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Title: Johnstone of the Border
Author: Bindloss, Harold, 1866-1945
Language: English
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Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

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JOHNSTONE OF THE BORDER



BY THE SAME AUTHOR

ALTON OF SOMASCO
LORIMER OF THE NORTHWEST
THURSTON OF ORCHARD VALLEY
WINSTON OF THE PRAIRIE
THE GOLD TRAIL
SYDNEY CARTERET, RANCHER
A PRAIRIE COURTSHIP
VANE OF THE TIMBERLANDS
THE LONG PORTAGE
RANCHING FOR SYLVIA
PRESCOTT OF SASKATCHEWAN
THE DUST OF CONFLICT
THE GREATER POWER
MASTERS OF THE WHEATLANDS
DELILAH OF THE SNOWS
BY RIGHT OF PURCHASE
THE CATTLE BARON'S DAUGHTER
THRICE ARMED
FOR JACINTA
THE INTRIGUERS
THE LEAGUE OF THE LEOPARD
FOR THE ALLINSON HONOR
THE SECRET OF THE REEF
HARDING OF ALLENWOOD
THE COAST OF ADVENTURE



[Illustration: "An occasional word or phrase reached her: '. . .
submarine . . . coast of . . . this line marks. . . .'"--Page 220]



JOHNSTONE OF THE BORDER

BY HAROLD BINDLOSS

_Author of_ "PRESCOTT OF SASKATCHEWAN,"
"RANCHING FOR SYLVIA," "FOR THE ALLINSON
HONOR," "THE SECRET OF THE REEF," ETC.

_WITH FRONTISPIECE IN COLOR_

[Illustration]

NEW YORK

FREDERICK A. STOKES COMPANY
PUBLISHERS

COPYRIGHT, 1916, BY RODERICK A. STOKES COMPANY
PUBLISHED IN ENGLAND UNDER THE TITLE "THE BORDERER"

ALL RIGHTS RESERVED



CONTENTS

CHAPTER                             PAGE
I       THE SUMMONS                    1
II      A PAINFUL MEMORY              12
III     THE SOLWAY SHORE              19
IV      APPLEYARD                     29
V       SWEETHEART ABBEY              42
VI      ON CRIFFELL HILL              53
VII     THE GRAY CAR                  60
VIII    THE "ROWAN'S" LIGHT           71
IX      IN THE DARK                   81
X       THE YOUNG OFFICER             92
XI      THE SIGNAL                   103
XII     A FALSE ALARM                114
XIII    THE WRECK                    127
XIV     A FAIR ALLY                  140
XV      A BARGAIN                    148
XVI     TRAILING THE MOTORCYCLE      160
XVII    THE MATCHBOX                 172
XVIII   A CONFERENCE AT SEA          183
XIX     A WARNING                    195
XX      THE WHAMMEL BOAT             205
XXI     THE LOST PAPER               216
XXII    STAFFER'S MESSENGER          226
XXIII   AN EVENING AT APPLEYARD      235
XXIV    THE BUOYED CHANNEL           247
XXV     A CLUE                       259
XXVI    TIGHTENING THE MESHES        272
XXVII   THE RECKONING DAY            283
XXVIII  A WILD RIDE                  293
XXIX    WHEN THE TIDE TURNED         305
XXX     THE NET                      317
XXXI    UNEXPECTED HAPPINESS         327



JOHNSTONE OF THE BORDER



CHAPTER I

THE SUMMONS


Sable Lake shone like a mirror among the ragged pines, as it ran back
between the rocks, smooth as oil except where a puff of wind streaked
its flashing surface with faint blue wrinkles. Behind it the lonely
woods rolled on, south to Lake Superior and north to Hudson Bay. At
one place a new transcontinental railroad cut its way through the
forest; hammers rang and noisy gravel plows emptied the ballast cars
along the half-graded track; but these sounds of human activity were
quickly lost and in a mile or two only the splash of water and the
elfin sighing in the pine-tops broke the deep silence of the woods.
This belt of tangled forest, where the trees are stunted and the soil
is sterile, offers no attraction to homesteader or lumberman. In
consequence, it has lain desolate since the half-breed _voyageurs_,
who crossed it with canoe and dog-team, abandoned the northwest trail
when the Canadian Pacific locomotives began to pant through the
rock-cuts by Lake Superior.

The solitude itself had drawn Andrew Johnstone into the quiet bush.
The lone trail had a charm for him. He knew the empty spaces of
Canada; for his inaptitude for an idle life had led him on adventurous
journeys through many leagues of its trackless forest. He was of the
type that preferred some degree of hardship to conventional comfort.
His one ambition had been to be a soldier; it was the career which
from early boyhood he had chosen. He had entered Woolwich as a prize
cadet, and had left it with honors; but a few weeks later he had met
with an accident on a mountain crag, and his military career was
suddenly closed. The surgeons did what they could; but it soon was
obvious that Andrew never again would be able to take his place in the
British Army. He was not crippled; he could still walk well; but he
limped slightly and his injured knee gave him trouble sometimes.

He sat alone now, on a rock that jutted out into the lake. The thick
branches of a spruce sagged above him and furnished a welcome shadow,
for it was a close, hot day. A few feet behind him a gray trout lay in
the frying-pan beside a log hearth; and beyond that stood a small
weather-beaten tent, with flecks of bright sunlight filtering through
the trees and spreading over it in fantastic shapes.

Andrew lighted his pipe and looked about him in languid content. The
pines that came down to the lake's edge were small and ragged; some
had been blackened by fire and some leaned drunkenly, but their
resinous sweetness hung about the camp. In the shadow, the reflection
of worn rock and rigid branch floated on the crystal water; but the
reflections quivered, and there was a soft splash upon the pebbles
near Andrew's feet. He heard it with reminiscent satisfaction and a
touch of longing. It reminded him of the swirl of the salt tide along
the Solway shore; and his thoughts went back to the Old Country he had
left two years before.

He wondered what Elsie and Dick were doing at home at the old house in
Annandale. He called Appleyard home because he loved it, better
perhaps than Dick did, although the place did not belong to him. When
he was left an orphan, Dick's father had brought him up with stern
kindness, and he had afterward spent a month or two at Appleyard
whenever it was possible. Indeed, in the old man's last illness he had
promised that, so far as things permitted, he would look after his
somewhat flighty cousin. Andrew remembered with a twinge that he had
not done much to keep his promise; but, after all, there seemed no
reason to believe that Dick needed him.

Then he thought of little Elsie, as he had called her, though she must
be grown up now. He was much the elder, but they had always been good
friends. No doubt they would try to marry her to Dick. Andrew was fond
of Dick, but he did not think him good enough for Elsie.

For nearly an hour he sat on the rock, lounging back against an
outcropping boulder, thinking of Appleyard and little Elsie. Then his
thoughts were interrupted by a sound near the tent--some animal
scampering past--and he stood up and looked out across the lake. His
pose, easy and virile, showed a wiry figure of medium height; and the
strong sunshine touched his brown face. It was not a face that
attracted attention, but the eyes were gravely good-humored and the
mouth was firm.

Andrew was watching for the gleam of a varnished hull. Whitney, his
American partner, had gone to the railroad for provisions three days
previously and should have returned. The canoe he had taken had been
built in Toronto, especially for them. Andrew would have been
satisfied with an Indian birch-bark; but Whitney not only was a keen
sport but he had enough money to afford the best of everything.

At last something twinkled far up the lake, and Andrew's keen eyes
distinguished a small dark speck amidst the play of light. He knew
that it was Whitney; for only a canoe from which the varnish had not
worn off would so catch the sunshine. When the craft had grown into
shape, Andrew sat down again and watched her draw nearer with quiet
approval. He liked to see things done well and there was a rhythmic
precision in Whitney's movements that suggested well-directed power.
The paddle flashed at exact intervals, the lithe form behind it bent
with a graceful swing, and a curl of foam broke away from the gliding
hull. Modern as she was, the canoe did not jar upon the primitive
austerity of the wilds. Andrew felt this, though he could not have put
it into words, for there was something innately primitive in him.

He sprang from a rugged stock, for he was a descendant of the
Annandale Johnstones, whose crest was significantly the flying spur.
Appleyard stood on the edge of the bleak moorlands that drop down to
the western marshes of the Scottish border, and he knew every lonely
rise and boggy flat that his mosstrooper ancestors had ridden on
moonless nights. It is possible that in his youthful rambles across
the high, wind-swept waste, he had acquired something that linked him
to the past. In later times, his people had made some mark as soldiers
and explorers, but for the past two generations the head of the house
had been a quiet country laird.

Whitney drew near and in a few minutes ran the canoe upon the shingle
and stood smiling at Andrew when he had pulled her up. He was young
and athletic, with brown hair and eyes, brown skin, a rather thin
face, and an alert, half-humorous air. His clothes had been specially
designed for hunting trips by a fashionable New York tailor, but they
now looked much the worse for use in the wilds.

"I've got the grub and brought our mail," he said, throwing Andrew a
packet. "Here's your lot; you can wade through it while I fix supper."

"I'd have had things ready," Andrew replied; "but I was stuck for
flour and pork. You've covered some ground to-day."

"Some," laughed Whitney. "It was pretty fierce clambering over the
portages with the canoe on my head, but I made much better time than I
could have done when I struck the woods two months ago. Looks as if
the harder you have to work, the stronger you get. Nature's way of
fixing things. But I'm not tired; so I'll fix supper while you read
your news."

Andrew opened a letter in a girlish hand, and while he read it,
lingering over the words, his thoughts went back with longing to
Appleyard on the Solway shore. He pictured the low house, built of
Scottish granite and beaten by the winds; the red moorland rolling
north in waves; and the flash of wet sands in the distance edged with
white surf by the savage tides. It was an artless letter, treating of
loved, homely things, but it showed sweetness of temperament and,
Andrew thought, half-concealed uneasiness. The reason for this became
obvious when he read the postscript:

      "I am anxious about Dick. He is not very strong, you
      know, and I wish that you were here."

Andrew felt troubled, for he knew that Elsie never made the worst of
things. Dick was weak of will as well as of body, and his dissipation
had a marked effect on him. There was nothing vicious in the lad, but
he lacked stability, and it looked as if Elsie could not counteract
the rather demoralizing influences to which Andrew imagined the boy
was subjected.

He opened a Montreal newspaper and then soon forgot Appleyard. It was
some time since any news from England had reached him, and the
cablegrams predicted coming war. He read on until Whitney took the
trout and a can of coffee off the fire, and called him to supper.
Andrew ate as usual, because he was hungry, but he said very little
and wore a preoccupied air.

Whitney waited until the meal was finished; then he turned to his
comrade as he lighted his pipe.

"There's something worrying you," he said bluntly. "Out with it!"

"I was wondering whether you'd mind my not going north with you on the
hunting trip this fall."

"I certainly _would_ mind. All the same, I'll let you off if there's a
reason."

Andrew folded the letter so that the last page came on top and handed
it to him with the newspaper. Whitney carefully read the first column
in the paper before he looked up. He wanted to understand the
situation, and Andrew was not good at explaining.

"I don't quite get the drift of things," he said. "First of all, who's
Elsie Woodhouse?"

"In a way, she's like Dick's sister; they were brought up together and
Elsie always tried to take care of him--though she's really no
relation. Dick is my cousin."

Whitney nodded and tried to be patient.

"Do you want to go home because she's anxious about the fellow?" he
asked.

"It's rather complicated," Andrew answered with some hesitation. "You
see, Dick's father raised me, and I always thought, in his way, he was
fond of me."

Whitney found the workings of his companion's mind more interesting
than the particulars about his relatives. Andrew was sometimes slow,
but one could rely on his doing the right thing in the end.

"And Elsie?" Whitney suggested. "Did he raise her too?"

"Oh, no. When he died, Dick's mother soon married again, a man called
Staffer; clever fellow, but I never quite trusted him. Then she died,
and Staffer was left in charge of Appleyard until Dick came of age. He
brought his sister there, Mrs. Woodhouse, a widow; and Elsie's her
daughter. Dick and Elsie were both quite young then, but from the
beginning Elsie made it her business to take care of Dick."

"You like her," said Whitney, noticing a certain tenderness in his
companion's voice.

"Yes," said Andrew slowly; "I never liked anybody quite as much. But
that's all there is to it. She's much younger than I am, and she'll
probably marry Dick."

"If she's like his sister and has been looking after him, she more
probably won't. I'm getting Dick fixed as a bit of a maverick. He and
his stepfather don't get on."

"On the contrary, they get on very well; that's the trouble."

"How?"

Andrew hesitated.

"Well, you see, Staffer does most things well; he's excellent company
and a witty talker, the kind of man a lad would try to copy."

"Makes the pace pretty hot, eh? One of your smart set?"

"He's extravagant, but he never gets into debt. He'll play cards on
champagne half the night, and get up next morning as steady as a rock
and bring down a cork-screwing snipe with the first barrel. I've
seldom seen a better man on a horse."

"Think I've got him placed. Your cousin will want nerve and judgment
to play up to him. But we'll take the newspaper now. Why do you want
to go back? You won't fight."

"I can't," Andrew replied with some color in his face. "It's my
misfortune; after I fell on the Pillar Rock."

Whitney gave him a sympathetic nod.

"You take me wrong; I mean your countrymen. It's been stated in your
parliament that they have no obligation to fight for France."

Andrew filled his pipe before he answered.

"They won't see her smashed," he said quietly.

"I'm not sure of it, after reading the English newspapers."

"You don't know us yet," Andrew replied.

Whitney smiled, for he knew that his comrade would carry out an
obligation to the farthest limit; but he said nothing, and for the
next few minutes Andrew thoughtfully looked about.

The sun was getting low, and dark shadows stretched across the glassy
lake, but in the distance a small gray dot moved amidst a ring of
widening ripples. A loon was fishing. Presently a wild, unearthly cry
rang through the stillness as the bird called its mate; and after that
everything was very quiet except for a soft splash of falling water a
long way off. The dew was settling on the brush about the camp, and
the cooling air was heavy with the fragrance of the pines. It all
appealed to Andrew; the lonely woods had a strange charm for him.

"I'm lame and not much use, but it doesn't seem quite the thing to
stay here enjoying myself, just now," he said. "Perhaps something I
could do might turn up when I got home."

"But you haven't a home! You lived in a boat for some years, didn't
you?"

"I thought of living in one again. It's cheap and gives you liberty;
you can move about where you like. Then there's good wildfowl shooting
in the bays, along our coast. That would keep me occupied--if I could
find nothing else."

"Pretty lonely though, isn't it?"

"Sometimes. When you're wind-bound in a desolate gut among the sands,
the winter nights seem long. Then, if you have to clear out in a
hurry, with a sudden breeze sending the sea inshore and there's the
anchor and kedge to get, you feel you'd like an extra hand."

"Then why don't you ship one?"

"It's hard to find the right man. Living on board a small cruiser
hasn't much attraction, unless you're used to it."

Whitney chuckled.

"That's easily understood. I think you need a partner. How'd I do?"

Andrew gave him an eager look, and then answered discouragingly:

"It's rough work; you're often wet through and can't dry your clothes;
and sometimes there's not much to eat. You can't cook on a miniature
stove when she's rolling hard. Then there's no head-room and you get
cramped because you can't stand up straight."

"Well," Whitney declared smilingly, "it can't be much rougher than
clambering over rock ledges and smashing through the brush with a
canoe on your head. So, my friend, if you have no marked objection,
I'm coming along. For one thing, an English friend of ours who lived
in New York has a shooting lodge in the Galloway district and my
mother and sister are over there. I can plant myself on them, if I get
tired of you."

Andrew said nothing and Whitney thought him reluctant to take
advantage of his rash offer.

"It's settled, old man," Whitney went on lightly. "We'll pull out at
sun-up and get on to the Canadian Pacific at Whitefish Creek. I'll try
to catch a trout now, and then we'll go to sleep."

He launched the canoe, and when he paddled out across the darkening
lake, Andrew sat by the sinking fire, feeling quietly satisfied. He
did not know what he might find to do when he reached Scotland, but he
would have a partner in whom he had confidence.



CHAPTER II

A PAINFUL MEMORY


A week after leaving Sable Lake, Andrew and Whitney stood one night on
Portage Avenue, Winnipeg. The air was hot and oppressive, as it often
is in the prairie city during late summer, and smooth sidewalks and
roadway, wet with heavy rain, glistened like ice in the lamplight. The
downpour had now slackened to a scattered splashing of big, warm
drops, and thunder rumbled in the distance. At one place, the imposing
avenue was blocked by a crowd through which the street-cars crept
slowly with clanging bells. The crowd seemed bent on holding its
ground, but there was not much jostling, and its general air was one
of stern interest rather than excitement. The small dark figures that
filled the gap between the towering buildings were significantly
quiet, and where a ray of light fell across them, the rows of faces
were all turned in one direction.

Andrew studied them as he stood on the outskirts of the throng. Human
nature always interested him. He noticed first that these men were
better dressed and looked more prosperous than the members of similar
gatherings he had watched in the Old Country. It was, however, not
altogether their clothes that conveyed the impression: there was a
hint of self-confident optimism in their faces and bearing; though one
could see that they were graver than usual. Their appearance was
rather American than British, and although this was mainly suggested
by certain mannerisms and the cut of their clothes, Andrew was
conscious of a subtle difference he could not explain. For one thing,
an English street crowd is generally drawn from one particular walk of
life, and if units of different rank join it they stand apart and
separate. This gathering in Winnipeg included men of widely different
callings--farmers from the plains, merchants, artisans, clerks, and
flour-mill hands--but they had, somehow, an air of common purpose and
solidarity.

Whitney indicated them after he had lighted a cigarette.

"It's almost an hour before our train goes out, and these fellows
evidently expect a new bulletin to be posted up soon," he said. "They
interest me because I don't know how to class them. They're developing
themselves on our lines, but they don't belong to us. If this were a
city in the United States, there'd be something doing: joshing and
pushing, or somebody would start a song. Yet I guess they wouldn't
like you to call them Englishmen."

"That's true," Andrew agreed.

"Then they're pretty good customers of ours and anxious to trade,"
went on Whitney, "and yet when we offered them reciprocity they
wouldn't have it. They had all to gain, because the natural outlet for
their commerce is to the south, but they said they were British and
shut the door on us. On the other hand, I get on with them better than
you can, and if we wanted a job in this city, I'd get it before you.
Now our States are sovereign, but they're all American."

"Ours are sovereign, but not English," Andrew replied. "One's
strictly Canadian, another frankly Australian, and so on. We're an
individualistic race, and our different branches grow their own way.
It looks like a loose arrangement, but we've found we hold together
well. You'll see when the bulletin comes out--if it's what I expect."

"We'll wait. What's this fellow talking about?"

A short, dark-skinned man had buttonholed a neighbor and was speaking
vivaciously, his dark eyes snapping.

"But, mossieu', the alliance, _la belle alliance_!" he exclaimed, and
wheeled around to Andrew. "Is it not determine in London that we
fight?"

"Spotted you first time, partner," Whitney laughed, and then turned to
the man: "When did you come over?"

For a moment the fellow looked puzzled.

"Two hundred year, mossieu'. That is, the family she arrive. Me, I am
born in Kebec."

Whitney smiled at Andrew.

"You haven't made much of a Britisher of him yet. They'll speak better
German in Alsace in much less time, if the Prussians keep their grip."

"Alsace!" cried the French-Canadian. "_Attendez, mais attendez_; the
great day come. Together we take her back. It is an obligation,
_Mossieu'_. _Vive la belle alliance!_"

"Your people claim there isn't an alliance," Whitney said to Andrew.

"I don't know. This is certain: if our friend's attacked, we step into
the ring."

There was a sudden movement in the crowd, which pressed closer upon
the newspaper office opposite, and a cry was raised as a lighted car
came clanging down the street:

"Hold that driver up!"

The car slowed, but still came on, until a well-dressed citizen
stepped quietly in front of it.

"Stop!" he said. "You can't get through."

The car stopped and as the passengers got out, a window in the tall
building opposite was opened. A bulletin board was hoisted in, and for
the next two minutes the crowd stood silent and motionless. Andrew
felt his nerves tingle and noted that Whitney's face was tense, though
his interest in the matter could hardly be personal. There was
something that stirred the imagination in the sight of the intent,
quiet throng that awaited the result of a crisis not of their making.
They had had no say in the quarrel that began far off in the obscure
East; but one could not doubt that they meant to make it their own.
Their stern gravity caused Andrew a half-conscious thrill of pride.

After all, they sprang from British stock and he knew what kind of men
they were. He had seen the miles of wheat that covered the broken,
prairie waste, cities that rose as if by magic in a few months' time,
and railroads flung across quaking muskegs and driven through towering
rocks, at a speed unthought of in the mother country. He had heard the
freight-trains roaring through the great desolation between the Ottawa
and the Western plains, where no traffic would ever be found, and had
wondered at the optimism which, in spite of tremendous obstacles, had
built eight hundred miles of track to link the St. Lawrence to the
rich land beyond. These Canadians were hard men who tempered with cool
judgment a vast energy and enthusiasm, and the mother country's foes
would have to reckon with them.

There was a strange, dead silence, as the board was replaced and the
bold black letters stood out in the lamplight. So far as Andrew could
afterward remember, the bulletin read:

_War inevitable. England must keep her word!_

_Kaiser's armies marching. British fleet sails with sealed orders._

A few cablegrams followed, and when they were read a deep murmur rose
from the crowd; but there was no strong excitement. These were not the
men to indulge in emotional sentiment; their attitude indicated relief
from suspense, and steady resolve. Perhaps it was characteristic that
the man who had stopped the car waved his hand to the driver.

