleasantly.

“In me you see the sole proprietor of the epochal, the encyclopædic, the grandiose Cirque Doré of Aristide Lebrun. The epithets are not mine, but those of the late Aristide, who these three years has been reposing in full evening dress in the cemetery of Montléry. I purchased the thing from his widow, stock-in-trade, good-will and all–even the gentle Aurunculeia. I have travelled with it from the Pyrenees to the Carpathians and from the Harz to the Apennines. Some day, who knows, I will widen these limits and go from the Sierra-Nevada to the Urals, and from the Jotunheim to Parnassus. Geography has always intoxicated me.”

“I understand the fun of travelling,” said Jaikie, “but isn’t a circus rather heavy baggage to lug after you?”

“Ah, no. You do not realise the power of him who carries with him a little world of merriment, which can be linked to that substratum of merriment which is found in every human species. No fumbling for him–he finds the common touch at once. He must suit himself of course to various tastes. Clowning in one place, horse-tricks in a second, the sweet Aurunculeia in a third. The hills have different fancies from the valleys, and the valleys from the plains. The Cirque Doré is small, but I flatter myself it is select. We have as fine white barbs as ever came out of Africa, and Meleager my clown has the common denominator of comedy at which all Europe can laugh. No women. Too temperamental and troublesome. My people quarrel in every known tongue, but, being males, it is summer lightning… Ah, Mr Galt, I cannot explain to you the intoxication of shifting camp weekly, not from town to town, but from one little human cosmos to another. I have the key which unlocks all doors, and can steal into the world at the back of men’s minds, about which they do not speak to their politicians and scarcely even to their priests.

“I have power, too,” Mr Glynde went on; “for I appeal to something old and deep in man’s nature. Before this I have wrecked a promising insurrection through the superior charm of my circus over an émeute in a market-place. I have protected mayors and burgomasters from broken heads, and maybe from cut throats, by my mild distractions. And I have learned many things that are hidden from diplomats and eager journalists. I, the entertainer, the fils de joie, I am becoming an expert, if I may say so modestly, on the public opinion of Europe–or rather on that incoherent soul which is greater than opinion.”

“Well, and what do you make of it?” Jaikie asked. He was fascinated by his visitor, the more so as he was a link with Alison, but sleep was descending upon him like an armed man, and he asked the conventional question without any great desire to hear the answer.

“Bad,” said Mr Glynde. “Or, since a moral judgment is unnecessary, shall I say odd? We are now in the midst of the retarded liquidation of the war. I do not mean debts and currencies and economic fabrics, but something much more vital–the thoughts of men. The democracies have lost confidence. So long as they believed in themselves they could make shift with constitutions and parliaments and dull republics. But once let them lose confidence, and they are like children in the dark, reaching out for the grasp of a strong hand. That way lies the dictator. It might be the monarch if we bred the right kind of king… Also there is something more dangerous still, a stirring of youth, disappointed, aggrieved youth, which has never known the discipline of war. Imaginative and incalculable youth, which clamours for the moon and may not be content till it has damaged most of the street lamps.

“But you nod,” said Mr Glynde rising. “I weary you. You must to bed and I to Tarta. I must not presume upon the celestial patience of Aurunculeia.”

Jaikie rose too and found the tall man’s hand on his shoulder. He observed sleepily that his visitor’s face, now clear in the lamplight, had changed, the smile had gone from it, and the eyes were cool and rather grave. Also the slight artifice of his speech, which recalled an affected Cambridge don of his acquaintance, was suddenly dropped.

“I gave you certain advice,” said Mr Glynde, “when you spun my stater in London. I told you that if you wanted peace you should stick to the west. You are pretty far east, Mr Galt, so I assume that a quiet life is not your first object. You have been walking blindly and happily for weeks waiting for what the days brought forth. Have you any very clear notion where you have got to?”

“I’m rather vague, for I have a rotten map. But I know that I’ve come to the end of my money. To-morrow I must turn about and make for home. I mean to get to Munich and travel back by the cheapest way.”

“Three and a quarter miles from Kremisch the road to Tarta drops into a defile among pine-trees. At the top there are two block-houses, one on each side of the highway. If you walked that way armed guards would emerge from the huts and demand your passport. Also they would make an inquisition into your baggage more peremptory than most customs-officers. That is the frontier of Evallonia.”

Jaikie’s sleepiness left him. “Evallonia!” he cried. “I had no notion I was so near it.”

“You have read of Evallonia in the English press?”

“Yes, and I have heard a lot about it. I’ve met Evallonians too–all sorts.” He counted on his fingers. “Nine– ten, including Prince John.”

“Prince John! Ah, you saw him at Lady Lamancha’s party.”