"Now you may go ahead," he said.

Breaking into groups, they began to talk, and Andrew caught snatches
of their conversation.

"A big thing, but we're going to put it through," said one. "If you
hadn't fired out Laurier, we'd have been rushing our own fleet across
the ocean now."

"Well," his neighbor replied, "we've got the boys. We want to call a
city meeting right off. Manitoba can't be left behind."

"Manitoba's all right!" another declared. "We'll send them all the
flour they want, besides men who can ride and shoot. They'll put the
Maple Leaf right up to the front. But we want to hustle before Regina
and Calgary get a start on us."

The man turned to a companion and the two moved off. They were
followed by other groups, and as one passed, Andrew heard an exultant
voice.

"I tell you what happen. _Vive la belle alliance!_"

Whitney and Andrew crossed the emptying street and walked toward the
station. "I guess you noticed they didn't talk about the Old Country's
program," Whitney remarked. "It's what Manitoba and the West are going
to do that interests them. My notion is that it will be something
big."

"One feels that," Andrew agreed. "Somehow, it's stirring."

"And it's contagious. When they hoist the flag you'll see some of the
boys from our side riding across the frontier to the rally."

"You're bound to keep neutral," Andrew objected.

"Officially, yes. But when a man can drop a flying crane with the
rifle and bust a wild range horse, they won't ask if he was born in
Montana or Saskatchewan."

They walked up Main Street and it was obvious that the news had
spread, for talking men blocked the sidewalk here and there, and the
wide windows of the hotels were full. When they reached the station,
Whitney went off to check their baggage, and Andrew sat down, rather
disconsolately, in the great waiting-room. The damp weather had
affected his knee, and he frowned as he stretched it out, for his
aches reminded him painfully of his disadvantages. While he sat there,
a summer-evening train from Winnipeg Beach arrived and a stream of
smartly-dressed excursionists passed through the hall breaking off to
ask for the latest news. Their keen interest was significant, and
Andrew felt downcast. Canada approved the Old Country's action and
meant to do her part; but he was useless, nobody wanted him.

Moodily lighting a cigarette, he recalled his youthful ambitions, for
he had meant to follow where his ancestors had led. It was not for
nothing that their crest was the flying spur, and their traditions had
fired him to the study of difficult sciences, which he had mastered by
dogged determination rather than cleverness. His heart was in his
work; he meant to make a good horse-artilleryman; and he had thrilled
with keen satisfaction when the examiners placed him near the top of
the list. Then came the momentous day in Ennerdale that altered
everything. Six months after the accident he had resigned his
commission, knowing that he would never walk quite straight again.

Well, all that was done with; but now, when Britons everywhere were
springing to arms, he was good for nothing. He reflected gloomily that
he might as well stay in Canada. Yet, if he were in England, there was
a chance that something might turn up for him to do.

Besides, there was little Elsie. . . .

Whitney came swinging across the marble floor of the waiting-room just
as an official at the door announced that their train was ready to
start.



CHAPTER III

THE SOLWAY SHORE


There was a light wind from the westward, and the flood tide, running
east, smoothed the sea to a faintly wrinkled heave, when the _Rowan_
crept across Wigtown Bay on the southern coast of Scotland. Andrew
lounged at the tiller while Whitney sat in the cockpit, holding a tray
on which were laid out a pot of smoke-tainted tea, several thick
slices of bread, sardines, and marmalade.

Whitney wore a woolen sweater--which had been white a few days before
but now was a dingy gray--new blue trousers, already streaked with
rust, and an expensive yachting cap which had got badly crushed. His
hands were not immaculate, and there was a soot-smear on his face.

"This kind of yachting's not quite what I've been used to," he
remarked. "On Long Island Sound you don't get the sea we ran into
coming round the head last night; and when we went cruising in small
craft we always hired somebody to do the dirty work."

"There's not much room for a paid hand on board the _Rowan_," Andrew
replied hesitatingly. "Still, if you'd like--"

"You don't want a man."

"He would be rather in the way, and I don't know what he'd find to do,
except the cooking."

"And hauling the dinghy up a muddy beach, taking out the kedge on a
stormy night, and pulling twenty fathoms of heavy chain about when you
shift your moorings! I could think of a few other trifles if I tried;
but I won't insist. It looks as if I were going to get some muscle
up."

Whitney thought his companion had a private reason for dispensing with
a paid hand; and an extra man was certainly not needed for open-water
navigation, for Andrew had shown himself quite capable of sailing the
_Rowan_ alone. After searching the Glasgow yacht-agents' registers for
a boat of sufficiently light draught, they had bought the _Rowan_ at
an Ayrshire port; and Whitney got a surprise when his partner drove
her through the furious tide-race that swirls around the Mull of
Galloway, in a strong breeze of wind. He had confidence in the little
yacht after that. She was thirty-two feet long, low in the water, and
broad of beam, but her mast was short and her canvas snug: Whitney
knew the disadvantages of a long heavy boom. Her deck was laid with
narrow planks, no longer white, for there were stains like blood upon
them where the rain had run from the mainsail, which was tanned with
cutch.

Now the canvas glowed a warm orange in the evening light as its tall
peak swayed gently across the sky, and the ripples that lapped the
gliding hull united beneath the counter and trailed astern in silky
lines.

To starboard, far off, the Isle of Man rose in a high, black saw-edge
above the shining sea; ahead to the east, water and sky were soft
blue; to port, the Scottish hills rose in shades of gray and purple.

Andrew named them as the boat crept on.

"Cairn Harry, running straight up from the water; Dirk Hatteraik
stored his brandy in a cave on Raven Crag, and John Knox hid in
Barrholm tower, in the long patch of woods. The black ridge behind is
Cairnsmoor o' Fleet, and a waste of moors runs back from it toward the
head of Clyde. The water of Cree flows through the dark hollow."

"The Cree!" Whitney exclaimed. "That is where my mother and sister
are. Our friend has a grouse moor and some salmon rights." He paused
and laughed. "I can imagine them sitting down to dinner under the
electric light in somebody's ancestral hall, with a frozen British
butler running the show. Wonder what they'd say if they knew I wasn't
far off, living like an Indian on board this craft!"

"There are no ancestral halls beside the Cree, and electric lights are
scarce in the Galloway wilds," Andrew explained.

Whitney chuckled. He was not thinking of ancestral halls, but was
wondering what his sister Madge would think of his comrade. On the
surface, Andrew was easy-going, ingenuous, and diffident, but beneath
this lay an unwavering firmness.

"Historic country, isn't it?" he remarked, to make Andrew talk.

"Yes," said Andrew in an apologetic tone, and started off on his
favorite hobby.

Slowly the sea grew dimmer; the sunset glow behind them faded to a
smoky red; and while they drifted east with the flood tide a black
island detached itself from the dusky shore. Soon a trembling beam
flashed out from its summit.

"The Ross," Andrew said. "I was wrecked there."

"Tell me about it," requested Whitney, lounging in the cockpit, lazily
watching a razor-bill which had risen with a hoarse croak from the
boat's rippling wake.

"It was the only time such a thing ever happened to me, and I don't
understand it yet. I was living on board the _Arrow_ then, shooting
from a punt. She was a stiff, roomy boat, of nearly nine tons, and I'd
just had her pulled up at Glencaple for an overhaul. Staffer, Dick's
stepfather, found me a Glasgow carpenter who had been building some
anglers' boats at Lochmaben."

"And what had the carpenter to do with your being wrecked?"

"Nothing, so far as I can see; though I've thought about him now and
then."

Andrew paused for a moment, and Whitney, knowing his comrade, waited
for him to go on.

"The ebb had been running for some time when I left Gibb's Hole, and a
nasty surf broke on the sands. There was not wind enough to account
for it, but everything was harshly clear and that's often threatening.
However, I set the big jib and topsail, because I wanted to clear the
banks before the flood tide made. It runs from four to six knots an
hour among the Solway shoals, and there's some risk of knocking the
boat's bilges in if you get aground. The breeze fell light, and near
dusk I came round and stood inshore on the port tack, so that I could,
if necessary, slip back into Rough Firth. The Scotch channel of the
Solway is no place to run for on a dirty night.

"When I got down to Abbey Head the swell was growing steep and the sea
looked ragged where it cut the horizon--which showed there was wind
out there. The shooting-punt I was towing was a drag, and I didn't
make much progress until a smart southwesterly breeze sprang up soon
after dark. I could just lay my course down the coast, and I hung on
to big jib and topsail while I could. With two or three hours of that
wind I'd be able to run in behind the Ross, which you see ahead. Then
the breeze freshened suddenly and she listed over until most of her
lee deck was in the water. For a time after that I had my hands full."

"So I imagine," Whitney remarked. "I've seen a big jib give two men
trouble when they had to take it in, and you were alone and had the
topsail up. I'm not surprised that you got wrecked."

"I wasn't wrecked just then. In fact, I made her snug, with two reefs
in the mainsail, and I lighted the compass binnacle. The trouble was
that the wind was drawing ahead and the night had turned very dark. I
couldn't get a glimpse of the coast, and it wouldn't have been wise to
run back yet. There's a light on Hestan Island, but I wouldn't have
found water enough across the sands in Rough Firth. She'd have gone
down at her anchor if I'd brought up to wait.

"Well, I ate some sandwiches I had ready, and stood on. She was
plunging wildly and putting her storm-jib into the sea that was
getting up; but she was an able boat, and the punt towed pretty well
when I'd made an extra rope fast to her."

"You wouldn't find that easy," Whitney suggested, as he pictured the
lonely man's struggle to haul up the heavy craft while the yacht on
which he must relinquish control rolled with thrashing canvas athwart
the combers.

"I let the _Arrow_ come up and dropped the peak. The worst was that I
had to lean right out with both hands on the punt while I made the
second rope fast, and I nearly went overboard when she lurched. I made
it fast, but when we went on I got a shock, for the water was washing
up from under the cockpit floor. You see, as she'd shipped two or
three combers, I'd thought it was washing down."

"The floorings would be nearly two feet above her bottom planks,"
Whitney said.

"Yes. It meant she was leaking hard, and I'll admit that rather
staggered me, because she'd always been a remarkably tight craft.
Well, I hove her to again, lighted the cabin lamp, and pulled up the
floorings. This wasn't easy; they were closely fitted and the
carpenter had nailed one or two of them down. I can't tell you why he
did it, but I tore my hand before I got them loose. You can understand
that I had to be quick. She wouldn't lie to well with nobody at the
helm, and kept forging up head to wind and falling off again. The way
she lurched about threw me against the lockers and once or twice I
heard a sea come on board. There was too much water for me to find
where it was coming in, and when I crawled out and tried the pump it
wouldn't draw, so I went back and felt for the bottom of its pipe.
There was a suction-box at the end, and it seemed to be stuffed up
with shavings. The carpenter must have thrown them under the floor."

"Rather a curious place to put them!" Whitney commented. "I suppose a
shaving had stuck under a valve and stopped the pump. But, as you'd
have a grid on the suction-box, how did they get in?"

"I've never found out, but I'd like to meet that carpenter," Andrew
replied grimly.

He felt for his pipe and lighted it, and Whitney had to prompt him
before he resumed:

"Things didn't look hopeful. It was blowing hard; she was leaking
fast, and I couldn't pump her out. I had to make the Ross while she
kept afloat. I thought about cutting the punt adrift, but it seemed a
waste, and afterward I was glad I didn't. As it was a dead beat to
windward, speed was important, and the only thing was to keep her
sailing hard and let the seas come on board. There was so much spray
flying that I couldn't see the punt astern, but the drag on the
tow-lines showed that she was there. Then the old boat began to get
sluggish, and it made me savage. She'd brought me through many a stiff
blow, and I was fond of her. The Ross light was getting brighter; but
a sea that came over the coaming washed out the binnacle lamp when I
was ready to make the Sound. If I'd been able to take the light's
bearing and look at the chart, I might have sailed her in.

"Well, with the compass gone, I had to run for it blind, and she was
so waterlogged that she would hardly steer. Then suddenly she stopped
with a shock that threw me from the helm. What had happened was plain,
and when the next sea washed over her I pulled up the punt, cut the
lines, and fell into the well. She swung away on top of a comber, and
I wondered where she'd take me; for there were crags about and the
paddles had washed overboard. She was full and waterlogged, but I lay
along the deck and she kept right side up until we came ashore on a
bank of shingle. Rocks ran up behind it, and there was a gully I
couldn't cross at the end of the cove. I pulled the punt up, and spent
the night lying behind her out of the wind, when I wasn't tramping
about the shingle to keep myself warm. In the morning a coastguard
showed me a way up the cliff; and when I came back there later there
was no sign of the _Arrow_."

Andrew stopped, and for some minutes the silence was broken by the
rustle of the flapping topsail and the soft splash at the bows. It had
grown dark and the sea was faintly phosphorescent: pale blue and green
spangles glimmered down the wake. Ross Island had faded into the black
head behind it, but a bright beam of light still glittered across the
water.

"On the face of it, the reason you were wrecked is obvious," Whitney
said. "The boat began to strain when she was pounding, overpressed
with sail, through a steep head sea, and you couldn't pump her out.
Besides, as she'd just been hauled up for repairs, a butt may have got
started by the hammering or a seam have been left open."

"The carpenter was a good workman," Andrew replied quietly.

"He may have neglected something, for all that. Boats will leak when
they're driven hard; pumps get out of order; and a stranger might nail
down a floor board you kept loose. The curious point is that all these
things should happen together." Whitney paused and smiled. "Of course,
if you had some dangerous secret or were heir to a great estate that
somebody else wanted, one might suggest a melodramatic explanation."

"I've no secret anybody would give twopence for, and I inherit nothing
except a very small annuity."

"Then you'll have to put the series of accidents down to coincidence.
Where were you bound for when you came to grief?"

Andrew glanced back toward a stretch of water that still shone faintly
among the shadowy hills.

"Up yonder, near the head of Wigtown Bay, to shoot geese. Dick was to
come on by train and join me. He's fond of wildfowling, and I took
advantage of it to get him away."

"Away from what?"

Andrew hesitated.

"Well, you see, he was inclined to go the pace, and Staffer had some
friends at Appleyard just then--clever, amusing men-about-town, who
were fond of cards and knew all about the turf. Dick tried to play up
to them, and he was losing a good deal of money and drinking rather
more than was good for him."

"And his stepfather encouraged his extravagance?"

"Oh, no. Staffer gave him good advice in a cynical, witty way; told
him he must pull up because the pace was too hot for a lad. I never
quite liked the man, but one must be fair, and he was willing to let
me take Dick. In fact, he agreed it was the best thing to do."

"But as it turned out, you didn't take him. Were you much at Appleyard
afterward?"

"No. One of Staffer's friends offered me a pretty good post abroad,
and everybody thought I ought to seize the chance, but I didn't. In
consequence, a kind of coolness grew up and I haven't stayed long at
Appleyard since. Dick sends a message and Elsie writes long letters
now and then."

Whitney stood up and stretched himself. A rhythmic throb of engines
stole out of the silence, and, some distance off, a yellow and a green
light moved across the level sea. Overhead, the topsail cut black
against the sky, and the water had grown more luminous in the eddying
wake. To the east, a thin, silver moon was shining above the dim
heights of Cumberland. Tiny ripples lapped the _Rowan's_ side, but the
breeze was faint and everything was still.

"The flood will take us to Rough Firth, and we may as well stand on,"
Andrew said. "You can go below. I'll call you if you're wanted."

Carefully lowering his head, Whitney crept into the small cabin and
lighted the lamp. Its illumination showed the oilskins swinging
against the forecastle bulkhead, and the narrow table on top of the
centerboard trunk, which ran up the middle of the floor. On each side
were lockers that served as seats, and two folding cots were strapped
against the skin of the boat. Whitney let one down and got into it
with his clothes on: he had found that this was prudent when cruising
in small vessels. There was a rack, loaded with odds and ends, a few
inches above his head; and a smell of tarred rope, paraffin and
mildewed canvas came out of the forecastle; but this did not trouble
him, and he was soon asleep.

In the meanwhile, Andrew sat at the helm, his mind busy with gloomy
thoughts.



CHAPTER IV

APPLEYARD


It was a stormy evening when Whitney caught his first glimpse of
Appleyard. He felt disappointed. He had expected to see an ancient
Border tower with modern additions; but the low, straight-fronted
house did not look much more than a century old. It was solidly built
of gray granite, with mullioned windows and a small pepper-box turret
at one end, but while it made no pretense of architectural beauty,
Whitney admitted that it had some charm. For one thing, Appleyard
stood boldly on the breast of a knoll, with dark firs packed closely
about it, and the landscape it commanded was ruggedly wild. Bleak
pastures and lonely moorland, stained a purple-red, rolled back to the
hills that melted into leaden cloud in the north. To the south, a
strip of green littoral was dotted with white farmsteads and traversed
by the curves of a river that flashed where it caught the light.

Beyond this level strip, the Solway sands ran far out to sea, glowing
red in the angry sunset and pierced by channels of slate-green water.
In the distance, a narrow white line showed where their edge was
washed by the receding tide. On the western shore of the wide estuary,
Criffell's lonely height stood out, a harsh dark-blue, against a
saffron glare.

The car sped across an iron bridge spanning a ravine where hazel,
mountain-ash, and scrub oak grew among the stones, skirted a broad
lawn, and stopped at the door. Whitney was presented to Mrs. Woodhouse
and Staffer, who welcomed him cordially, and then he shook hands with
Dick. They entered the house at once, and Whitney found himself in a
large, square hall, which looked older than the rest of the building.
The light was dim, for the windows were narrow and were placed
unusually high in the massive walls. A wood fire burned in the big,
old-fashioned hearth, but the place felt chilly and especially
cheerless.

Dick took them up a staircase that led to a gallery at the back of the
hall.

"Your kit arrived from Glasgow, and I think you'll find all you want
laid out in your rooms," he said. "Dinner will be ready as soon as you
have changed."

They went along a passage, and Whitney was glad to be left alone in
his room. It was his first visit to an old Scottish house, and
although not an antiquarian he was capable of receiving impressions
from places, and he wanted to discover what influence Appleyard had on
him. He noted that a fire was laid ready in the grate, although it was
August and until that morning the weather had been warm. The room was
rather bare, but the few articles of old-fashioned furniture were
solid and were made on a good model. They were marked by a certain
austerity of taste, and he thought of them as business-like. The
plain, self-colored rugs and curtains had a similar effect. Everything
that utility demanded was there, but he marked the absence of luxury
and ornament.

The walls were very thick, and there were seats in the deep window
recesses. Opening one of the casements, Whitney stopped a minute and
looked out. He could see a stretch of wet sands that were now growing
dim, and the faint line of surf, and then, by turning sharply, black
hills running back into gathering cloud. The air was unusually keen,
and although darkness was fast coming on, the distance was clean-cut
and sharp. The landscape somehow harmonized with the house; it was
perhaps a trifle harsh, but it had a peculiarly distinctive character.

Andrew came in while Whitney was dressing, and finding him not ready,
he went down first.

There was no one in the hall when Andrew reached it, and he was
satisfied to be alone as he stood by the hearth, looking about. A lamp
had been lighted, but the illumination did not carry far, and the high
roof and the corners were shadowy. The hall occupied the lower story
of the old central tower, which had served as a fort in bygone years
but had since been partly rebuilt and incorporated in the house.
Andrew knew its history, for he loved Appleyard. He was, in some
respects, truer to the type of the men who had built and fought for it
than Dick. He was not jealous of his cousin, but it was hard to feel
himself a mere passing guest in the old house, and a vague discontent
tempered his satisfaction at coming home. Besides, he was poor, and
was condemned by an accident to a life of obscurity. He wondered why
Elsie had not been there to welcome him, as she had always done on
previous visits. He remembered her frank regret when he last went
away. Indeed, he had often pictured her as she stood by the lodge
gate, a slender, fresh-faced girl, with ruffled hair and a hint of
tears in her blue eyes. She was as graceful as a fawn; but her beauty
as yet was immature.

Andrew heard a sound behind him, and turning from the fire he saw a
girl coming down the stairs. She stood out against the dark-paneled
walls, for her pale green dress caught the light and shimmered. It
went well with her auburn hair, emphasizing the pure white and pink of
her skin; and it matched her eyes, which had the changing color of the
sea. The immature grace Andrew had known had gone; there was something
of distinction in her carriage.

While he gazed at her, she came toward him with a frank smile of
pleasure.

"It's very nice to have you back," she said. "I couldn't get home
until a few minutes after you arrived. Roy lost a shoe as I was
driving up the Lockerbie road."

Andrew took her hand and held it for a moment, but the only remark he
could think of was:

"You have Roy yet?"

Elsie laughed as if she understood, and rather liked, his
embarrassment.

"Oh, yes. He's still going strong, and when Kevan re-shod him he
brought me home in record time. But you're very brown and looking
well."

"It's good to be back at Appleyard," he said quietly.

"You're still very fond of it? So am I, though that may seem curious,
because I'm really an outsider."

"That applies to me more than to you, because the old place would
never be the same without you."

Elsie looked at him as he stood, gravely quiet, studying her.

"Well," she said, "Appleyard is Dick's. His father was a true
Johnstone, his mother a Jardine, but you make one feel that you're
more at home here than he is. I can't account for it. Can you?"

"I might blame your imagination," he answered, smiling.

Elsie gave him a roguish look, which made her seem more like the
little Elsie he had known two years before.

"You haven't told me how I'm looking," she said. "Perhaps you don't
realize that this gown was made in Paris and was put on in your
especial honor."

"You're rather wonderful," Andrew replied gravely. "But then you
always were. For all that, I had a pleasant surprise when you came
downstairs."

Elsie's eyes twinkled, and he thought they looked like the sea when
the sun touched it in a breeze.

"A surface change," she laughed. "Munich and London account for it.
I'd run wild, you know, when you saw me last. But there's no
difference underneath. You're the same too, and that's what I like. I
want to keep my old friend. You must promise you won't alter."

"I'll try not to," he answered. "Perhaps I'm incapable of it; I'm not
progressive. Still, there are times when I feel rather old."

"Oh, I know," she said with understanding sympathy. "But after the
cheerful letters you wrote from Canada, I hoped the lameness didn't
trouble you very much."

"One mustn't grumble, though it's rather hard to feel useless--just
now."

Elsie's face grew thoughtful.

"Yes," she said slowly, "that must hurt. I've felt that we don't
realize the seriousness of the great struggle here. It's easy to
subscribe to funds and go on committees, but that kind of service
leaves you cold, and we haven't practised much self-denial at
Appleyard. I was glad Dick wanted to enlist, even though they wouldn't
have him; but he'll tell you about it himself."

Mrs. Woodhouse and Whitney came toward them, with Dick close behind.
Dick was not unlike Andrew, but it was as if his cousin's prominent
characteristics had been watered down. Although the handsomer of the
two, he somehow looked a feeble copy of Andrew when they were
together. He had twinkling eyes and a humorous way of regarding
things, but his face was weak. His figure was light, well-poised and
athletic, but his color was unusually high, and on close study he
showed signs of bad health.

When he had spoken a few words to Andrew they went in to dinner, and
during the meal Whitney devoted some attention to the company. One of
the differences between him and his comrade was that he was most
capable at managing people, and Andrew in handling things. Andrew knew
all about a boat and a gun, and could be relied upon to deal with
contrary tides and dangerous shoals, but he was less acquainted with
the intricacies of human nature.

Whitney dismissed Dick as not counting; Elsie he reserved for future
study. Mrs. Woodhouse he found interesting because baffling. She was
rather fat, with regular features but an expressionless face, eyes of
light china-blue, and flat, flaxen hair. She answered his remarks with
conventional politeness, but he could not, as he thought of it, strike
a spark from her. He could not tell whether she was reserved or
merely dull. Her brother, Staffer, was of very different stamp. His
face was clean-cut and intellectual, his manners were polished but
easy, and Whitney had no trouble in placing him as a man who knew the
world. Indeed, since there was a hint of force and command about him,
Whitney wondered why he was, so to speak, vegetating in the Scottish
wilds. Staffer clearly belonged to the busy cities and the centers of
action.

Nothing that Whitney thought worth noting occurred at dinner, except
that Dick drank a good deal of wine and Elsie watched him with
half-veiled disturbance. Whitney thought her attitude was protective
and motherly; she would have interfered had it been possible. This
suggested that a supposition of Andrew's was wrong. A girl like that
would not marry a man whom she must guide and control.

When they went back to the hall, Andrew found a quiet corner, hoping
he might get a few minutes alone, for his meeting with Elsie had a
disturbing effect. When he last went away, she had told him that when
he came back things would not be the same; and he now recognized the
truth of this. The girl who had treated him as a trusted elder brother
had grown into a beautiful, accomplished woman. Indeed, she had, so to
speak, left him behind. She was cleverer and more composed than he;
she grasped things at once while he clumsily searched for their
meaning. The old frank confidence and the comradeship were no longer
possible, but in essentials she had not changed. The world could never
spoil Elsie's freshness nor blunt her keen honesty.

After a while she came and sat down near where he stood in the shadowy
recess of the great hearth.

"I believe you were trying to hide, and we must have a talk," she
said. "I'm half afraid I brought you home from Canada."

"No," Andrew replied awkwardly; "anyway, not altogether. I felt that I
ought to come back, even if there's nothing I can do. Still, of
course, if I can be of help here--"

Elsie's eyes were soft as she looked at him.

"Yes, I know; you're a good friend, Andrew, but I was alarmed when I
wrote. After what the army doctors told him, Dick went to see a
specialist in Harley Street, and he must have got a plain warning, for
he was depressed and quiet for some time. Things are serious when
Dick's cast down."

"Do you know what the doctor said?"

"No; Dick wouldn't tell me. I'm not sure that he told Uncle Arnold
much."

"Ah!"

Andrew was silent for a moment.

"Has he been indulging in any rashness since then?"

"No, nothing fresh; but I'm afraid he's heavily in debt. His allowance
is very large, but he tried to borrow money a few days after he got
it." Elsie's color grew deeper as she continued: "I've seen him quite
unsteady at luncheon; and the worst is that it's telling on his
health."

"Looks bad; I must see what I can do. But it's awkward, because
Staffer's really responsible for him. Has he tried to pull Dick up?"

"Yes, in a way," Elsie answered with a thoughtful air. "Still, I
don't think it disturbs him as it ought to when he sees that he hasn't
done much good. He's witty when he should be firm--and I've sometimes
imagined that Dick feels rather flattered than ashamed after the
talk."

"I understand. What Dick really needs is a good kicking for being fool
enough to try to copy Staffer."

"Couldn't you take him away for a time in the boat?"

"I'll try, but he's not fond of sailing. Then it's a delicate matter.
If one could make Staffer understand--"

Elsie gave him a steady look.

"No; I think you'd better not. Uncle Arnold's very kind; mother and I
owe him a good deal, and he likes Dick. For all that, he doesn't seem
to feel it's his duty to take much trouble--"

Andrew knew she was not saying all that she thought; but he did not
press her.

"I will try to find a way," he said. "And now tell me how things have
been going since I left."

While they were talking, Dick came up; and not long afterward the two
men found themselves alone in the smoking-room.

Andrew put his hands on Dick's shoulders and held him off at arm's
length.

"You strike me as not being quite up to the mark," he said.

"Do I?" Dick grinned. "You've been talking to Elsie!"

"I have; and I'm sorry to hear the doctors didn't think you very well.
Hadn't you better tell me about it?"

"I suppose I must. You're a persistent fellow, but you don't often
take the superior moral tone. Well, as I'd been in the officers'
training corps, I applied for a commission, and they sent me up to a
medical board. One doctor asked me some catchy questions, and, being
quite inexperienced, I fell into the trap. The consequence was I
didn't pass."

"You didn't learn much about yourself from him?"

"Not much! It was he who got the information. But when he'd finished
he offered me a scrap of advice--I'd better see a private doctor at
once."

"Did you?"

Dick chuckled.

"Instead, I went up to London and tried to join one of the special
battalions. I was wiser this time, and told their medical examiner
nothing I could help. I thought I'd made a good impression; but at
last he looked at me pretty hard. 'I admire your keenness, but you
won't do,' he said. I told him I was a bit off color, but I'd play
golf all day and drink nothing but soda-water, and then come back to
him in a month. 'It would be of no use; I'd go to Harley Street now,'
he said."

"I hope you did," Andrew remarked with a frown.

Dick lighted a cigarette.

"Yes; I went. I'll spare you technicalities; for that matter, I've
forgotten them; but, after all, I didn't get much of a shock. It seems
my heart's gone a bit rocky."

"Go on," said Andrew.

"Well, if I give up everything I like and live like an ascetic, I may
get over the trouble, though I think the fellow doubted it. On the
other hand, I may get worse and drop off suddenly."

"Unless you steady down."

"Yes; he hinted something of the kind."

Andrew said nothing for a few moments. He was fond of his cousin; and,
besides, he had promised Dick's father to look after the boy. He felt
that he had been neglectful; and he wished now that he had more tact.
He had a duty ahead of him, and he did not know how to discharge it.

"The proper course is obvious," he began somewhat awkwardly. "Suppose
you come down the Galloway coast with Whitney and me? It's early for
the black geese, but there are ducks about."

Dick smiled.

"Unfortunately, I'm not keen on sailing; and I must say that living on
board a small, damp boat gets monotonous. Now, if you would land me
where one could get a game of cards in the evening, or--"

"Where they had a bar?"

"Precisely. A bar with a fetching girl in it."

"It wouldn't work," said Andrew firmly. "I remember what happened when
I landed you at Douglas--and a poaching escapade with some Creetown
quarrymen on the same cruise. You have a talent for getting into
trouble. Well, if you won't come with me, I'll have to make Appleyard
my headquarters for a time."

"I hope you will," Dick replied with feeling. "Has it ever struck you
that Appleyard might be yours?"

Andrew's face grew stern.

"Appleyard belongs to you and, what's more, you belong to it. It's
your duty to pull yourself together and take care of the estate, to
marry and bring up your children to be a credit to your name. Instead,
you're dragging it in the dirt, making shabby betting men and turf
sharpers your friends, and, I'm half afraid, getting into speculative
money-lenders' hands."

Dick winced and Andrew saw that his random shot had scored.

"If you're in difficulties, I might raise a hundred pounds or so," he
went on. "If, as I suspect, that isn't half enough, we'll go and see
Mackellar before you get in too deep."

Mackellar was the acting executor of Dick's father's will.

"I'll think over it," Dick answered; and there was something that
puzzled Andrew in his expression.

"Very well. Did you tell Staffer what the doctor said?"

"I wasn't quite as frank with him as I've been with you; one isn't
proud of being a lame duck. Still, I imagine he has a pretty accurate
notion of how things are with me."

"Then he ought to pull you up; he has the power."

"That's doubtful. I don't think you're quite fair to Staffer. I might
have got a stepfather of a very different kind."

"It might have been better if you had," Andrew dryly rejoined.

Dick flushed.

"I wish you'd leave Staffer alone; I won't have him run down."

"I didn't mean to run him down," Andrew said.

"Well, perhaps you didn't consciously. You'd try to conquer your
prejudices, but you're antagonistic."

Andrew gave Dick a shrewd glance.

"I wonder how Staffer feels about me?" he ventured.

"You're not likely to find out," Dick answered with a laugh. "I
suppose he has his failings, but he never gives himself away."

When Andrew went to his room that night he sat beside his window for a
long time, with a thoughtful frown. The task he had undertaken would
not be an easy one.



CHAPTER V

SWEETHEART ABBEY


Soon after their arrival Whitney and Andrew drove back to the boat,
which was moored in the mouth of a stream at some distance from
Appleyard. It was a bright morning and they sat smoking in the cockpit
when they had shaken some of the canvas and laid their sea clothes and
blankets out to dry.

Behind the white beach, a strip of marish heath led back to the broad
belt of cultivated land, with neat farmsteads scattered about; in
front, the narrow channel, in which the shallow-bodied boat lay nearly
upright, wound seaward through a great stretch of sand. The open sea
was not visible, but three or four miles away a glistening streak that
seemed to be in motion caught the light. In the middle distance a
green lagoon and two ribands of water were rapidly widening. Flocks of
black and white oyster-catchers fluttered about the banks of the
channels, and long rows of salmon nets ran back along the shore.

"This is a curious place to navigate," Whitney remarked. "You were
right in insisting on shallow draught and a centerboard."

"The shoals are not the worst," Andrew replied. "The tide runs up
these gutters very fast, and, as a rule, you can't take out an anchor
if you get aground."

"But that's the first thing one generally does."

"It's dangerous here. If the anchor held until she floated on the
flood tide, the strain on the cable would probably pull her down. If
it didn't hold, which is much more likely, it would check her while
she drove across the bank, sheering athwart the stream, in danger of
rolling over. The safest plan is to keep all sail set and try to make
for deep water as soon as she floats."

Whitney glanced at the nearest channel. A small white ridge, perhaps
six inches high, stretched from bank to bank, moving forward about as
fast as one could walk, and as the wave passed on the riband of water
changed into a lake. He thought it would not be pleasant to meet the
advancing tide at some distance from the land.

On looking round, Whitney saw a man walking toward them across the
bank. The fellow was old and his brown face was deeply lined. He wore
a yellow oilskin cap, an old blue jersey, and rubber waders that
reached to his thighs. Clambering on board, he nodded to Andrew.

"Weel," he said, "I'm glad to see ye back, an' it's a bonny wee boat
ye have got."

"She's not bad for work among the shoals, but she's not the best type
for the long seas you get in open water," Andrew replied, and turned
to Whitney. "You might bring up the bottle in the port locker, Jim,
and the soda."

"Ye can let the sodda bide; I've nae use for't." When Whitney returned
the fisherman filled his glass. "Here's til ye an' her! Ye have given
her a right name," he said.

"Why's the name good? What does _Rowan_ mean?" asked Whitney.

"The mountain-ash. The old mosstroopers sometimes wore a spray in
their steel caps as a protection against witchcraft and bad luck.
We're descendants of the Norse pirates, and the ash was the
Scandinavians' sacred Ysdragil, the tree of life."

"You're a curious lot," Whitney remarked. "I guess our beachcombers
don't know much about archæology: they don't have superstitions a
thousand years old."

"Were ye thinking o' making a trip to the deep water doon wast?" the
Scotsman inquired.

"I don't know yet. We might do some shooting here. Is there much fowl
about?"

"Ye'll get shellduck noo, an' a few teal; whaups, too, if ye're
wanting them, but the lag-geese an' the bernicle are no' here yet." He
paused and added: "I wouldna' say but it might be better if ye bide
until they come."

Andrew looked hard at him.

"Why?"

"I'm thinking ye're wanted here. It would be an ill thing to see
Appleyard gang doon, and it might be yours some day."

"It's my cousin's and he's younger than I am," Andrew answered with a
frown.

"Just that! Ye're leal, we ken. Weel, as ye're fond o' the young
laird, it might be wiser to keep an eye on him. He's overmuch under
yon foreigner's thumb."

"How's the fishing?" Andrew asked pointedly.

The old fellow broke into a slow chuckle.

"It might be better an' it might be waur; there's ower many o' the
Board's watchers here awa' for my liking. An' noo, I'll need to win
ashore before the tide's on the bank."

He went off across the sands and Whitney turned to Andrew with a
smile.

"You people leave a good deal to the imagination, but, so far as I
could understand him, he gave you a hint or two. What's his business?"

"Salmon-fishing with a drift net. I've known Jock Marshall since I was
a boy, and I believe he takes a well-meaning interest in me."

"Why did he call Staffer a foreigner?"

"In a sense, he is a foreigner, although he's been a naturalized
British subject for some time. We knew nothing about him until he
married Dick's mother, but there's reason to believe his name used to
be Von Stauffer, or something like it. Mrs. Woodhouse was born in
Austria, but she came over young, and her husband was all right."

Whitney was not much interested.

"What about to-morrow?" he asked.

"If the breeze holds, we'll have no trouble in crossing the sands to
New Abbey. Elsie and Dick will come, and I expect you'll enjoy the
trip. It's an interesting place."

As they stowed the sails the boat suddenly rose upright, drifted a few
yards, and then brought up with a jar of tightening cable while the
tide splashed against her planks. Launching the light dinghy, they
paddled shoreward with the stream.

At high-water the next day they went back on board and the _Rowan_
stood out across the sands. Elsie sat at the tiller, while Andrew
sounded with a long boat-hook, and Dick lounged in the cockpit,
smoking a cigarette. He laughed and told humorous stories, but
Whitney noticed that Elsie was intent upon her steering. He had
expected this, for he thought that whatever the girl undertook would
be well done; but she did not obtrude her earnestness. Now and then
she glanced at Andrew as he dipped the pole and a nod or a gesture was
exchanged. He was feeling his way across the shoals with
half-instinctive skill and the girl understood what he wished her to
do. Their task was not an easy one: there was only a foot or two of
water under the boat and she forged ahead fast through the short seas
the tide made as it raced across the banks.

The seas began to curl as the ebb met the freshening wind, and little
showers of spray splashed into the straining canvas. The deck got wet;
the water was filled with sand and streaked with foam. There was no
mark in all the glittering stretch, but Andrew knew when he reached
the main channel, and told Whitney to let the centerboard down. Then
they went to windward faster, the sea hurrying westward with them in
confused eddies while small white combers foamed about the boat. She
plunged through them, scooping their broken crests on board, and by
and by the water ahead grew yellow and marked by frothy lines.

Elsie looked at Andrew, and he took out his watch.

"We ought to get a fathom most of the way across," he said, and turned
to Whitney. "You might stand by below to pull up the board."

Whitney crept into the low-roofed cabin, where he sat on a locker,
holding the tackle that lifted the heavy iron centerplate. He knew
that it would be desirable to heave it up as soon as possible after he
got the order. From where he sat he could see nothing outside the
boat, but as he looked aft through the hatch he was offered a
fascinating picture.

A strip of the tanned mainsail, shining ruby-red, cut against a patch
of clear blue sky, and Elsie sat beneath it, her gracefully lined
figure swaying easily as the boat rose and fell. She leaned on the
long tiller, and a lock of loosened hair that shone like the sail
fluttered across her forehead. Her eyes were bright, and there was a
fine color in her face; but it was not so much her beauty as her
decision and confidence that Whitney liked. The girl was capable of
keen enjoyment, but it must be in something that was worth doing. He
was already conscious of a curious respect for Elsie Woodhouse.

Andrew called to him to lift the board and come up; and when he
reached the deck he saw close ahead of them a long, hump-backed
mountain that rose abruptly from a narrow strip of rolling pasture. A
row of very small white houses bordered a green common behind the
beach, and the tide swept, froth-streaked, down the channel in front.

"Where do we bring up?" he asked.

"In the Carsethorn gut," said Andrew. "Do you think you can find it,
Elsie?"

"I'll try. Give her a foot or two of sheet."

The boat swung round a little, edging in toward the beach, and Whitney
saw by the ripples that they were in shallow water. Andrew let the
staysail run down, but when he stood ready with the boathook, Elsie
smiled.

"Sound if you like, but you won't find bottom here," she said.

"A good shot. You have hit the mouth of the gut."

"You'll touch now," said Elsie a few minutes later; and Andrew dipped
the pole, then threw it down and lowered the jib. The boat came round
head to wind, and the anchor went down with a rattle of running chain.

Landing from the dinghy, they struck across the fields, and although
it was autumn, Whitney wondered at the lush greenness of the grass.
Close on their left hand, Criffell's lonely ridge ran up against the
sky, colored purple-red, though the hollows in its curving side were
filled with dark-blue shadows. The ash-trees in the hedgerows that
crossed the rolling pasture obscured their view ahead, and they were
crossing the last rise when Whitney stopped.

"This is worth coming a very long way to see!" he exclaimed.

A deep glen, where the light was subdued and the colors dim, cleft the
mountain's northern flank, and at its mouth a cluster of white houses
stood among the trees; then, on a narrow green level, bright in the
sun, the old abbey shone rosy red. Ancient ash-trees and crumbling
granite walls straggled about it, but the molding of the high, east
window, buttress and tower, still rose in lines of beauty, worked in
warm-colored stone.

Elsie gave him a quick look and he knew that she was pleased with his
frank admiration. When they entered the cool, shadowy interior she
acted as his guide, for Dick and Andrew stayed outside in the sun.
Presently she stopped near the east end of the building, and Whitney
looked back down the long rows of plinths, from which the pillars had
fallen, and up into the hollow of the great ruined tower.

"It must have been a wonderful place in the old days; a jewel in the
shape of a church. And I dare say if they'd searched Scotland they
couldn't have found a finer setting than these rich meadows at the
mountain's foot."

Elsie led him a few yards along a wall, over which a low, groined roof
still hung.

"Its building was a labor of love, and perhaps that's why it never
leaves one cold," she said. "I suppose you know its history?"

"I only know it's called Sweetheart Abbey."

"The Countess Devorgilla built it as a shrine for her husband's heart,
which was embalmed and buried on her breast. It's a moving story, when
one thinks of what she undertook. Galloway was then, for the most
part, a savage waste; skilled workmen must be brought from somewhere
else, perhaps from Italy or France. Then there is only granite, which
could not be cut and molded, on these hills, and the soft red stone
had to be carried down the Firth and across the sands. They had no
mechanical transport, and you can see the size of the blocks. In spite
of all this, the abbey rose and still stands, marked, I often think,
by a tender, elusive beauty that's peculiar to the North."

Elsie moved back to where the sun shone down into the roofless nave,
and Whitney thought he understood why she did so. Her imagination was
fastidiously refined: she would not loiter talking by Devorgilla's
tomb. Standing silent beside her, he waited, with a faint smile. He
was not a sentimentalist trying to play up to a pretty girl; somehow,
she had stirred him. He felt that she had the gift of seizing what
was true in romance and missing what was false. Then, she had the
strange elusive beauty of the North which she had spoken of: an
ethereal tenderness that flashed out and vanished, leaving the hard
rock of a character steadfast as the granite upon the Solway shore.

Elsie turned and looked east with grave, steady eyes.

"One reaches out for something that's on the other side," she said;
"but perhaps when one knocks and the gate is opened, one goes through
unawares--"

"You mean, that when one's eyes are opened, there may not be much
difference between the land of enchantment and ours?"

"Something like that."

During the short silence that followed, Whitney looked round the great
church that was still majestic in its decay.

"Well," he said, "there can't be many of us, nowadays, who'd deserve
the love and labor this place must have cost."

"But there must be some," she insisted.

"It seems a big thing to claim, but I have met two or three who, so
far as my judgment goes, were good enough for the kind of woman your
Countess seems to have been; not clever men and in no way remarkable,
until you knew them well, but you felt that, whatever happened, they'd
do the square thing. One could trust them. Somehow, one man in
particular stands out from the rest."