“I saw him two years before that in Scotland, and had a good deal to do with him. With the others, too. I can tell you who they were, for I’m not likely to forget them. There were six Republicans–Mastrovin, Dedekind, Rosenbaum, Ricci, Calaman, and one whose name I never knew–a round-faced fellow in spectacles. There were three Monarchists–Count Casimir Muresco, Doctor Jagon and Prince Odalchini.”

The tall man carefully closed the window, and sat down again. When he spoke it was in a low voice.

“You know some very celebrated people. I think I can place you, Mr Galt. You are called Jaikie, are you not, by your friends? Two years ago you performed a very notable exploit, which resulted in the saving of several honest men and the confounding of some who were not so honest. That story is famous in certain circles. I have laughed over it often, not dreaming that one day I should meet the hero.”

Jaikie shifted nervously, for praise made him unhappy. “Oh, I didn’t do anything much. It was principally Alison. But what has gone wrong with Evallonia? I’ve been expecting ever since to hear that the Monarchists had kicked out Mastrovin and his lot, but the whole thing seems to have fizzled.”

Mr Glynde was regarding him with steady eyes, which even in the dim light seemed very bright.

“It has not fizzled, but Evallonia at this moment is in a critical state. It is no place for a quiet life, but then I do not think that is what you like… Mr Galt, will you forgive me if I ask you a personal question? Have you any duty which requires your immediate return home?”

“None. But I’ve finished my money. I have just about enough to get me back.”

“Money is nothing–that can be arranged. I would ask another question. Have you any strong interest in Evallonian affairs?”

“No. But some of my friends have–Mr Craw, the newspaper man, for example, and Dougal Crombie, his chief manager.”

Mr Glynde brooded. “You know Mr Craw and Mr Crombie? Of course you would. But you have no prepossession in the matter? Except an inclination to back your friends’ view?”

“Yes. I thought Prince John a decent fellow, and I liked the queer old Monarchist chaps. Also I greatly disliked Mastrovin and his crowd. They tried to bully me.”

The other smiled. “That I am sure was a bad blunder on their part.” He was silent for a minute, and then he laid a hand on Jaikie’s knee. “Mr Galt,” he said solemnly, “if you continued your walking-tour to-morrow eastward down the wooded glen, and passed the frontier–I presume your passport is in order?–you would enter a strange country. How strange I have no time to tell you, but I will say this–it is at the crisis of its destiny and any hour may see a triumph or a tragedy. I believe that you might be of some use in averting tragedy. You are a young man, and, I fancy, not indisposed to adventure. If you go home you will be out of danger in that happy cosseted world of England. If you go on, you will certainly find danger, but you may also find wonderful things for which danger is a cheap price. How do you feel about it?”

Jaikie felt many things. Now he knew why all day he had had that curious sense of expectation. There was a queer little flutter at his heart.

“I don’t know,” he said. “It’s all rather sudden. I should want to hear more about it.”

“You shall. You shall hear everything before you take any step which is irrevocable. If you will make one day’s march into Evallonia, I will arrange that the whole situation is put honestly before you… But no! I have a conscience. I can foretell what you will decide, and I have no right even to bring you within the possibility of that decision, for it will mean danger–it may even mean death. You are too young to gamble with.”

“I think,” said Jaikie, “I should like to put my nose inside Evallonia just to say I’d been there. You say I can come back if I don’t like it. Where’s that little coin of yours? It sent me out here, and it may as well decide what I do next.”

“Sportsman,” said Mr Glynde. He produced the stater and handed it to Jaikie, who spun it–”Heads go on, tails go home.” But owing to the dim light, or perhaps to sleepy eyes, he missed his catch, and the coin rolled on the floor. He took the lamp to look for it, and behold it was wedged upright in a crack in the board–neither heads nor tails.

Mr Glynde laughed merrily. “Apparently the immortal Gods will have no part in this affair. I don’t blame them, for Evallonia is a nasty handful. The omens on the whole point to home. Good night, Mr Galt. We shall no doubt meet in England.”

“I’ll sleep on it,” said Jaikie. “If I decide to go on a little farther, what do I do?”

“You will reach Tarta by midday, and just beyond the bridge you will see a gipsy-looking fellow, short but very square, with whiskers and earrings and a white hat with ‘Cirque Doré’ embroidered on it in scarlet. That is Luigi, my chief fiddler. You will ask him the way to the Cirque, and he will reply in French, which I think you understand, that he knows a better restaurant. After that you will be in his charge. Only I beg of you to keep your mind unbiased by what I have said, and let sleep give you your decision. Like Cromwell I am a believer in Providences, and since that wretched stater won’t play the game, you must wait for some other celestial guidance.”

He opened the casement, spoke a word in an unknown tongue, and a heavy body stirred in the dust below. Then he stepped lightly into the velvet darkness, and there followed a heaving and shuffling which presently died away. When a minute later the moon topped the hill, the little street was an empty silver alley.

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