Elsie turned toward him and he saw the strange, elusive tenderness
shining in her eyes. Momentary as it was, it transformed her face,
and he wondered whether she approved his sentiment or knew whom he
meant.

"I imagine you are a good friend," she said softly. "It must be nice
to have somebody who believes in you like that."

"If the man I'm thinking of knew how he stood with me and others, it
would make him embarrassed." Whitney laughed. "But that's natural.
It's a hard thing to feel that you must live up to your reputation."

"I like you best when you're serious," Elsie rebuked him, though she
smiled.

She took the lead he gave her and they went back to the others,
engaged in careless talk. When they reached an arch that opened on a
sweep of sunny grass, Andrew looked up from the stone on which he sat.

"You haven't hurried," he remarked.

"No," said Whitney. "I've been learning some more of your traditions,
and they're inspiring. The people round here seem to have been great
lovers as well as pretty hard fighters."

"A happy thought has struck me," Dick broke in. "It would be hot work
dragging the dinghy down across a quarter of a mile of sand, and I
don't feel up to carrying a heavy lunch basket. There's a hotel in the
village where they'd give us something to eat, and we could stroll up
the burnside afterward. It's a pretty walk."

Whitney noticed that Andrew's glance rested for a second on Elsie's
face and then passed on. She made no sign, but it seemed that Andrew
understood without it.

"I think not," he said; "the place would probably be full of Dumfries
excursionists. It would be pleasanter on the beach."

"And I want to see the view you talked about," Whitney followed him
up.

Dick broke into a resigned grin.

"Very well; but you'll drag the dinghy down yourselves."

They had to carry the boat some distance, and afterward they rowed
lazily along the edge of the sand until they landed at the foot of a
little glen. Here they lunched and lounged in the sun until the flood
tide came softly lapping across the flats.

The breeze had fallen very light when the stream swept the _Rowan_
east across the shoals, and Whitney, sitting on the cabin-top, watched
the Galloway shore recede. The western sky was a pale saffron, against
which Criffell rose, steeped in a wonderful blue. The shadows were
gathering fast about the rolling ground below, but the hollow where
the old red abbey stood still could be distinguished.



CHAPTER VI

ON CRIFFELL HILL


The sun burned down on the heather. Below, in the curving glen where
the heath gave place to white bent-grass, a burn flashed like a silver
riband among the stones; above, the long ridge of Criffell ran up
against the clear blue sky. Grouse were calling as they skimmed the
steep downward slope, and a curlew's wild cry fell sharply from the
summit of the hill. These were sounds that delighted Andrew, for he
loved the fellside almost as he loved the sea; but his lips were set
and his brows knitted as he stood waist-deep in the heather.

Whitney was toiling up the hill beside Elsie a short distance farther
on, and Dick was behind them; but, seeing Andrew stop, they waited
until he came up.

"It's rather steep," said Elsie, giving Andrew a sympathetic glance.
"Here's a nice flat stone; we'll rest for a few minutes."

She sat down on a slab of lichened granite, and Dick found a place
beside her.

"I wonder why Andrew loaded himself up with that heavy ruck-sack on a
day like this?" he said. "I suppose there's a pair of marine glasses
and a chart, and a parallel rule and compass, inside of it. Andrew
thinks he'd get lost if he didn't carry the lot about when he risks
himself ashore."

"They're all there," Andrew replied somewhat grimly. "Still, it wasn't
the bag that stopped me."

"I'm sorry we forced the pace," Elsie said. "You were going well at
the bottom."

"I felt all right; but that's just when my weakness finds me out.
Sometimes it's the damp that brings it on and sometimes the heat; but
one oughtn't to grumble about not being able to climb a hill as fast
as usual." He broke off and resumed after a twinge of pain: "It's
thinking of our boys being rolled back on Cambrai while I loaf about
the Solway shore, that worries me."

When they had rested a while they climbed up the steep face of a
pointed knoll, and then followed a long ridge to the massive cairn on
the top of the hill, where shallow pools gleamed among the green moss
of a bog. Andrew sat down on a stone, but Whitney stood on the highest
hillock, his eyes wandering across the wide landscape that rolled away
beneath him.

To the south the sea glittered like silver, and a bright arm wound
inland up a valley. To the west and north a few lemon-yellow harvest
fields and strips of green pasture checkered the red heath, and the
smoke of a little town hung about a hollow; but the picture's dominant
tone was wild solitude. The plain rose in step-like ridges, the
hillsides that bordered it were washed with shades of delicate gray,
and in the distance lofty rounded summits cut against the sky.

"It looks as lonely as our Western deserts," Whitney remarked.

Andrew was busy with his chart. He had spread it on a flat stone;
then, putting a compass on the middle of it, he moved a notched brass
ring round the instrument. The tide was about half ebb and broad belts
of sand rose among the glistering channels in the firth. Andrew took
sights across them, then penciled notes on the margin of the chart,
but at times he lay still for a minute or two with the marine glasses
at his eyes. The others left him alone until he rolled up the chart
and lighted his pipe.

"I've learned something useful," he said. "These channels change so
fast that a chart's of no use unless you keep it up to date."

"What's the country to the east like?" Whitney asked. "It looks high
and rough, but I seem to make out a deep valley beyond your
Annandale."

"Now you have set him off!" Dick exclaimed. "Andrew's one hobby is
that western road to England!"

Andrew laughed.

"The road is interesting. I will take you over it some day. For one
thing, nature has provided a good route through a rugged country. For
most of the way, the valleys are shut in by high moors, and that made
Eskdale a natural sallyport for the old Border clans."

Elsie and Dick were walking about, picking their way among the shallow
pools; but Whitney sat down beside Andrew and listened with interest
to the history of the old Eskdale road.

"I shall buy a motorcycle," he declared, when Andrew had concluded;
"one of those with a side-car, so that we can travel around these
roads."

Elsie and Dick joined them and for a time they sat talking and looking
about. There was very little wind and the murmur of the Solway tide
came up to them faintly across the purple slopes where the grouse were
calling.

Suddenly, as if he had sprung from the earth, a young man in khaki
uniform appeared, picking his way across the bog. He was hot and
breathless, and seemed surprised when he saw the party, but he came
toward them with a smile.

"So you're back!" he exclaimed to Andrew. "I meant to look you up."

"We'll be glad to see you, Murray," Dick said cordially. "You haven't
been round for a long time. What brings you up Criffell in full
uniform? I must say it's a better fit than some they've been serving
out lately."

Murray laughed.

"We are giving the Terriers a run; but business first. I suppose you
haven't seen any turf that might have been dug over recently, or
stones that seemed to have been pulled up?"

"No. Did you expect to find anything of the sort?"

"To tell the truth, I don't know what I did expect to find. We're
ostensibly practising scouting, but there's a batch of Dumfries
cyclists scouring the Galloway roads, and I imagine the authorities
have some reason for sending us out."

"I suppose if you met a foreigner or anybody with an electric battery,
he'd go into the bag," Dick suggested. "After reading the newspapers,
one must admit that the Terriers are remarkably good shots. In fact,
it's not safe to meet them in the dark."

"You imagine this turnout isn't merely part of the men's training?"
Andrew asked.

Murray looked thoughtful.

"No; I believe there is something going on round here. We've got
orders to search the country as far as Screel of Bengairn--though of
course that can't be done in a day. I heard they mean to organize
scouting parties in the Castle Douglas neighborhood."

"Well, perhaps a wireless installation could be made small enough to
carry about and hide; but a good deal of Galloway's a wilderness of
granite and heath."

"That's why it might prove a suitable place."

"Yes, in a way. There are glens where a man could lurk for a long time
without being seen; but they're hard to reach, and nothing that the
enemy would wish to learn is likely to happen here. Then the sands
protect this shore. The east coast's our vulnerable point: any
important news could best be picked up about Rosyth. If there are
wireless installations working, one would naturally look for them on
the eastern slope of the Lammermuirs and along the seaboard between
Berwick and the Forth."

"Of course," agreed Murray. "And no doubt they've had that district
searched. But you must remember we're dealing with remarkably clever
people, who wouldn't go to work in the obvious way. Now, suppose some
news was gathered about Rosyth, how long would it take a powerful car
to bring it here?"

"Four hours and a half, provided that none of your fellows or the
police interfered."

"That's by the Eskdale road. I'd go the other way--a rough country,
but there's nobody to bother about the speed limit."

"Well," said Andrew, thoughtfully, "I'd prefer the Eskdale. The
obvious way's sometimes safest; it's the unusual thing that excites
suspicion."

"There's only one road for Andrew," Dick laughed.

Murray got up.

"I must be off," he said. "My Terriers are scattered about the mosses,
and khaki has its disadvantages when you're looking for your men."

He turned away and when he went, springing down the western slope of
the hill, Elsie looked at the others.

"It was so serene up here," she said; "and he has broken the charm.
The war cloud looked a long way off, but it seems closer now." She
glanced across the ranges of sunny hills as she added: "What a
beautiful world this might be if men were sensible and just!"

"True," replied Dick; "but then we'd miss some excitement and get fat
and slack. A certain amount of trouble's good for us, and that's why
we make it."

"We didn't make this horrible war."

"No; I suppose we didn't. As a future landowner, I've naturally no
admiration for the Lloyd George gang, but one must admit that they
were forced into the fray. To do them justice, they're not the lot to
fight when they can help it, and they're certainly getting on better
than I expected."

"You were bound by the 'Scrap of paper,'" Whitney remarked.

Dick chuckled.

"Our politicians have left us nothing to say about that; but I'll
admit there's something convenient in the other fellows' theory. I
happen to know a little about scraps of paper and there are one or two
I'd be glad to disown."

"So I thought!" Andrew interposed dryly.

"Oh," Dick laughed; "my frankness is always getting me into trouble."

Soon afterward they went down the hill, talking carelessly, but
Elsie's eyes were grave when she saw in the distance small scattered
figures moving across the heath. There was something ominous about the
soldiers' presence on the quiet moors where the black-faced sheep had
long fed undisturbed.



CHAPTER VII

THE GRAY CAR


It was one o'clock in the morning, but Andrew could not sleep. He sat
by an open window, looking at the tops of the firs, which stood out in
black silhouette. It annoyed him to be so wakeful, as he and Whitney
were to make an early start for Edinburgh; but Andrew had something to
think about, for he realized that his friendship with Elsie could not
be resumed where it had broken off. She had grown up while he was
away, and his feeling toward her had changed. To be regarded as an
elder brother no longer satisfied him, and if he were not very
careful, he would find himself in love with her. This was unthinkable:
first of all, because he was lame and poor, and then because it was
obvious that Elsie ought to marry Dick. She had no money; Dick had
plenty and, besides, Dick needed her. Elsie would keep him straight,
and his weak heart would cease to trouble him when he steadied down.
Andrew had long cherished an affection for both of them, and he knew
that Dick trusted him.

Then he reflected that Elsie's attitude toward Dick was to a large
extent protective and motherly, which was not the feeling one would
expect a girl to show for the man she meant to marry; and while Dick
was obviously fond of her, his attachment, so far as one could judge,
was not passionate. Besides, when one came to think of it, the
suggestion that their marriage must be taken for granted had come from
Staffer. He had, so to speak, delicately warned Andrew off.

Andrew firmly pulled himself up. He was being led away by specious
arguments. It was easy to find excuses for indulging oneself and he
had promised to look after Dick. If he tried to supplant his cousin in
Elsie's affection, he would be doing a dishonorable thing. There was
no getting around this; but it cost him an effort to face the truth.

A soft rattle of gravel down the drive attracted Andrew's attention.
Rabbits sometimes got through the netting and one might have disturbed
the stones as it sprang across; but he rejected this explanation. The
sound was too loud, although he imagined that there was something
stealthy in it. Anybody coming toward the house across the smoothly
paved bridge, would have to walk on the gravel, as there was a flower
border between the drive and the shrubbery. This had a narrow grass
edging, but hoops were placed along it to keep people off.

Andrew leaned forward cautiously and looked about him. It was a calm
night and not very dark, although there was no moon. He could see the
firs near the house cutting black against the sky, and the blurred
outline of a shrubbery beside the drive to the bridge. Thin white mist
rose from the ravine, and beyond it a beechwood rolled down the hill.
The air was warm, and the smell of flowers and wet soil drifted into
the room. There seemed to be nothing moving, however, and the sound
was not repeated. For a few moments Andrew waited, expecting to hear
the intruder fall over one of the hoops that edged the drive. When
this did not happen, he fixed his eyes intently upon the end of the
shrubbery, and then he made out a very indistinct figure moving slowly
through the gloom beneath the firs.

This was strange. He had never heard of any house-breaking in the
dale, and there was nothing at Appleyard to attract a burglar from the
distant towns. It was too late for a villager to keep tryst with one
of the maids; and a poacher would not cross the well-fenced grounds.
Andrew decided that he would not give the alarm, but he slipped across
the room and opened his door quietly so that he could hear if anybody
entered the house. Though he stood beside it, listening closely, he
heard nothing. Then he returned to the window, and saw a dark form
move back into the gloom of the trees. Presently there was another
soft rattle of gravel near the bridge, and after that deep silence
except for the splash of water in the ravine. Andrew imagined that
about five minutes had elapsed since he heard the first sound, but the
prowler had gone and he must try to solve the puzzle in the morning.

He got up early and went down to the drive before anybody was about. A
fresh footprint showed plainly in the flower border near the bridge,
close to an opening in the shrubbery by which one could reach the
lawn, as if the man had meant to jump across and had fallen a few
inches short. That he had not gone along the grass edging showed that
he knew the hoops were there.

Andrew examined the footprint. It was deep and clearly defined, and he
thought it looked more like the impress of a well-made shooting boot
than of the heavy boots the country people wore. For one thing, he
could see no marks of the tackets the Scottish peasant uses. Acting on
a half-understood impulse, he covered the footprint up and strolled
toward the gardener, who was just coming out with his rake.

"You have a big place to take care of, Fergus, but you keep it very
neat," Andrew said.

"Aye," replied the gardener. "I'm thinking it's big enough."

"Have you help?"

"Willie Grant comes over whiles, when I've mair than ordinar' to do.
He has a club foot, ye'll mind, an' is no' verra active, but there's
jobs he saves me."

Andrew knew the man, and knew that he could not have sprung across the
flower border.

"I see Tom is still at the stables, but the man who drives the car is
new. How long have they had him?"

"A year, maybe. Watson's a quiet man, an' makes no unnecessar' mess,
like some o' them. He leeves in the hoose."

"Then he doesn't get up very early."

"He's at Dumfries wi' the car. There was something to be sortit an' he
took her there yestreen. Mr. Staffer's for Glasgow, the morn."

After a few remarks about the garden, Andrew strolled away. He had
learned that the night prowler could not have been one of the men
employed at Appleyard. The fellow had apparently not entered the
house, and although he had stayed long enough to deliver a message to
somebody inside, Andrew had not heard a door or window open. The
matter puzzled him, but he determined to say nothing about it,
although he was conscious of no particular reason for his reserve.

An hour later, Whitney and he started for Edinburgh, with Dick on the
carrier of the motorcycle. The machine was powerful and they meant to
travel by short stages and stop at points of interest for a walk
across the hills. Andrew was glad to have Dick with them, particularly
as he was dubious about the visits the boy was in the habit of making
to Dumfries and Lockerbie. Dick generally returned late at night and
did not look his best the next morning.

Whitney enjoyed the journey. He had understood that southern Scotland
was the home of scientific agriculture, and in this respect the
valleys came up to his expectations; but when they left them on foot,
as they did now and then, they crossed barren, wind-swept spaces
clothed with bent-grass and heather. In places, lonely hills rolled
from horizon to horizon without sign of life except for the
black-faced sheep and the grouse that skimmed the heath.

Andrew knew every incident in the history of this rugged country, and
with a little encouragement he told tales of English invasions and
fierce reprisals, of stern Covenanting martyrs and their followers'
fanatical cruelties. Looking down from the heights of the Lammermuirs,
they saw where Cromwell crushed his Scottish pursuers; they climbed
the battlements of old square towers that had defied English raids,
and traced the line of Prince Charlie's march.

Whitney found it rather bewildering. There was so much romantic
incident packed into two or three centuries; but he felt that he
understood the insular Briton better than he had done, and this
understanding improved his conception of the native-born American. It
was here that some of the leading principles of American democracy
were first proclaimed and fought for. Another thing was plain--if the
spirit of this virile people had not greatly changed, deeds worthy of
new ballads would be done in France and Flanders.

On the return journey they reached Hawick one evening and stopped for
an hour or two. Dick suggested that they stay the night; but there was
nothing to keep them in the smoky, wool-spinning town, and Andrew
preferred to push on.

"The night air's bracing among the moors and I like to hear the whaups
crying round the house," he said to Whitney. "There's a small hotel,
built right on the fellside, and we should get there in an hour."

They set off, with Andrew on the carrier, and the powerful machine
rolled smoothly out of the town. The street lamps were beginning to
twinkle as they left it and low mist crept across the fields past
which they sped. The cry of geese, feeding among the stubble, came out
of the haze, which lay breast-high between the hedgerows, clogging the
dust, but it thinned and rolled behind them as the road began to rise.
Then the stubble fields became less frequent, fewer dark squares of
turnips checkered the sweep of grass, and the murmur of Teviot,
running among the willows, crept out of the gathering dusk.

Cothouses marked by glimmering lights went by; they sped through a
dim, white village; and Whitney opened out his engine as they went
rocking past a line of stunted trees. They were the last and highest,
for after them the rough ling and bent-grass rolled across the haunts
of the sheep and grouse. Whitney changed his gear as the grade got
steeper, the hedges gave place to stone walls until they ran out on an
open moor, round which the hills lifted their black summits against
the fading sky. The three men made a heavy load on the long incline,
but the machine brought them up, and the last of the light had gone
when they stopped in front of a lonely hotel. It looked like a Swiss
châlet on the breast of the fell, and a dark glen dropped steeply away
from it, but it glowed with electric light.

"They seem to have some shooting people here," Dick said. "I'll run
across and see if they can take us in, while you look at the
carbureter. We may have to go on to Langholm and she wasn't firing
very well."

He went up the drive and Whitney opened his tool bag. The top of the
pass was about half a mile behind them, and the road ran straight down
from it, widening in front of the hotel. There was a patch of loose
stones on the other side, and the motorcycle stood a yard or two from
the gate. Everything was very still except for the sound of running
water, and it was rather dark, because the hills rose steeply above
the glen.

"Dick's a long time coming back," Andrew said with a frown.

"Perhaps you'd better go for him," Whitney suggested.

Andrew went off, but met Dick in the drive.

"It's all right; there's nobody stopping here," he reported. "They
keep the lights blazing to draw motoring people."

He spoke clearly, but with an evident effort, and Andrew frowned
again.

"There's a nut I can't get hold of," Whitney called to them from under
the motorcycle. "Do you think I could borrow a smaller spanner here,
Dick?"

"I'll get it for you," Dick volunteered jovially, and started back
toward the house.

Andrew put a firm hand on his arm.

"You will not!" he said shortly.

Dick turned upon him in a moment's rage; and then laughed.

"Oh, all right. You're a tyrant, Andrew, but you mean well."

When Whitney went for the spanner Dick knelt down in the road to
inspect the machine.

"Lend me your knife," he requested. "It will be all right if I put
something in the jaws."

"I'm inclined to think you'd better leave it alone," Andrew replied
meaningly.

Dick laughed.

"You're a suspicious beggar. I wasn't away five minutes. Anyhow,
there's a fascination in tampering with other people's machines.
Where's the knife?"

Andrew let him have it, and soon afterward Dick uttered an expletive
as he tore the skin from one of his knuckles.

"The beastly thing will slip; but I'm not going to be beaten by a
common American nut," he declared. "If I can't screw it up, I'll twist
the bolt-head off."

"Leave it alone!" said Andrew.

"It's going!" Dick panted, and threw the spanner down. "Another
knuckle skinned," he added grimly.

As he stopped to wipe his hand, a loud humming came across the summit.
Then four lights leaped up and their united beam rushed down the
pass.

"That fellow's driving very fast, but he has plenty of room," Dick
remarked, and Andrew, stepping back, saw that the tail-lamp of the
motorcycle was burning well.

Dick got up, and Andrew moved out a yard or two across the road with
the headlamp, half dazzled by the blaze of light that filled the glen.
Suddenly the stream of radiance wavered, and Andrew wondered whether
the driver had lost his nerve on seeing the patch of stones, which
perhaps looked larger than they were. Then he heard the wheels skid
and loose metal fly as the car lurched across the road.

"Jump!" he shouted, violently hurling Dick back before he sprang out
of the way.

He struck the motorcycle with his lame leg, staggered, and fell on the
gravel close to the gate. For a moment or two he had not the courage
to look up, and then, with keen relief, he saw Dick standing safe.

"The clumsy brute!" Dick cried, in a voice that sounded hoarse with
rage.

Running to the bicycle, he started it and jumped into the saddle. The
red tail-light streamed away through the dark like a rocket, and when
it grew dim, Andrew, standing shakily, saw Whitney beside him.

"He's gone mad!" Whitney exclaimed.

Andrew did not speak, and above the dying roar the big car made in the
narrow hollow they heard a shrill buzzing that sounded strangely
venomous.

"Forty miles an hour, anyway," Whitney estimated. "It would take a
good car to get away from her. Is he fool enough to run into the back
of it?"

"I don't know," said Andrew. "Dick's capable of anything when he's
worked up. The curious thing is that his head is steadier than usual
then."

They waited until the sound grew fainter and then died away.

"I am going down the glen," Andrew said.

They had not gone far when they heard a motor panting up hill to meet
them, and a minute later Dick's car ran past and he waved his hand.

"Hotel gate!" he shouted. "Don't want to stop!"

When they reached the gate, Dick was waiting. Andrew turned the light
on him, and started at the sight which met him. Dick's face was white
and strained and smeared with blood, and he was evidently laboring
under an emotion not wholly due to anger and excitement.

Even in the sudden flash past them of the automobile Andrew thought he
had recognized the car as one belonging to Appleyard--a low, gray car
which Staffer always used. He had believed that the lurch which nearly
cost them their lives was due to reckless driving; but there was a
tenseness in Dick's expression which he could not quite understand.

"Did you overtake the car?" he asked.

"No," said Dick, with a forced grin; "I took the bank and I'm afraid
the machine is something the worse for it. I was gaining and close to
the car when we got down to the bottom of the glen. You know it's very
narrow there."

Whitney nodded. There was a sharp bend where road and stream ran out
side by side through the sharply contracted gap in the hills. The
slope on both sides was very steep and there was only a strip of
grass between the road and the water, seven or eight feet below.

"Yes; it's not the place I'd care to negotiate at full speed."

"I meant to catch the car and ran on to the grass to get a wider
sweep; but she wouldn't take the curve. Went straight up the hillside
for a dozen yards and then threw me off. Luckily I fell into some fern
and when I'd pulled myself together, I somehow got her down."

"But the car?"

"Got off," Dick replied in a strained tone.

Andrew spoke quickly.

"You'd better come and let us see if your face is badly cut."

They entered the hotel, but Dick stopped as they were passing the bar.

"We've all had a shock," he said; "and if you feel you'd like a drink,
don't mind me. You needn't be afraid of setting me a bad example--I
don't want anything."

Andrew smiled.

"Nor do I. Sometimes you're a very thoughtful fellow, Dick."



CHAPTER VIII

THE _ROWAN'S_ LIGHT


Dick's cuts were not deep and he joined his companions at supper. One
of the windows was open and the smell of peat smoke came in, while the
noise of Ewes water running down the glen mingled pleasantly with the
bleating of sheep. The room, however, was illuminated by electric
light and a row of sepia drawings hung on the wall.

"There's something distinctive about the Border," Whitney remarked;
"but there's one thing that strikes me. In old English
cities--Chester, for example--there are streets that look as they did
in Queen Elizabeth's reign; but the Scottish towns you've shown me
might have been built forty years ago."

Andrew smiled.

"The reason lies in our national character. We're utilitarian and
don't allow sentiment to interfere with progress. As soon as a
building gets out of date, we pull it down. Our past lives in the
race's memory and we don't need to keep it embodied in stone."

He turned to Dick, who had been unusually quiet.

"It's lucky you didn't get worse hurt. Did you see the car's number?"

Dick hesitated a moment.

"No-o. The plate was covered with mud."

"But there has been no rain," Whitney objected. "I was near the gate
when the driver swerved, and I couldn't see any reason for his doing
so."

"He may not have noticed the loose stones until he was close to them,
and then lost control of the steering because he was startled; or
perhaps the wheels skidded on the loose metal," Andrew suggested.

"It's curious," Whitney persisted, "because if the fellow's nerve had
given way he would have gone over the motorcycle and into the gate.
Anyhow, he didn't lose control, because he straightened her up the
moment Andrew threw you back."

"His nerve did not give way," said Dick.

Andrew looked hard at him.

"You know something. What is it, Dick?"

"I know the car," Dick said grimly; "but it isn't nice to think your
own friends came near killing you."

"You're sure?"

"Positive. I thought I recognized the hum she makes on the top gear,
and when I was close behind them at the bottom of the glen, I saw the
tail-lamp had a cracked glass and a dinge in the top. It isn't a
coincidence that our lamp's like that. I remember when Watson dropped
it."

"Staffer certainly wouldn't lose control of his steering."

"No," said Dick; "he's as steady as a rock. So's Watson. You don't
often find a lowland Scot of his type jumpy."

Whitney lighted a cigarette and leaned back, watching the others.

"Staffer was going to Glasgow," Andrew argued.

"Yes; the hydraulic ram that pumps our water had broken down and he
meant to see the makers. He told me he might not be back for a few
days."

"But would he return by Edinburgh? Had he any business there?"

"None that I know of; we deal with Glasgow. I wanted him to come up to
Edinburgh not long ago, but he wouldn't. Said he didn't know anybody
in the place and there was nothing to do."

"After all, you may have been mistaken about the car."

"Oh, no," said Dick; "but we'll talk about something else. I don't
like to think that Staffer nearly finished me--and he wouldn't feel
happy about it. Of course he didn't recognize us; and, on the whole, I
think we'd better not mention it to him."

"I agree with you," Whitney said; and they planned to ship the damaged
machine to Hawick and to walk back across the hills.

On their return to Appleyard, Whitney watched Staffer closely when
Dick explained that they had been delayed by an accident in the glen
at Teviot-head. He showed only a polite interest in the matter, and
when Whitney talked about Edinburgh, he remarked that he found the
city disappointing and seldom visited it.

A few days later, they all sat on the terrace one calm evening when
Watson came back with the car and gave Dick and Staffer some letters.

"From Murray," Dick announced when he had opened his. "They're going
to search the Colvend country next Thursday, and he suggests that we
might like to join, though he hints that he's not allowed to give us
much information."

"What does he expect to find?" Staffer asked. His tone expressed
indifference, but Whitney suspected that it covered a keen interest.

"He doesn't say. Somebody working a wireless installation, I imagine."

"And is Thursday particularly suitable for that kind of thing?"

"It's Dumfries' early-closing day. They can get a lot of motorcyclists
then. Murray states that the coast and moss-roads will be watched."

"You ought to go," Elsie interposed. "Mr. Whitney would enjoy a day
upon the heather."

"An opportunity for combining a pleasant excursion with a patriotic
duty!" Staffer remarked. "Well, the high ground from Bengairn to Susie
Hill will need some searching. No doubt, they'll push across the moors
toward Black Beast?"

"Murray doesn't say, but it's probable. I don't know whether the
military authorities have the spy mania; but if there is any ground
for suspicion, it can do no harm to draw the Galloway moors. What do
you think, Andrew?"

"I'd try the hills farther east."

"About Eskdale, of course?" Staffer said with ironical humor.

"Well," Andrew replied, "I don't claim much strategical knowledge, but
if we take it for granted that a hostile force could be landed on our
east coast--"

"Rosyth's being a naval station would make that difficult. But go on."

Beginning rather awkwardly, Andrew worked out a supposititious plan of
campaign, and to Whitney, who had just been over the ground, it
seemed a very good one. The scheme he outlined certainly appeared
practical; and Whitney saw that Staffer was more interested than he
pretended, and that his objections were designed to draw Andrew on.
Both showed a knowledge of military needs and history; and when
Staffer mentioned Cromwell's retreat on Dunbar, Whitney thought
Andrew's defense of his favorite route across, instead of around, the
Lammermuirs was good. He noted that Staffer did not claim as much
local knowledge; indeed, he thought he was careful not to do so.

"I'm not convinced that we have much to fear, but you have worked the
thing out very well," he said at last. "Have you thought that the War
Office might find something to interest them in your views?"

Andrew flushed.

"They're probably bothered enough by amateur strategists," he replied.
"Of course, I may be all wrong; but if there really did seem any need
for it, I'd try to get somebody with influence to put my ideas before
them."

Staffer folded a letter he had been reading, and looked at his watch.

"I must send off a telegram," he said, and left them.

"Well, Andrew, are we going on this spy hunt?" Whitney asked. It
sounded promising to him.

"I could take the boat to Rough Firth. Then we might go on to Wigtown
Bay, where you could see your people. Will you come, Dick?"

"Yes--as far as Rough Firth; but I don't know about the rest. Small
boat sailing needs an acquired taste. You have to get used to eating
half-cooked food and sleeping among wet sails. On my last cruise,
drops from a deck-beam fell on my face all night when it rained.
Andrew's hardier than I am, and no doubt truer to the old strain; but
while the Annandale Johnstones did many reckless things, they had
generally sense enough to stick to dry land."

They made the necessary arrangements, and a few days later the _Rowan_
went down the Solway with the strong ebb-tide. The shoals were
beginning to show above the sand-filled water when she drifted past a
point fringed by low reefs and boulders, at Criffel's southern foot.
Whitney guessed its distance as about three miles, and took a compass
bearing at Andrew's order. The coast turned sharply west at the point,
and the mountain, sloping to meet it, broke down into a wall of cliffs
that rose, grim and forbidding, from the beach. At one place, a gap in
the wall suggested a river mouth. There was not much wind, the sky was
hazy, and on the port hand a stretch of gray water ran back to the
horizon. It looked like open sea; but the strong rippling in the
foreground indicated that the tide was running across thinly-covered
banks.

"I should have liked a breeze," Andrew said. "If we bring her around,
the ebb will sweep us past the mouth of the Firth. There's not much
water on the sands ahead, but we ought to get a fathom, if I can find
the Barnhourie gut. Keep her as she's going, Dick, with the knoll
ashore on the bowsprit-end, while I look at the chart."

Andrew went below and Whitney turned to Dick.

"Do you know this gut?" he asked.

"I remember something about it, but they keep changing. See what depth
there is."

Whitney found six feet, and looked around as he heard the topsail
flap. The _Rowan_ was sailing upright, but going very fast, with the
current eddying about her. Wreaths of sand came up to the surface and
went down again.

"Keep her full," he said. "She's luffing off her course."

"It's possible. The tide's strong and she's not steering well. I dare
say there's enough water everywhere, but Andrew must find the gut: he
feels he has to do the proper thing. He's made like that."

"We'll take no chances," Whitney answered; and ran to the scuttle.
"Pull up the board and come on deck!" he shouted to Andrew.

In a few moments Andrew's head appeared; and after a glance round, he
swung himself up and jumping aft took the helm from Dick.

"Ready with the head-sheets!" he ordered. "We'll come round."

She began to turn and then suddenly stopped, with a rush of sandy
water boiling about her stern. Andrew seized an oar, but could not
push her off, and she sank on one side until the water flowed along
the lower deck-planks.

"She's fast," Whitney said. "Where are we?"

"On the Barnhourie tongue of the Mersehead bank," replied Andrew,
throwing down the oar. "I meant to run through the gut between them."
He turned to Dick. "You're a hundred yards off your course."

"That's the tide's fault. Shall we take the sail off her?"

Andrew thought for a moment.

"Yes. I don't know about laying out an anchor. The flood runs pretty
fast here; but we'll see when the sands are dry."

They lowered the canvas and then went below to cook a meal. This took
them some time, for the floor and lockers slanted awkwardly, as the
boat listed over, and when they went on deck again the light had begun
to fade. Whitney was astonished at the transformation. What had looked
like open water when he went below, was now a waste of sloppy sand
that ran back as far as he could see. It was, however, pierced by a
broad channel, from which a depression, filled with shallow pools, cut
through the bank and ended in a lagoon not far off. This was evidently
the gut Andrew had meant to navigate. The cliffs round the bay, to the
westward, were losing their sharpness of outline; but two or three
blocks of houses and a tower on the rocky point showed black above the
level strip behind them.

"That's Southerness; they'll light up, soon," Andrew said. "I know one
of the light-keepers and I'll walk across and ask him about the
entrance to Rough Firth. There's a flock of duck up the channel, Jim,
and you might get a shot at them from the dinghy when it's a bit
darker. Will you stay on board, Dick?"

"Not much! There's nothing more melancholy than sitting alone in a
stranded boat. I'll go with Jim."

Andrew went below and trimmed the anchor-light; then fastened it
firmly to the forestay, and set off across the sands. Half an hour
later, Dick and Whitney carried the small, folding dinghy to the
channel and pushed her off. The current was now slack and they made
progress until Dick shipped his oars and, kneeling down, took up the
small hand paddles; but he let her drift for a few moments while they
looked about. It was dark and the shore-line had faded, but some
distance up the channel a small black sail was visible across the
bank, and a steady bright beam marked the Southerness lighthouse.
Half-seen birds were wading about the water's edge, but Dick said
these were oyster-catchers and not worth powder and shot. A curlew's
wild whistle fell from overhead and the cry of a black-backed gull
came out of the obscurity like a hoarse laugh. It was rather dreary;
and their clothes and the dinghy were getting damp; so, dipping the
paddles, Dick drove the boat ahead.

After a while they distinguished a cluster of small dark objects some
distance in front, and made toward them cautiously. The ducks did not
seem to get much plainer, and Whitney thought they were swimming away.
Stopping a few minutes to allay suspicion, Dick paddled again; but the
ducks vanished as they crept on. Then he turned in toward the bank and
pushed the craft along the bottom, hoping the dark background would
hide their approach. Presently they saw the ducks again and Whitney
raised his gun.

There was a red flash, smoke blew into his face, and the air was
filled with the clamor of startled wildfowl. Still, they had heard a
splash and Dick got out the oars and rowed ahead. As he picked up a
floating mallard, they heard a flutter and knew there was a crippled
duck not far off. Rowing out into the stream, they saw it rise
awkwardly from the water. Whitney fired, and missed. After this, they
spent some time in trying to get into range before he brought down
the bird. Then they ran the dinghy ashore and Dick landed with his
gun.

"I'll walk up the bank and try the soft places about the pools," he
said. "If I don't turn up soon, it will be because I've gone back to
the _Rowan_."

Whitney lighted his pipe while he waited to allow the birds to recover
from their alarm, but he had to strike several matches because his
hands were wet, and he was annoyed to find that he had not many left.
It was very dark, and a cold wind was blowing. Whitney lay down on the
floorings, for shelter and to hide the glow of his pipe. The birds
were quiet, but a dull, throbbing roar came out of the distance, and
he supposed it was the splash of the surf on the seaward edge of the
shoals. When his pipe was empty, he got up, intending to step
overboard and drag the dinghy down to the receding water; but he found
that this was not needful, as the ebb had nearly run out. Paddling up
the channel he heard the whistle of curlew, and for a time followed
the invisible birds. He could not get a shot, and, deciding that he
had had enough, he laid down the paddles. Hitherto, he had been
looking ahead, but when he put the oars in the crutches he was facing
aft.

Grasping the oars firmly, he looked for the twinkle of the _Rowan's_
light. In his surprise he almost dropped an oar. The _Rowan_ had
disappeared.



CHAPTER IX

IN THE DARK


Whitney frowned as he looked about. He could see nothing except the
black line of the bank a few yards away and the beam from the
lighthouse on Southerness, though this had grown less distinct. There
was no fog, but the air was filled with an obscuring moisture that wet
his face and gathered upon the dinghy. Since the _Rowan's_ canvas had
been lowered she would be hard to see, and she lay at some distance
from the water. He could not remember how long it was since he had
seen the light, but it must have been some time, and he blamed himself
for not keeping an eye on it.

Still, he ought to find the gutter near which she lay, and he knew the
bearing of the Southerness light from there. He had guessed its
distance, and if he took a new bearing now, the angle between it and
the other would give him the length of the line he must follow to
reach the neighborhood of the yacht. Taking out a small compass, he
struck a match, but it went out. His hands were wet and the box was
damp. He tried two or three more with no better success, and when he
got the last to burn, the knife-blade he laid across the compass cast
a shadow on the card. This prevented his seeing the points; and
finding that he had no matches left, he paused to think.

If his friends had returned to the boat, they would certainly not have
put out the lamp, and it was disturbing to imagine their wandering
about the sands, particularly as Andrew might have to cross some
hollows up which the tide would shortly flow. Whitney shouted, but got
no answer, and after waiting a few minutes he began to row, because it
was plain that he must relight the lamp as soon as possible. He kept
out in the channel to get the help of the stream, which he thought was
running with him, but he did not seem to be making much progress, when
he passed a projecting tongue of sand. Stopping to get his breath, he
saw that the dinghy began to drift slowly back, and this disturbed
him. The tide had turned sooner than he expected.

Heading in toward the bank, he rowed savagely; but the flat-bottomed
craft did not pull well. Her main advantage was that she could be
folded up and stowed on deck. After a time bits of seaweed and flakes
of scum drifted up to meet him, and he could hear the water ripple
along the edge of the sand where the channel bent. The flood was
beginning to run and he had not covered much distance yet. Sweat
dripped from his face, his back ached and his hands blistered; but
this did not matter. Dick should be able to follow the channel down;
but Andrew was no doubt a long way from land, with his retreat to the
beach perhaps cut off. Moreover, Whitney saw that his own position was
not fortunate.

He had the dinghy, but her side was only a foot above the water and
the tide would presently sweep her up the Firth. He could not row
against it long, and the current would capsize or swamp the boat if
he struck a shoal. Still, it would be slack for about an hour and he
must make good use of the time. His arms got stiff, but he kept up the
pace and edged inshore until he touched bottom, when he made a deep
stroke. The temptation to turn round and look ahead was strong, but he
resisted it. He must not relax his efforts for a moment. He ought to
see the mouth of the gutter when he had gone far enough.
Unfortunately, however, the edge of the bank began to be indented by
shallow bays, and, as he must pull straight across in order not to
lose time, their ends were not always visible. It was unthinkable that
he should overshoot the gutter, but he imagined it was still some
distance off.

At last he saw a bold ridge of sand that looked like the place where
they had launched the dinghy, but on pulling close in, he could not
distinguish the mark she must have made as they dragged her down. He
rowed on for a hundred yards and stopped. There was no gutter, though
he believed he had come far enough. The sound of the surf was
ominously loud and a black-backed gull that fluttered overhead seemed
to mock him with its hoarse, croaking laugh.

Whitney felt unnerved; but he pulled himself together. His friends'
lives, and perhaps his own, depended on his keeping cool. He must have
passed the gutter, but he might see the _Rowan_ from the top of the
bank. Running aground, he pulled the dinghy out. There was no grapnel,
but she had a few fathoms of painter and he tied it to an oar, which
he drove into the sand. This ought to hold her if she floated before
he came back.

For a few minutes he walked rapidly away from the water, then turned
and ran along the flat, but could not see the yacht; and when he dared
stay no longer he came down to the channel. There was nothing that
looked like the mouth of the gutter and the dinghy was afloat. Pushing
off, he rowed a short distance and made another unsuccessful search.
Whitney was now getting desperate, but he tried to think calmly what
he should do. He could fold up the dinghy and carry her toward the
Southerness light, shouting as he went; but the others would be in
very grave danger if he missed them; besides, they would not both come
the same way. The plan would not serve; he must try again to find the
_Rowan_. Progress was difficult against the current; but he did his
best, and landing again, he dragged the dinghy up. She would not float
for some time because the bank was steep, but he dared not go far,
lest he should lose his way in coming back.

Striking shoreward, he plowed breathlessly through soft sand, but saw
nothing for some minutes. Then, when he was despairing, a black object
emerged from the gloom. It might be only a hummock; but after he had
gone a few yards, he knew it was the yacht and felt a thrill of relief
that was unnerving in its keenness. Still, he must brace himself and
decide between two courses. The dinghy might be needed to take his
comrades off, and there was a risk of her going adrift before he got
back; he ought not to lose a moment in returning to her. On the other
hand, Dick and Andrew must be in danger of being cut off by the
advancing tide and the lamp would show them where the boat lay; but it
might take some time to light. Hesitation would be fatal: he must do
one thing or the other at once.

Running to the yacht, he clambered on board and unfastened the lamp
from the stay, and then groped about the cabin for matches. At last he
found some and, shaking the lamp, heard the oil splash inside. The
wick did not ignite readily and he had to rub the charred edge off,
but by and by the flame began to spread and he scrambled on deck,
striking his head against the hatch. When he reached the bow, he found
himself shaking and scarcely able to tie the lamp to the stay, but he
jumped down on the sand and ran with all his speed toward the channel.
He could not see the dinghy and feared that she had gone, but he found
her safe, afloat and straining at the rope.

Jumping on board, he pulled along the edge of the bank until an eddy
swept him into the mouth of the gutter. This decided a point that he
was anxious about. The tide was flowing into the hollow from the
channel and not from its seaward end, which meant that there was less
danger that the others would be surrounded. The rising water carried
him close to the yacht, and when he got on board he sat down,
breathing hard and feeling conscious of keen nervous strain. He
shouted, but there was no answer; only the crying of wildfowl and the
ripple of the tide broke the silence. It was running fast up the
gutter, surging noisily over the uneven bottom and lapping the edge of
the sand, and Whitney soon heard a splash against the starboard plank.

He must now grapple with a fresh problem. The _Rowan_, drawing little
water when her centerboard was up, would shortly be afloat. Andrew had
not laid out an anchor, for it might be dangerous. If the anchor
failed to hold, she would sheer across the current before her keel
was quite off the bottom, and the leverage of the taut chain might
help the rush of water to press her down into the sand or roll her
over. One could take no chances with the Solway tide. Still, if left
unmoored, she would drive across the flats, away from his comrades.

Whitney could not determine what to do; and while he waited in
tormenting indecision, the boat rose upright and the water swirled
furiously round her bilge. Then his heart leaped as a cry came out of
the dark, and soon afterward two indistinct figures appeared at the
side of the gut.

"Be quick! She'll be off in a moment and the anchor's on board," he
shouted, pulling up the dinghy to row across.

"Stay where you are!" Andrew called. "We can wade it. In with you,
Dick!"

They were soon knee-deep and Whitney saw the current boil about their
legs when they stopped as the water got deeper, but Andrew encouraged
Dick, and they went on again and reached the yacht. Dick was panting,
but Andrew seemed quite cool.

"I don't know about the anchor yet; we'll wait," he said, and stood
watching the tide ripple past.

"It was lucky I met Andrew when I lost the channel," Dick said to
Whitney in a resentful tone. "You might have waited for me."

"Hold on, Dick," interrupted Andrew. "Perhaps you'd better go below
and change your clothes."

Dick left them; and soon afterward the boat began to move uneasily.

"The stream's getting slack; the water must be coming through from the
other end," Andrew said.

In another minute she slowly floated away and he threw the anchor off
the bow.

"She'll ride to it, but as we needn't make sail until the flats are
covered, we'll go down and get supper."

He changed his clothes while Whitney lighted the stove.

"How did the lamp go out?" he asked presently.

Whitney related his adventures, and Dick turned to him with a smile.

"Sorry I was huffed, but I dare say you can make allowance for my
feelings. They'd got rather harrowed while I wandered about in the
dark. You did the right thing, of course, in going back."

Dick made some coffee and when it was on the table Whitney was glad to
lean back on a locker and light his pipe. With two candle lamps
burning, the narrow cabin looked very snug and cheerful after the
desolate sands, and it was something to see Andrew sitting opposite,
safe but thoughtful.

"Did you trim the lamp properly?" Dick asked, puzzled.

"Of course," said Andrew, with a touch of dryness. "That's something I
don't often neglect. Mixed the oil myself--colza and a dash of
paraffin; and the lamp's the best I could get in Glasgow. Suppose you
bring it down."

Dick did so, and Andrew took off the oil-container, which was nearly
full, and examined the burner. There was nothing wrong, and Whitney
noted the good workmanship of the fittings.

"It couldn't go out," he said decidedly.

"That," Andrew replied, frowning, "is my opinion; but as I came down
to the gutter I saw only two rows of footsteps, and you made those in
coming and going back to the dinghy. I can't say there wasn't another
track, because the light was faint so far from the boat; but we might
look about the deck and cabin-top to see if anybody has been on
board."

"I'm afraid I mussed that all up with sand," Whitney pointed out.

"But who'd want to come on board?" Dick asked. "Theft could be the
only object, and we'll soon find out about that."

They looked round the cabin, but missed nothing.

"A thief wouldn't have put out the light, because he'd know that might
bring us back before he got away," Dick elucidated; then turned to
Whitney. "What do you think?"

"Well," said Whitney, smiling. "I've only one suggestion and it's
rather far-fetched. The thing might have been a plot to make us lose
the boat or, perhaps, make an end of us. If that's so, it nearly
succeeded."

"Rot!" exclaimed Andrew. "Nobody would be twopence the richer for
putting me out of the way."

"And I haven't an enemy in the world--unless it's myself," Dick
grinned. "I don't count the Kaiser, because the bad feeling's
patriotic; I've nothing personal against him."

Andrew made a sign of impatience, and Whitney, watching him closely,
thought he felt disturbed.

"Did you see anybody on the bank?"

"No," Whitney answered. "I saw a small sail; a lugsail, I think,
because it was long on the head. It looked very black."

"Tanned with blacklead and oil; one of the Annan whammel boats, most
likely. They drag a net for salmon, but wouldn't get any just now, as
the water's too smooth."

"Then why were they out?"

"After flounders, perhaps. But none of the Annan men would meddle with
our light. However, we'd better make a start if we mean to reach Rough
Firth this tide."

"Now and then I'm glad I'm not much of a seaman," Dick laughed. "As
I'd probably pull the wrong string, I'll stay below and smoke."

A cold east wind was blowing when Whitney went on deck, and after
hoisting sail they crept away against the tide. Whitney sounded with
the pole until he could no longer touch bottom, when Andrew seemed
satisfied. It was very dark, but two quivering beams pierced the
gloom.

"Get the topsail down," Andrew ordered after a while. "We'll find the
stream that fills Rough Firth in a few minutes and it will take us up
fast enough."

This proved correct, for shortly afterward the sea broke about them in
confused eddies, and the boat splashed and lurched as she crossed the
troubled space that divided the tides. Then she forged ahead very
fast, and blurred hills and shadowy cliffs soon loomed out. Whitney
used the sounding pole again, the cliffs grew plainer, and when the
land closed in on them, they dropped anchor. She brought up and, after
helping to stow the canvas, Whitney climbed into his folding cot.

For a time he did not sleep but lay thinking about the extinguished
light. It seemed impossible that the lamp should have gone out
accidentally, and he was not satisfied that the explanation he had
humorously offered was altogether absurd. His friends had had another
narrow escape not long before, and it might be significant that
although they were together on both occasions, Andrew had run the
greater risk. Whitney admitted that this might be coincidence and he
must not let his imagination run away with him. One must use sense and
not wrap up in romantic mystery a matter that might be perfectly
simple. For all that, he meant to seize any clue that chance might
offer him.

Next morning they landed and joined Murray at a village among the
hills. They spent the day upon the heather, working inland across
broad, grassy spaces and red moors where the sheep fled before them,
and then climbed a line of rugged hills. These were not high, but
Whitney found them romantically interesting as he scrambled among
black peat-hags where the wild cotton grew, up marshy ravines, and
past great granite boulders. Stopping now and then to get his breath,
he watched the line of small figures stretched out across the waste
and thought that nobody lurking among the stones and heather could
escape. Still, when the different detachments met upon a windy summit,
none of them had seen anything suspicious.

"We've drawn blank," Murray remarked, as they ate some sandwiches
behind a boulder.

"Yes," said Andrew. "If there is anything to be found out, I'd locate
it farther east."

Murray looked at him keenly for a moment and then answered:

"On the whole, I agree with you. It's my business, however, to search
where I am told."

They went downhill soon afterward, and the next day the _Rowan_ sailed
west along the coast, carrying Dick, who had reluctantly consented to
go with the others.



CHAPTER X

THE YOUNG OFFICER


It was a fine afternoon when the train ran down from the granite wilds
round Cairnsmuir into a broad green valley. Behind, the red heath,
strewn with boulders and scarred by watercourses, rolled upward into
gathering clouds; in front, yellow stubble fields and smooth meadows
lay shining in the light, with a river flashing through their midst.
Whitney, watching the scene from a window, thought the change was
typical of southern Scotland, which he had found a land of contrasts.

They had left the _Rowan_ where the river mouth opened into a
sheltered, hill-girt bay, and walked up a dale that was steeped in
quiet pastoral beauty. It led them to a wind-swept tableland, in which
lonely, ruffled lakes lay among the stones, and granite outcrops
ribbed the desolate heath. There they had caught the train; and now it
was running down to well-tilled levels, dotted with trim white houses
and marked in the distance by the blue smoke of a town. Andrew had
chosen the route to show Whitney the country, and he admitted that it
had its charm.

The train slowed down as it approached a station, and when it stopped
Dick jumped up.

"I may be able to get a paper here," he said, and leaped down on to
the station platform, where shepherds with rough collies,
cattle-dealers, and quarrymen stood waiting.

Dick vanished among the crowd; but a few moments later he returned
hurriedly, without his paper.

"I nearly ran into old Mackellar!" he exclaimed with a chuckle. "But I
dodged him!"

"Who is Mackellar?" Whitney asked. "One of your creditors?"

"Worse than that. One of my trustees. I thought I'd better not meet
him; he might have felt embarrassed after what he said to me not long
ago."

Alighting at the next station, they walked downhill to the narrow town
beside the Cree, and here they arranged to be driven up the waterside
to the shooting lodge where Whitney's mother was staying. After
standing on the bridge a while they went to the little inn. It was now
getting late in the afternoon, the hillside above the town shut out
the light, and the room they entered was rather dim. Dick stopped just
inside the door.

"Mackellar!" he exclaimed; and turned to be off.

"Dick! Ye're not going before ye speak to me?"

"I want to show my friend the town," he explained with a laugh, but he
came forward and shook hands and presented Whitney.

Mackellar was about fifty years of age, strongly built, and dressed in
quiet taste. He had a shrewd, thoughtful face, with a hint of command
in it, and there was a touch of formality in his manner, but Whitney
liked his faint, twinkling smile.

"Weel," said the Scot, after they had talked a while, "ye may take
your friend out to see the town now, Dick; but, with Mr. Whitney's
leave, I'll keep your cousin here until ye come back."

Whitney felt amused as he saw that Dick had failed in his rather
obvious intention of preventing the others from enjoying a private
talk.

When Whitney and Dick had gone, Mackellar rang a bell that stood on
the table. "Ye'll join me with a glass o' wine," he said to Andrew.

The wine was brought, and though Andrew did not hear what Mackellar
said to the waitress, he imagined that they would not be disturbed.

"I would say Dick's new friend is to be trusted," Mackellar began when
they were alone.

"Of course," said Andrew. "If I grasp what you mean, he'll do the boy
no harm; but he's really a friend of mine."

"That should put the thing beyond all doubt," Mackellar replied, and
filled the glasses.

Andrew waited. Mackellar was generally deliberate, but people valued
his opinion. He had been a lawyer, and in the small Scottish towns
lawyers are entrusted with their clients' investments, and, in
consequence, are often appointed agents by the banks.

"I think ye see your duty to your cousin," Mackellar resumed.

"Yes," said Andrew simply. "I wish I saw how it ought to be carried
out. I'm at a loss there."

Mackellar's nod indicated sympathetic understanding.

"Ye're young and want to see the whole road ahead. It's enough that ye
walk cannily, doing what seems needful as ye find it. For a' that, I'm
glad to hear ye feel that ye are responsible. It's some help to me."

"Then you take a personal interest in him?" Andrew hesitated and
added: "I mean, if you understand, apart from your being a trustee."

Mackellar smiled.

"I understand. We're dour folk and not given to sentiment, but I think
we can be trusted to pay our debts, and Dick's father was a good
friend o' mine. It was the Appleyard business first put me on my feet.
Then your cousin is a likable lad; though he's given me trouble. But
we'll not dwell on that--there are other things to talk about."

"Have you paid off his debts?"

"Some. There are one or two for which the holders would not give up
his notes."

"Why?"

"They carry high interest and fall due at a future date. Then I have
reasons for thinking the holders are agents for a principal in the
background."

"The fellow must take a risk, because Dick's not of age. Hasn't the
law something to say about a minor's debts?"

"I'm not sure the risk is as big as it looks. Would ye expect a
Johnstone o' Appleyard to repudiate his obligations?"

"No," said Andrew. "When you come to think of it, such a thing's
impossible."

"Weel, there's another point; your cousin did not tell us all he
owed."

Andrew frowned.

"I must admit that I was afraid Dick hadn't been quite straight with
us. What's to be done? Can we take him away from Staffer?"

"Why would ye wish that?" Mackellar asked sharply.

"It's not easy to explain, and my position's difficult. Dick thinks
highly of the fellow, and I can't see anything that's openly wrong
with him. Still, one feels he hasn't a good influence on Dick."

"Just that," Mackellar dryly returned. "Dick's mother put the lad into
Staffer's hands and I had no power to stop her. If Staffer abused his
position, it would give me a handle, but I cannot find fault with
anything he does. A careful, well-thought-of man, and exact to a penny
in the estate accounts."

"And yet you don't trust him. If you did, you'd tell him about those
debts instead of me."

"Weel," chuckled Mackellar, "there's maybe something in that."

Andrew knitted his brows.

"I feel that there's something going on, so to speak, behind the
scenes, but I can't tell what it is. Do you know that Dick's heart is
weak, and dissipation and excitement are bad for him?"

"I heard something about it." Mackellar gave Andrew a steady, meaning
look. "Your cousin will not be in danger until he's twenty-one."

"What danger do you mean?" Andrew asked uneasily.

"I cannot tell--ye have heard that loose living is bad for him. He'll
be free from restraint when he comes of age."

Andrew suspected that this was not all that Mackellar meant.

"Suppose his creditors insisted on his insuring his life?" he asked.

"There's a difficulty--insurance companies are not as a rule anxious
to take a man with a weak heart. For a' that--" Mackellar broke off
and sipped his wine in silence before he resumed: "I'll try to follow
up the matter of the notes and ye'll keep an eye on Dick. If ye remark
anything suspicious, ye will let me know. Now, I think there's no more
to be said."

Andrew agreed, and lighted his pipe. He was troubled by vague
suspicions that Mackellar seemed to share. On the surface, the
suspicions looked somewhat ridiculous; but Andrew was not satisfied,
and Mackellar had admitted the need for vigilance. Well, he must keep
the best watch he could.

Whitney came in while they sat there.

"Dick's not back?" he said. "I thought I'd find him here."

"Ye might try the bar," Mackellar replied, with a twinkle. "Mr.
Johnstone's not anxious to talk to me. How did ye lose him?"

"I rather think he lost me," Whitney laughed; "but he knows we've
ordered tea and he'll be along soon."

When the trap they had hired was waiting, Dick came in. His face was
flushed, and his eyes gleamed with amusement as he glanced at
Mackellar.

"I shan't have to leave without a word or two, after all."

"Well," said Mackellar, "ye cut it very fine. Where have ye been?"

"In the other hotel. I found a number of people there. They'd been to
the Creetown sheep sales and were in a convivial mood. In fact, they
wouldn't let me go."

"It's no doubt a matter o' taste, but one would not expect to find a
Johnstone o' Applegate colloging with drovers in a second-class bar,"
Mackellar observed.

Dick laughed.

"I don't know that it makes much difference, but I was playing cards,"
he said.

"Losing money ye could not afford!"

They drove away in a high-wheeled trap that is locally called a
machine. Andrew had set off in a serious mood, but it was difficult to
continue thoughtful in Dick's society, and he enlivened the way as
they followed the winding river. It led them up a long valley, past
turnip-fields, smooth pasture, and alder-fringed pools. The soil was
well tilled on their bank, but across the stream, birchwoods turning
yellow straggled up the barren hill slopes, and to the north, rugged
fells rose dark against the sky. By degrees the landscape changed.
There was less cultivation and the woods got thinner. Rough heath ran
down to the river, which foamed and brawled among the stones, and
white tufts of wild cotton shone among the peat. They were climbing to
a desolation of moor and bog that looked strangely wild and lonely in
the fading light. Then, as the shadows closed upon the wilderness,
lights blinked among the firs in a glen, a lodge gate was opened, and
a smooth drive led them to a straggling modern house.

They were hospitably welcomed, and Andrew liked his host, a genial,
gray-haired man who had lately retired from business to spend his
well-earned leisure in outdoor sports. Whitney's mother and sister
also impressed him favorably. Mrs. Whitney was quiet and dignified,
and there was a touch of stateliness in Madge's refined beauty. At
first, Andrew felt shy of her and left her to Dick, but she soon set
him at his ease. Madge rang true, and he found that she could be
remarkably frank.

On the evening after his arrival he strolled along the terrace talking
to her. A soft red glow still shone behind the firs that straggled up
the western end of the glen and the air was cool and still. They could
hear a little burn splashing in the shadow and the river tumbling
among the stones.

"How do you like this place?" Andrew asked. "From what I've seen of
your country this is a change."

"Yes," Madge said; "it's quiet. When we rusticate in the wilds we take
a troop of friends along. The environment we're used to goes with us.
Perhaps that's why I don't harmonize with a natural background as some
of your people do. Here, for instance, I feel I'm an exotic."

"Exotics are generally beautiful and one likes them for their glow and
color. Ours is a land of neutral tints and I dare say it has an effect
upon our character."

Madge laughed.

"That's very nice of you, but it's difficult to judge your character.
You're not an expansive race, and, for another thing, there are no
young men about--though one must admit that's to their credit, just
now. It seems there's still an answer when you send round the Fiery
Cross."

"Yes," said Andrew with a flush. "They were wanted somewhere else, and
they went."

Andrew paused and Madge gave him a sympathetic glance.

"Jim told me why you couldn't go," she said softly. "After all, you
have something to do at home, haven't you?"

Andrew saw that she was well-informed about his affairs, but he did
not resent it. When he took his comrade into his confidence he did not
do so rashly; and that Whitney had told his sister only proved that
she could be trusted. Something in her manner and her frank, level
glance made him sure of this.

"Well," he said hesitatingly, "it's nice to feel that one is needed;
though of course there's a risk of being officious."

"I don't suppose Elsie thinks you officious for trying to look after
her cousin. He's quite charming, but I imagine he'll keep you busy."

"I'm prepared for that," Andrew laughed; "and I don't mind the
trouble. Dick's a very likable fellow, and Elsie feels more satisfied
when I'm about. I wish you could meet her. Little Elsie's worth
knowing."

"Little? Jim told me she was tall; regal, I think he said. In fact,
he's enthusiastic about her; and that makes me curious, because Jim's
taste is not often bad."

"It isn't. But I always thought of her as little Elsie--she was a girl
when I left home. I can understand what struck your brother: I felt it
myself when I first saw her, after I came back."

"Elsie had grown up?"

"It wasn't quite that. She had grown up in the way I had expected, but
she had somehow grown beyond it. In fact, though I used to be a kind
of elder brother, she had caught me up and left me."

He broke off as their host came toward them with Lieutenant Rankine,
a brown-faced young man, who had arrived on the previous afternoon.

"I hear you're cruising about the Galloway coast," Rankine said to
Andrew. "If you happen to be between the Isle of Man and the Solway, I
dare say we shall meet, and we'll be glad to see you on board the
_Tern_."

"The _Tern_?" Andrew looked his surprise. "She's--"

"An antiquated barge!" Rankine laughed. "Well, she makes a handy
surveying craft, and the sea lords have lent me to the hydrographic
department. Rather a come down just now; but somebody must keep the
charts up to date."

Andrew felt puzzled. Rankine had a capable look, and, being young, was
no doubt ambitious. It was curious that he should be satisfied with
the monotonous task of taking soundings, when the battleships were
watching for the enemy's fleet. He looked at Rankine keenly; but the
young lieutenant merely smiled back at him in a quizzical manner and
began to speak of shoals and tides.

Madge slipped off to join her brother.

"What do you think of my partner?" Whitney asked her. "Are you still
pleased with him?"

"Entirely so; he improves, which doesn't often happen. In fact, he's
fine, if you get what I mean."

"Well, I imagine Andrew's unique, but that doesn't quite hit it.
Suppose we say rare, in its old English sense. Anyhow, though I don't
know that he's very susceptible, I'd rather you didn't turn his head.
You are attractive when you exert yourself."

Madge laughed.

"He's proof against my charms. Andrew's earmarked for somebody else."

"Elsie Woodhouse? Well, that struck me, but I don't know. He says it's
very probable that she'll marry Dick."

"Andrew is in love with her himself," Madge said firmly; "though I
don't think he knows it yet. Dick's delightful, but the girl would
never be satisfied with him."

"So I think; but you don't know her."

"Your partner has told me about her."

Whitney laughed.

"Andrew has his talents, but the delineation of character's not his
strong point."

"A precise description isn't always needed," Madge rejoined. "When you
have an image clearly stamped upon your mind, it's sometimes possible
to make others see it without saying very much. Your partner can do
that."

"Perhaps you're right. He has now an idea that his country's somehow
threatened from the old main road to the south. On the face of it, the
idea's absurd, and yet he makes one feel that he's not quite
mistaken."

Madge indicated Rankine, who was still talking to Andrew.

"I wonder why they sent that man to a post where ability doesn't seem
to be required?" she questioned.

"It's possible that Rankine's job is more important than he's allowed
to admit."

He broke off, for Rankine was coming toward them, and he saw his
sister's face flush prettily.



CHAPTER XI

THE SIGNAL


A light breeze was blowing when the _Rowan_ ran into a confused tide
eddy in the mouth of Wigtown Bay. There had been more wind and the
swell it left was broken by the current into short, splashing seas
amid which the yacht lurched uneasily. It was four o'clock in the
afternoon and about two hours before high-water, and when the breeze
fell very light a stream that ran north from the disturbed patch swept
the _Rowan_ up the bay.

Andrew frowned as he looked about.

"She's right off her course, but it's too deep to anchor, and the
bottom's foul near the beach," he said. "We must let her drift until
the ebb sets in and carries her down along the opposite shore. We
ought to make Ramsey on the next flood."

"At four or five o'clock in the morning!" Dick grumbled. "Well, I'm
glad I'm no use at the helm in the dark, and we may get a few hours'
smooth water before we round the Burrow Head. At present I'm wondering
why I came."

"There's some water in the bilge, and it's your turn to pump," Whitney
remarked.

"If she was half full, I wouldn't pump until this rolling stops," Dick
said firmly.

The sea got smoother as they drifted along the coast, and presently
ran in faint undulations that gleamed like oil where their surface
caught the light. The days, however, were getting short, and soon the
long tongue of land across the bay cut low and black against the
sunset. The hills to the eastward were gray and dim, a heavy dew began
to fall, and a pale half-moon came out. Now and then a puff of wind
from the south rippled the glassy water and drove the yacht farther up
the bay.

When an inlet began to open out ahead Dick took up the glasses.

"We ought to find water enough across the sands to Gatehouse," he
said. "I'd a good deal rather sleep ashore and we'd get a much better
meal at the Murray Arms than Whitney can cook."

"We can't get ashore without a breeze," Andrew replied.

"There's somebody going up. I can see a lugsail boat beyond the
point."

Andrew took the glasses from him. The light had nearly gone and mist
hung about the shore, but a belt of water shone with a pale gleam,
against which a distant boat stood out sharply.

"She looks like one of the Annan whammelers; they use a sail with a
shorter head in the West, but I can't see what an Annan man would be
doing here."

Putting up the glasses, he thoughtfully filled his pipe.

"The night our lamp went out on Mersehead sands," Whitney said, "I saw
a lugsail boat. What kind of fellows are the whammelers?"

"Unusually good seamen. The boats are small, but they turn out in very
wild weather when the salmon are about."

"That was not what I meant."

"Oh, they're a sturdy, honest lot; but you don't often find a set of
men that doesn't include a wastrel."

Soon a white light and a green one twinkled some distance behind the
yacht, and Dick called attention to it.

"That steamer's moving slowly," he said.

"A trawler, I expect. She's probably waiting until it's dark, when
she'll put her lights out and drop her net. I understand the Fishery
Board forbid trawling here."

They said nothing further, and the _Rowan_ drifted shoreward with an
eddy of the tide, which had begun to turn. The moon was half obscured
by haze, but they could see a wall of cliff to starboard with a narrow
line of surf at its foot. Part of the wall seemed detached from the
rest and Andrew explained it to Whitney.

"That's Barennan Island. This strip of coast was a favorite haunt of
Dirk Hatteraik's, but tradition locates his cove at Ravenshall, across
the inlet yonder. It might have been convenient for running contraband
up the Cree and Fleet, but the shore abreast of us has better
hiding-places, besides being nearer open sea."

"Dirk's been dead a long time, and has no successors in the business,"
Dick interposed. "His men probably were more ruffianly than romantic,
but they must have given the neighborhood an interest, with their
signal fires, their vessels running in at dark, and their pack-horses
winding through the moors-- The trawler's gone!"

"Impossible," Andrew said quietly. "She hasn't had time to steam
farther than we could see her lights."

"Then she's put them out. Perhaps the net's over."

"What's that light ashore?" Whitney asked.

A twinkling flash appeared on the high, black cliff behind the island
and went out, but after a moment or two flickered up again and,
growing brighter, burned for a time.

"It looks as if the smugglers weren't quite extinct," Whitney
remarked.

Andrew made no comment, but when a cool breeze came off the land he
edged the boat closer to the beach. It showed as a gray blur beneath
the crag, hardly distinguishable except for the white fringe of surf.

"I'm curious about that light," he admitted. "I'd have said it was
somebody baiting a long-line or looking for lobsters, only that the
fellow wouldn't have waited for high-water. Then, it was too brilliant
for a lantern."

"Let's go ashore, Whitney," suggested Dick, anticipating adventure of
some kind.

"All right," Andrew replied. "Scull in instead of rowing: it's
quieter. And take the small cask and ask if there's a spring about if
you meet anybody."

Whitney launched the light dinghy and put an oar in the sculling notch
when Dick joined him. The swell looked higher than it had appeared
from the yacht, and as he heard it tumbling among the stones he
wondered how they were to land. Besides, it was difficult to keep the
lurching craft on a straight course. He stopped sculling when a weedy
ledge of rock with a white wash running over it appeared in the
gloom.

"Go on," said Dick. "Keep the reef to starboard. There's a cove. I've
been here before."

Swinging past the ledge as an undulation rolled in, they were met by
its broken recoil; but Whitney drove the craft through this, and a few
moments later ran her on to a narrow beach. Quietly lifting the boat
beyond the reach of the water, they made for the cliff. After a few
yards they came to large, rough stones, and Dick stopped. Everything
was quiet except for the splash of the surf, and the wall of rock rose
above them, black and mysterious.

"We couldn't see anybody against that background," he said in a low
voice; "and it's difficult to move quietly among these stones. I think
we'll try the crag."

It took them longer to reach it than Whitney expected, but presently
Dick stopped in front of a mass of fallen rock.

"Follow me close; the path isn't good," he said.

They went up carefully, feeling for a foothold among the stones, until
they came to a ledge that ran upward across the face of the cliff.
Whitney could see nothing below him, but he followed Dick, and after a
while they reached a ravine filled with tangled grass and heath, which
led them to the summit. Here they lay down behind a whinn bush and
then Whitney understood why his companion had chosen the position. The
moon was hidden, but the sea reflected an elusive light that
distinguished it from the blackness of the land. Anybody moving along
the beach would show against the glimmer of the water. Whitney could
not see the _Rowan_, but Andrew had, no doubt, steered a course that
would bring the island behind her canvas. It was, of course, possible
that their landing had been noticed; but the dinghy was very small
and the dull roar of the surf would have drowned the noise they made.

Turning quietly, Whitney looked inland across high, rolling ground. It
was all obscure, but in the hollows there were gray patches, which he
supposed were belts of mist, and two or three dim lights twinkled in
the distance. Now and then a bleating of sheep and the whistle of a
curlew came down the cold wind. There was nothing to rouse suspicion,
and Whitney began to think of going back. Just then Dick touched him.

A shadowy figure showed against the water a short distance from where
they had landed, and then a flickering beam of light fell upon the
sea. It was too bright for an ordinary lantern, and Whitney could not
see where it came from, but after a moment or two it was abruptly cut
off.

"There's another cove behind the point and I think I know a way down,"
Dick whispered. "Come on as quickly as you can!"

The figure vanished, but as the light was obviously a signal, it was
worth an effort to learn something about the men who had made it. When
Whitney got on his feet, Dick had already started. They turned down
the landward slope of the crag, where they stumbled among prickly
whinns and long heather. In a few minutes, Dick was breathing hard,
but he kept up the pace, and they presently came to a ravine that
seamed the front of the cliff. It looked dangerously steep and there
was no evidence of a path, but Dick went down, following a runlet of
water, and now and again catching at the grass and stones to check his
descent. Whitney, following as closely as he could, hoped that the
ravine did not end in a precipice.

They came to one steep drop, and at the bottom of it Whitney stumbled
into a hole among the stones. When he got up, Dick was some distance
below him, but he could distinguish his figure against the sea. No
sound but the growl of the surf reached them; but this was loud enough
to drown any footsteps on the beach and cover their rather noisy
descent. Whitney reached the edge of the pool where the runlet of
water widened, and was looking for a way across it when he saw Dick
stagger. He swayed in a curious way, as if trying to recover his
balance, and then suddenly disappeared. Whitney splashed through the
water and came to the edge of a very steep slope. He could not see the
bottom, but he scrambled down, clinging to the stones; and after
sliding the last few yards he found himself on the beach. Dick lay
motionless on a slab of rock near by.

"Are you badly hurt?" he asked, breathlessly.

"No," Dick said faintly. "Leave me alone a while."

Whitney sat down beside him, feeling alarmed. The dinghy was some
distance off, and he did not know whether it could be reached by the
beach. It would be impossible to carry Dick across the rough stones
without help; the _Rowan_ was too far off for Andrew to hear a call;
and he did not want to leave the boy, who might be seriously injured.

"Do you feel better?" Whitney asked presently.

"Don't talk," said Dick. "I'll be all right presently."

Whitney waited anxiously, and five minutes later Dick held out his
hand.

"Give me a lift; I'll try to get up."

He got upon his feet with Whitney's help, but leaned on him heavily
for a minute.

"I can move along slowly," he said; "there's a way across the point."

They were some time in crossing the slippery rocks, but at last
Whitney helped the lad down to the sand and felt keen satisfaction
when they came to the dinghy.

"I'm much better," Dick said as Whitney pushed off. "I must have been
half stunned--guess I knocked my head as I fell down the last bit."

"Is it cut?"

"Don't fuss!" Dick answered irritably. "She'll wash back up the beach
if you don't pull."

Whitney occupied himself with the oars; but he felt puzzled. Dick
seemed to have turned dizzy before he fell; and although it was
possible that he struck his head, his statement that he had done so
looked like an afterthought. It was, however, his business now to find
the _Rowan_, and he could see by the way the cliff slid past that the
tide was running down. He had to pull hard to get near the island, and
the wind was rising, but soon he distinguished a patch of dark canvas,
and a few minutes later he ran the dinghy alongside the yacht.

"Lash the helm and come below!" he called to Andrew, after helping
Dick on board.

Andrew stopped to throw a sail over the skylight when Whitney lighted
the lamps, and then went down and looked at Dick, who lay on a locker.
His face was very white, his lips had a blue tint, and the veins
showed dark on the back of his colorless hands.

"I think you had better have a drink," he said, taking out a whisky
bottle.

Dick drained the glass.

"That's good; I'll soon be all right. I slipped when we were coming
down the crag and pitched over the edge of the steep bottom part."

"He thinks he hit his head," Whitney added.

Andrew felt Dick's head in spite of his objections.

"There is a lump, but not large. It doesn't account for the shock you
seem to have got."

"If you had fallen down that rock, I don't suppose you'd feel very
fit. But give me a cigarette and ask Jim to tell you what we saw."

Andrew gave him the cigarette and then looked out the scuttle. A
breeze had got up, blowing off the land, and the yacht was drifting
seaward with her loose mainsail flapping and her jib aback. She would
need no attention; so he closed the hatch and sat down to listen to
Whitney's story.

"Do you think they heard Dick fall?" he asked.

"I can't say. It's possible, though the swell was breaking noisily on
the beach."

"It's a curious affair," said Andrew. "I saw the light and was glad
I'd kept the boat in the gloom of the island. It certainly looks as if
the steamer that put her lights out and the whammel boat that crept in
to the land at dusk had some connection with each other. Then I
thought I heard oars shortly before you came off."

"Suppose the boatmen had meant to signal the vessel, why should they
land when they could have lighted a flare on board?"

"It would have shone all round," said Andrew. "By coming ashore they
got the crag for a screen and a high platform. The light could be seen
farther off, but only from the sea."

"But what would they want to signal from a place like this, and whom
would they signal to?"

"I don't pretend to know. It's a long distance from a main line, but a
fast car would cover a good deal of ground in an hour or two."

Andrew stopped, and, taking a chart from a rack, pointed to the narrow
channel between Scotland and Ireland.

"You see how close Fair Head is to Kintyre," he resumed. "Well, all
the shipping from the Clyde and a good deal from Liverpool passes
through that gap. You can imagine what would happen if it were filled
with mines."

"The difficulty is that the mine-sowers would be seen. The lighthouses
on Rathlin and Kintyre command the channel."

"It's hard to see a vessel that carries no lights, and a mine-sower
wouldn't proclaim his intentions. There's a big fleet of trawlers
working in the Irish Sea, and a stranger would excite no remark by
slipping in among them. It wouldn't take long to paint on a registered
number and copy the funnel of a steam fishing company."

"So Rankine has another duty besides taking soundings! A small survey
vessel could cruise about among the shoals without attracting much
notice. Her business would be obvious, but that needn't stop her crew
from watching out."

"Well," said Andrew, "it isn't difficult to form a theory to fit the
few things we know. However--"

"It would probably be all wrong when you'd made it," Dick broke in.

"I'm glad you're feeling better," Andrew smiled. "I'll go up and look
after the boat."

He left the scuttle open and they heard blocks rattle as he hauled the
main sheet, and the soft splashing at the bows as the yacht gathered
speed.

"I'm not sure it was the blow on your head that knocked you out,
Dick," Whitney said. "You reeled as if you were getting faint before
you fell."

"Well, suppose I did? I may have been running harder than was good for
me; but can't you understand that one shrinks from making a fuss about
one's weaknesses?"

"Of course. This means you want to keep the real explanation from your
cousin?"

"I'd very much rather nobody knew. Falling on your head is a good
enough reason for feeling faint, and, as a matter of fact, I hit it
hard enough."

"Very well," agreed Whitney. "I suppose I must say nothing, since you
have taken me into your confidence."

"You might let my cot down and pull out the blankets. I'm not quite
right yet, to tell the truth. I think I'll go to sleep."

Whitney arranged the cot for him, and then, going up on deck, sat in
the cockpit while the _Rowan_ stretched across the bay before a fresh
easterly breeze.



CHAPTER XII

A FALSE ALARM


Heavy rains lashed the windows at Appleyard and a wild west wind
buffeted the house. Between the gusts one could hear the wail of
storm-tossed trees and the distant roar of the flood tide foaming
across the Solway sands. It was, however, warm and bright within the
thick granite walls, and Andrew lounged in a corner of the
billiard-room after dinner, watching Elsie knit. She was making a
soldier's woolen belt, and he noted the precise neatness of the work.
Elsie was conscientious in all she did, but he thought this view of
the matter did not go far enough. The care with which she linked up
the stitches was deepened by love.

"It will be a lucky man who gets the belt," he remarked. "We must hope
he isn't by any chance one of our enemies."

Elsie looked up with a smile.

"After all, I wouldn't mind that very much, so long as he needed it.
It must be dreadful to lie out, cold and hungry, in the snow."

"It is," said Andrew. "I've done something of the kind. Of course
you're right; but ordinary people would rather help their own side,
particularly when the other seems to be singularly unchivalrous."

He stopped as he saw a tinge of color creep into her face; but she
quietly met his apologetic glance.

"I know you didn't mean to hurt. I do remember sometimes, that, in a
sense, I belong to the other side."

"You can't help that, and you're Scottish to the backbone in all that
matters."

Elsie's eyes twinkled.

"You're not making it much better, but perhaps you'd lose something if
you were not so frank. One distrusts people who always say the proper
thing."

Andrew glanced at a well-dressed, handsome man who was playing
billiards with Dick. He came to Appleyard for a day or two now and
then, and had been there when Andrew arrived from Canada.

"Does that mean you don't quite trust Williamson? I've sometimes
wondered whether it's his right name."

Elsie looked thoughtful and answered with some hesitation:

"I don't think it is. He hasn't a trace of foreign accent and his ways
are ours, but I can't help feeling that he does not belong to us. Then
I've noticed that he never talks to Mother much. But of course it's
only changing his name that matters, not where he was born. Our
enemies are not all treacherous and cruel. You have seen the portraits
Mother has of her own people, and three or four were soldiers. They
have kind, true faces. I think they were men with an unusual sense of
duty."

"You see what's best in everybody," Andrew replied. "But if there are
good fellows on the other side, why do they behave like savages?"

"Ah!" said Elsie, and was silent for a few moments.

Andrew glanced at his cousin, who had soon recovered from his fall.
He was now chalking his cue, and his eyes had an excited glitter. A
syphon and a whisky bottle stood on a table near by, and Andrew
wondered whether Elsie had noticed that Dick's glass was full again.

"I'll beat you if I can make that cannon," Dick was saying.

"Half a sovereign you don't; but you had better not take me,"
Williamson replied. "It would need a professional's stroke."

Andrew surmised that they were not playing for mere amusement.

"You can't do it, Dick!" Whitney said; and his tone was restraining,
while Andrew imagined that Williamson's was meant to be provocative.

Dick raised his glass and put it down again half empty before he
poised his cue.

"Watch me!"

He made the cannon; but something in his hot face suggested that it
had been a nervous strain, and he turned to the table at once to
refill his glass.

"Now," he said, "I think the game is mine."

His play was clever, but Andrew, watching closely, imagined that
Williamson was not doing quite his best. It was difficult to say what
gave him the impression, but he was a judge of matters that needed
accurate judgment and steadiness of hand. Williamson was cool and
skilful, but he missed a cannon he ought to have made, and there was a
break he bungled. It looked as if he did not want to win. That was
curious, for Andrew did not think he felt any hesitation about taking
Dick's money.

Dick reached out for his glass without turning round, and Whitney,
standing behind him, neatly struck the bottle with his elbow in
stepping back. It rolled across the table, upsetting the glass, and
fell upon the floor.

"I'm sorry," he apologized simply.

Dick regarded him with an ironical grin. "I'll have to ring for
another," he said.

Andrew wondered how much Elsie understood; and he was not deceived by
her unchanged expression. Elsie was quick and did not always show her
feelings.

"You made some brilliant strokes, but your play's a bit erratic,"
Williamson said to Dick. "It might be worth your while to study some
of the good professionals. That reminds me, there's an interesting
semi-private match next Thursday, and I've friends at the club."

He mentioned two players whom Andrew had heard of, and the door opened
while he added something about the match. Andrew was watching his
cousin and did not look up, and it was a few moments later when he saw
that Staffer had come in.

"I've been suggesting that Dick should come to town to-morrow,"
Williamson said. "I can show him some good billiards."

"I can't stop him, although I imagine he'd better stay at home,"
Staffer answered with a smile. "As he has been warned to keep regular
hours and that sort of thing, it's possible that the excursion might
not be good for him. Dick's rather too keen a sportsman."

Andrew could find no obvious fault with Staffer's reply. On the
surface, it was tactful; but something in his manner made it inciting
instead of deterrent.

"You arranged to take us snipe-shooting on Wednesday," he reminded his
cousin.

"So I did," Dick admitted. "Still, we could fix another day. We might
get a woodcock if we waited a bit."

"I'm keen on snipe," Whitney interposed. "Besides, we're going down
the coast again at the end of the week."

Staffer gave him a quick glance and Dick seemed to hesitate.

"That makes a difference; but you could go without me. I'm not a crack
shot."

"You know all about snipe, and where to find a cock," Andrew insisted.
"They ought to be here now and it's a long time since I bagged one."

"Oh, well!" said Dick. "You mustn't be disappointed, and we'll try to
show Whitney the best sport we can."

Elsie looked at Andrew and he saw that she was grateful; but Staffer
came across to where he sat.

"I met Marshall, the salmon fisher, in Annan, and he mentioned that
they had run the Burnfoot boats up this afternoon," he said. "There
was a big surf last high-water, and he asked if you had been down to
the yacht. It looked as if he thought you ought to go."

Andrew turned to Whitney.

"Is the motorcycle all right, Jim?"

"Take the car," suggested Staffer. "Watson won't have housed her yet."

They started in three or four minutes; but it was not the _Rowan_ that
Andrew thought about as the big car throbbed at full speed through the
dark. He had kept Dick at Appleyard, and Williamson would be gone
to-morrow, which was something to the good, because Dick was apt to
get out of hand when the man was there. Andrew thought he made rash
bets with him, and he certainly drank more than usual. It was his duty
to look after Dick; but it was getting harder to do so for Elsie's
sake, and at times when he thought of his task in this light he had to
master a feeling of bitterness. Dick was not good enough for Elsie.
Still, if she really loved him, she would be able to keep him
straight. He knew the protective tenderness she felt for him. This
might be different from the love she could give a lover; but Andrew
would not follow up that line of thought. It might lead to false hopes
and to shabby conduct of which he would always be ashamed.

It was near high-water when they left the car at the end of a miry
road and struggled across a common to the beach. The roar of the sea
filled the air and driving sand stung their faces, but they carried
the dinghy down and, wading out some distance through the surf, got on
board. After a few minutes' hard pulling they reached the yacht, and
Andrew looked about while he felt the cable.

"The anchor's holding, but perhaps we'd better take the kedge farther
out," he said.

It cost them half an hour's hard work; for they had to follow up the
heavy warp while angry, broken waves splashed into the dinghy; and
then, after tearing the anchor out of the sand, they had to row some
distance against the drag of the rope. At last, however, Andrew was
satisfied.

"I'm not sure all that was necessary, but it was wiser to make things
safe," he said, when they carried the dinghy up on the shore.

Whitney did not answer, and as they passed a sod cabin on the common a
man came out.

"Is that you, Jock?" Andrew asked. "It's a wild night, and when Mr.
Staffer told me what you said I thought I'd come down to see how the
boat was riding."

"It's wild enough," agreed the fisherman; and Whitney recognized him
as the man who had come on board on the morning after their arrival.
"What was it Mr. Staffer said?"

"I can't remember exactly, but I understood you thought the boat might
drag."

"Weel, I wouldna' say that was impossible, but ye hae good ground
tackle."

Whitney looked hard at him, but he could not see the Scot's face well.

"And Mr. Staffer sent ye off in his car to see if she was a' right?"
Marshall chuckled.

"I don't know that he sent us. He said we could use the car."

"He's a thoughtful man, but I wouldna' say Watson would be
pleased--he'd be wanting to wash her. Onyway, ye needna' fash about
the boat. I'll be here until the tide rins doon and if onything needs
doing, I'll see til it."

"Thanks," said Andrew. "Do you know if one of the whammel boats has
gone west?"

"Yin's gone; I dinna ken where. A shooting man frae Edinbro' bought
Tarn Grahame's _Nance_. Him and another took her off soon after ye
came."

"How do you know he was an Edinburgh man?"

"There was a Waverley label on his portmanteau and he didna' speak
like us. Still, I alloo it might have been Inverness."

"And the man who was with him?"

"Ye canna' tell where a man comes frae when he keeps his mouth shut,
but he was a sailor by the way he handilt the gear."

Andrew asked no more questions, and they went back to the car. When
they reached Appleyard Dick met them in the hall.

"I've found a way of letting you have your shooting," he said in an
apologetic tone. "Young Ross will go with you. There isn't a snipe in
the mosses he doesn't know about. If there's any sport to be had,
he'll see you get it."

"I suppose this means you're going with Williamson?"

"I really want to go, if you don't mind very much. I may be back
before you leave and you'll only be away a week."

"That's so," said Andrew, "Well, you'd better bear in mind what the
doctor told you."

He moved on, frowning, and presently found Elsie in the drawing-room.

"I did my best, but Dick's going with Williamson," he said. "You
didn't want him to?"

"No," she answered frankly, but with some embarrassment. "Of course,
there's no obvious reason for our interfering."

"That was my difficulty. Dick will soon be master here. I'm only his
guest, and Williamson is a friend of Staffer's. Nobody knows anything
against the man."

"And yet--" Elsie stopped.

"I'm vexed? You can take it that I don't like to be beaten,
particularly by my youthful cousin," Andrew answered with a smile,
wishing to allay her uneasiness.

Staffer and Mrs. Woodhouse came in then; and when the party broke up
for the night, Whitney went with Andrew to his room.

"I guess you noticed the coincidences that happened this evening," he
said, sitting on the broad window-seat and lighting a cigarette.

"I feel rather annoyed by Dick, if that is what you mean," Andrew
replied in a discouraging tone.

Whitney smiled.

"Not altogether that. One,"--enumerating them on his fingers--"you try
to stop his going with the fellow and just about put it over. Two,
Staffer mentions the boat and rushes us off in his car. Three,
Marshall says the boat's all right and hints Staffer may have mistaken
his remarks. Four, we return and find that Dick has changed his plans.
Five,--"

"Oh, I'll admit that Staffer is a clever fellow," Andrew interrupted.
"I've known that for some time."

"I've an idea that Mackellar's on his trail; and--well, if you need
me, I'm ready. You're playing a straight game, and I want you to win.
It would be a fine thing for you to save Dick; and Elsie expects it of
you. Then, Staffer knows he's up against you. Keep it at that; it's
quite enough for the present."

"You mean there's something else going on?" Andrew said in a curiously
quiet voice.

"Of course! But you want to let Staffer think you're only fighting him
for your cousin. He can understand that and won't suspect you of
guessing he's engaged in another game. I'll play up to you as much as
I can. Staffer doesn't take much stock in me."

"But what object can he have?"

"Can't say," Whitney answered non-committally. "But he may be forced
to show his hand. Well, I'll get along to bed."

Dick started for London with Williamson the next morning; and he let
himself go when he got there. With his companion's help, he spent
several days and the greater part of several nights in exciting
amusements and adventures. It was not often the sparkling cup of
pleasure was held out to him full, and he drained it to the dregs. As
one result of this, he did not feel quite up to the mark; but Dick was
something of a philosopher and knew that one cannot get anything
without payment. Besides, if quietness was good for him, it was to be
had in abundance at Appleyard.

For all that, when he left Euston at midnight, a reaction had begun,
and he wondered whether he had made the pace too hot. On reflection,
however, he suspected that it had rather been made for him and he had
tactfully been encouraged to fall into his companion's stride. Well,
he had had a glorious time; but he wished his head did not ache so
badly and he could get rid of the unpleasant, shaky feeling that
troubled him, because there was some business he must talk over with
Williamson before they reached Rugby.

"We had better get things settled now," he said. "Your friend,
Marsden, has my note for thirty pounds, but you paid the other
fellows, as well as for that supper, and the hotel bill. How much am I
in?"

Williamson took out his notebook, and Dick got a shock.

"Forty pounds in an evening!" he exclaimed. "I knew I was going it,
but this is a bit of a facer. With all the other things, it's a pretty
hot pace; especially as I have just half a sovereign left."

"You needn't be disturbed about it. Your promise is good enough; I can
wait."

"We can't leave it at that," Dick objected, and added with a forced
grin: "Besides, you might have to wait some time."

"Then what do you propose?"

Dick wished his head were clearer, for he was getting dizzy.

"I thought you might see Craven and arrange the thing with him. Of
course, he's holding a good lot of my paper, but he gets good
interest."

Williamson produced a fountain pen and a sheet of paper.

"Very well. As it happens, I expect to meet him to-morrow."

It struck Dick that the man was suspiciously prompt; indeed he seemed
to have been waiting for the request.

Dick suddenly felt as if he were suffocating; he could not breathe,
and his dizziness was turning to blackness. He threw up the window and
leaned his head on the sill, gasping once or twice. It was a dark
night and the express was traveling fast. Its lights sped smoothly
along the black hedgerows beside the line and flashed across water
lying on swampy fields. Blurred trees raced past, twinkling points
were suddenly pricked in the obscurity a mile away and then rushed
back and vanished, and a faint glimmer flickered in the sky ahead.
Dick thought this marked Rugby, and sitting back again, he tried to
pull himself together.

"I'll make it enough to cover everything and put us straight," he said
as he took the pen.

He found writing difficult, for the bracing effect of the cold wind
was wearing off, but the note was written and Williamson carefully put
it into his pocket-book before looking at his watch.

"We're due in a few minutes," he said. "Will you get down and have a
drink? You don't look very fit."

"No," Dick answered. "If I'd had fewer drinks in town I'd probably
feel better now."

The speed began to slacken and Williamson collected his belongings.
Dick handed him his coat as the train stopped, but did not shake hands
with him. Somehow he felt he would rather not. After a careless
good-by, Williamson jumped down, and Dick sat in a corner, struggling
against the faintness that was overcoming him. He would feel better
when the train started, but he must be alone; he could not have people
looking at him while he felt as he did.

Nobody else got in; he heard the guard's whistle and then the engine
begin to pant. There was a jerk and the lights on the platform drifted
past; but his head was reeling and he could not get his breath.
Falling away from the corner, he made a half-conscious effort to keep
on the seat, and for some time afterward he remembered nothing.

He was roused by a rattle that swelled into a roar; and, getting up
shakily, he saw the lights of a station flash past. There were other
lights all around, running back into the distance in rows, while the
red glow of fires that streamed above the roofs seemed to indicate a
manufacturing town. Dick noted this vacantly, for he felt weak and
cold. They must be in Lancashire, and he had lain in a dead faint for
a long time. With difficulty he pulled up the window and got back to
his corner.

"If this kind of thing happens often, the fellows who hold my notes
will get a painful shock," he thought, with a wry smile, and closed
his eyes.



CHAPTER XIII

THE WRECK


Pale moonlight trembled across the foaming sea and faded again as the
_Rowan_, rolling hard, bore up for the Solway. Whitney held the helm,
his lips set and his brows knitted, for with the savage wind astern
the yacht was hard to steer. The small storm-jib ran water as it swung
above the seas, and the black, close-reefed mainsail lurched to and
fro, lifting its heavy boom high above Whitney's head, at the risk of
carrying away the mast if he let it jibe across. Andrew stood in the
cockpit, with the spray rattling like shot on his oilskins, his night
glasses steadied on the cabin top as he searched the sea ahead. He saw
enough to daunt a stranger to the firth.

The hills along the western shore were indicated by a vague blackness
devoid of outline, but Andrew could distinguish a belt of broken water
that stretched across his course and faded into the gloom. The backs
of the seas were toward him and he noted how their crests were cut off
by the wind as they curled against the tide, which was running down
the firth. In some places their length and regularity indicated depth
of water, but, for the most part, they boiled in frothy confusion
across the shoals. A steady beam of light stretched out from the
shore, but this was not much guide to the intricate channel through
the sands. While he watched, the moon came out, and as its light
widened, smooth, bright patches became visible amidst the turmoil.
These were the tops of the banks that the tide was leaving.

Andrew put down the glasses and, stooping under the cabin hatch,
lighted his pipe.

"It's rather late to try for Rough Firth, but I'm not sure I could
find the Barbara Deep if we let her run. If we missed it and went
ashore, she'd soon break up."

"That is not to be thought of," said Whitney.

"Well, I suppose the proper thing would be to set the trysail and try
to beat her out; but with the tide knocking up the sea, she'd nearly
wash us off when she came on the wind."

"She's wet enough running before it, and I don't feel like pumping
hard all night. Can't you think of another plan?"

Andrew occupied himself with the bearing of the light, while Whitney
braced his aching arms against the tiller. He was tired; for they had
spent several nights pushing the dinghy across the flats at the head
of a distant bay, and a couple of bernicle geese and some mallards lay
in the forecastle. The last night had been passed rolling violently at
anchor on a disturbed swell, and they had been at sea since dawn in
weather that made cooking impossible and demanded constant
watchfulness.

"I think," Andrew said presently, "I could find the Horseshoe Spit,
and we'd get shelter behind it. In fact, the sea shouldn't get in at
all after half ebb, and daylight won't be far off when the tide covers
the flats again."

He took the helm and Whitney got down out of the wind and spray.
Andrew would tell him when he was wanted, and in the meantime the
sight of the wet sands that broke out from the welter of surf was not
encouraging. It was reassuring to feel that Andrew knew his business;
for if he made a mistake now, the _Rowan_ would probably be hammered
to pieces in the next half hour.

Fortunately, the moonlight got brighter, and when Andrew called
Whitney they were running up a channel with a strip of glistening sand
astern and a wild turmoil of foaming water close on their port hand.
This, no doubt, marked the Horseshoe Spit, with the tide streaming
across it to meet the surf. Whitney could not see how they had avoided
the bank astern; but he was not given much time to look about.

"Stand by the big anchor!" Andrew called to him. "Drop it when I tell
you and let the kedge go after she sheers!"

The _Rowan_ came up head to wind, and Whitney was hard at work for the
next few minutes, handling heavy chain that ran out furiously and then
stopped until he dragged more up from below, paying out the thick
kedge-warp that coiled all about the deck, and lashing the thrashing
jib to the bowsprit. Then he and Andrew got the mainsail down and the
boat rode to her moorings; though she was not at rest. Sometimes the
wind drove her up against the tide and the short waves washed on deck;
sometimes the current swept her back, while the tightening cable rang
and it looked as if she must drag her anchors and ground upon the
surf-swept bank.

After watching her for a few minutes, Andrew seemed satisfied and
they went below, where Whitney lighted the stove.

"I've eaten nothing but a lump of wet bread and a bit of canned beef
since morning, and now I want a meal," he said.

"Then, you'll have to hold the frying-pan on, and trim the table
cleverly if you want to keep the food off the floor."

"I'll try. There's a charm in small boat sailing, but it's a charm
that only gets you by degrees, and one finds it hard to say what it
consists of on nights like this. I don't like being wet and hungry,
and I hate to feel cold, and yet here I am, in a gale of wind, behind
the Horseshoe Spit!"

"It's curious," said Andrew, smiling. "I dare say there are instincts
in human nature that neither of us understands. But you'd better watch
your job; you're running the ham fat all over the stove."

Whitney dished the ham and made some coffee, cut a loaf that was not
very wet, and took out a sticky jar of marmalade. Leaning forward from
the lockers, they began to eat; but care was needed in taking things
from the table, which swiveled above the centerboard-trunk, for a rash
movement would precipitate all it held upon the sloppy floorings.

Whitney got rather knocked about as he put the things away. For a time
afterward he contrived to lie on the locker; then he knocked out his
pipe and sat listening. The chain cable jarred across the stem, the
halyards slapped the mast, and through the shrill scream of wind came
in deep undertone the roar of the sea.

"It sounds pretty bad, but I've been banged about for the last twelve
hours and nobody could sleep while this racket goes on," he said. "Is
that sand hard, and could one get on to it?"

"I think so, and I'd like to see the channel. We might have some
trouble in pulling across, but it will be smoother coming back."

"Very well," said Whitney. "Things will be a bit more comfortable
then, and I've had enough."

They went on deck, but he half regretted his suggestion as they
launched the dinghy. The moon was covered by driving clouds, and in
the darkness the sea raged about the yacht. It was not high, because
the tide was falling and the water shoaling fast, but it broke angrily
and the air was thick with spray. As soon as the dinghy was overboard
they jumped into her and while Whitney got out the oars Andrew pushed
her clear of the rolling yacht. The current swept them away, but a
furious gust whipped the channel, throwing up a haze of spindrift, and
they were blown back past the _Rowan_ in spite of Whitney's efforts.
It was a minute or two before he could control the craft, but he
fought his way to windward until a ridge of wet sand began to shelter
them. When this was reached they dragged her up and set off across the
bank.

It was hardly possible to see a dozen yards and they struggled on with
lowered heads, sinking in oozy patches and splashing into pools. Then
the sand got firmer, and although it had been under water an hour
before, it drove past them in whistling streams. The surf roared in
the darkness with a rising and falling cadence like the roll of giant
drums, but every now and then its deep tone was drowned by the scream
of the savage wind. The men wore oilskins, sea-boots and sou'westers,
but the spray that swept the bank in a thin mist found out the
openings in their clothing, which the gale distended. It was difficult
to keep one's feet, and Whitney wondered rather anxiously whether
Andrew knew where he was going. Still, there was something that braced
and exhilarated one in the struggle.

They had gone about a mile and a half and were near the other side of
the bank when the moon suddenly shone out. The wet sand flashed into
brightness and Whitney distinguished a belt of tossing white that was
blurred and confused in the foreground but grew into regular, foaming
lines farther off. This must be an inlet that pierced the sands; and
on looking round a little he saw a dark mass with a pole rising from
it some distance away. He touched Andrew and they made for the object.

Whitney imagined it to be a perch, a spar built into a pile of stones
for a beacon. He did not expect to find anything of interest there,
but the pole had been raised by human hands, and made a landmark in
the storm-swept waste. It brought him into touch with his fellow men
in a spot where the strife of wind and sea was daunting. As they got
nearer, however, he saw that he had been mistaken. The pole was too
thick for a perch, and the black mass below did not consist of stones.
Jagged timbers stuck out from the sand like the ribs of a skeleton,
but in one place they were clothed with planks and supported a mast.
It was obviously a wreck they were approaching.

They stopped to lee of the vessel, and Whitney was glad to get his
breath as he studied her. She appeared to have been a schooner of
about two hundred tons, but her after part and mainmast were gone.
The fore end, however, had escaped destruction, and although the
foremast slanted ominously and the topmast and yards had fallen, it
still defied the storms. Standing beneath the swell of the bows, the
men were out of the wind and could make their voices heard.

"Now I see why I didn't notice a perch on the chart, though I once saw
the spar as we came down this side of the Firth," Whitney said. "It's
curious they didn't mark the wreck."

"She wasn't here when the last survey was made. A coaster loaded with
coal. Somebody tried to get her cargo out, but I understand had to
give it up."

Whitney had got his breath, but was silent for a time. He had camped
in the silent Canadian forests and by frozen lakes on the vast snowy
plains, but he did not think he ever had seen anything so savage and
desolate as this strip of surf-beaten sand with the wreck in its
midst. Men had hewn her timbers with skilful toil; but the sea had
shattered them, and now seemed to challenge all attempts to dispute
its power. Whitney was not unduly imaginative, but he felt depressed
and somewhat daunted. It was an eerie spot to linger in at midnight in
a gale of wind.

"The fo'castle doesn't seem broken up. Can we get on board?" he said.

"We'll try," Andrew replied.

Climbing up by the fragments of planking attached to a rib, they
reached a strip of deck. It sloped sharply, but Andrew, grasping the
ragged bulwark, looked up.

"The iron forestay's holding the mast, and there's a couple of blocks
slung round the top," he said. "If it wasn't blowing quite so hard,
I'd go up for them." Then he caught a thin rope that ran down from
the blocks. "Good signal-halyard; I'd like to take it back, but I
didn't bring my knife."

Whitney felt amused. Andrew could seldom resist the temptation of
picking up anything that might be of use on board his yacht. Indeed,
her forecastle was cumbered with what Whitney called truck.

They moved forward a few paces and stopped by two curved beams that
rose above a black hole.

"The remains of the fo'castle hatch. I wonder what it's like below,"
Andrew said.

Kneeling on the wet deck, he struck a match, which blew out; but the
next burned for a moment or two, and Whitney saw the light flicker on
dripping planks and bulging beams. It was obvious that the water
flowed into the vessel and he wondered at Andrew's curiosity. The dark
hole did not look inviting and he was anxious to return to the yacht
in good time. Still, it was bitterly cold standing in the wind.

"We'll go and see, but I'll let you drop down first," he said.

Andrew seized the carline-beam and vanished through the gap. There was
a splash below, and he called to Whitney to be careful how he came
down. As this was impossible, Whitney let go the beam and, touching
the vessel's keelson with his foot, fell against her planking. It
jarred him, but he got up and Andrew struck another match and stooping
down picked something out of the water that lay among the timbers.

"A bit of candle!" he exclaimed. "It's going to burn."

It did so after he had scraped off some smoldering wick and stuck it
on a massive oak knee. The wrecked bulwarks broke the wind, for only
draughts came down, and the light spread about the forecastle. There
was some sand in the vessel's bottom, and the floor and ceilings had
gone. Nothing remained but the heavy timbers and the planks bolted
fast to them. A few shrimps sped up and down a pool and a small crab
that made a crackling noise crawled into a corner. Andrew examined the
beams and knees with interest.

"These old vessels were very well built," he said. "They used picked
material, cutting out the sapwood and seeing that the grain followed
the curve where there was any shape. She broke up aft in pounding with
the coal on board, but now that it's gone, this part of her may stand
a long time. Good, salted oak will last for many years under water."

"How did they get the coal away?" Whitney asked.

"They didn't get much. I wasn't here when they tried to salve it, but
I believe they used carts."

"Then you can reach land at low water?"

"They must have been able to reach it then, though I'm not sure you
could do so now, because the channels are continually changing. It's
possible they had to drive through water that may have got deeper
since; and the tide would not allow them much time for work. I dare
say that stopped the undertaking; and haulage would be expensive,
because it's two or three miles from the beach."

"How long is it since they let up?"

"About two years; I can't say exactly." Andrew stopped to light his
pipe, and then asked with a smile: "Do you think of trying for the
coal?"

"I was wondering whether the men who quit the business left that
candle. Would a candle burn after rolling about for two years in salt
water?"

"I don't know; it's an interesting point," Andrew replied
thoughtfully, and moved toward a timber from which he scraped a patch
of grease. "It was stuck on here when it was used and that must have
been after she took the sharp list. If she'd been upright, the flame
would have scorched the knee and I see no sign of that."

"Would she list over when she struck the bank?"

Andrew knitted his brows as if the question were an important one.

"I'm not sure. She'd have a full cargo, and these vessels are built
with flat floors to lie on the ground. It's only westerly breezes that
drive much broken water up the Firth, and though she lists to the
east, she hasn't gone very far over yet."

"In short, the chances are that she stood nearly upright when they
were working at the coal."

"Yes," said Andrew gravely, "I think she did."

Whitney was silent for a moment or two, listening to the turmoil of
the sea and the uproar of the gale that filled the shadowy hold with
confused sound, through which came the steady trickle of water running
out on the sand. He felt that the wreck had a secret.

"You must see what I'm getting after," he said. "It looks as if
somebody had been here since the salvers gave her up."

Andrew nodded.

"The blocks on the masthead are not the kind they'd use for heaving
cargo out; besides, they'd want a gaff. Then the signal-halyard felt
quite sound."

"If you wanted to get on board, would you take a whammel boat?"

"It depends. A whammeler couldn't get alongside if it was blowing from
the west; and since the tide runs out fast she'd have to leave early
on the ebb. If she came on the flood, the wreck would soon be
covered."

"Then anybody who meant to get on board would, if possible, walk
across the sands, which narrows things down. Now we come to another
point. Why would anybody wish to board her?"

Andrew said nothing for a minute and then answered thoughtfully:

"Of course, I've seen where you were leading. The signal-halyard would
lift the steel triangle they use with a wireless installation, and
they'd get some height at the masthead. Besides, messages travel
farthest at night; and the operator wouldn't be seen crossing the
sands. I don't know whether he could carry the necessary apparatus,
but he might hide it in a watertight box. The candle will be out in a
minute, so we can't look."

"You don't know yet if he could cross the sands."

"That's true. I'm going to find out. You had better climb up while the
light lasts."

Whitney reached the deck with some difficulty, and it was dark below
when Andrew joined him.

"We haven't much time to lose if we're to see whether it's possible to
get here from the beach."

They dropped over the side and set off across the bank. The wind
buffeted them and driving sand rattled on their oilskins. Whitney
hoped that Andrew was going straight, because the moon was obscured
again, and the Solway tide rises remarkably fast. For a time they saw
nothing but shallow pools in winding hollows and balls of foam that
seemed half solidified as they blew along the ground. Whitney thought
it must be past low-water, but Andrew trudged quietly on and he made
no protest. At last they came to a broad stream of water, and he noted
with mixed feelings that there was no way of getting round. He was not
sorry that it threatened to stop their advance; but his comrade was
not easily daunted and might try to wade across.

"As there's not likely to be another big gutter between us and the
beach, it would be a pity to turn back now," Andrew shouted.

"I'll wait and see how you get on," Whitney replied.

Andrew plunged in and was soon knee-deep. When he had gone a few yards
farther, the water splashed about the skirts of his oilskin jacket and
he came out.

"We might have crossed, but the bottom's soft, and there's some
stream," he said.

"Which way is it running?"

"Up, but not very fast yet."

"Then we're going back at once," Whitney said firmly.

They started, and Whitney did his best as he heard the growl of the
surf grow louder. It would be remarkably unpleasant to find themselves
cut off from the dinghy, and there were several gutters to be crossed,
with the tide steadily running up. Andrew seemed to realize this, for
he went on a quick trot, the water pumping into his sea-boots. It was
easier to make progress with the gale behind them, and Whitney felt
relieved when they passed the wreck at some distance. Andrew was
heading straight across the sands, though Whitney could not tell what
he was steering by. After a time, they came to a stretch of water that
widened as they splashed through, but when they had floundered across
the soft sand at its edge and reached a higher level they were
comparatively safe. Breathing hard, they made their way across firmer
ground, and Whitney was conscious of keen satisfaction when he saw the
dinghy lying a few yards from the glistening water.

When they had launched her, the wind blew them towards the _Rowan_,
and they were soon on board. She was riding easier, and would continue
to do so for a while.

"Have you decided whether it's possible to wade out to the wreck?"
Whitney asked as they took off their wet oilskins.

"I think it is," said Andrew. "There was about three feet of water in
the gutter that turned us back; but the tides are low now and don't
run out very far. As they get higher, the gutter would dry toward the
last of the ebb."

"The last of the ebb on a big tide would be between five and seven
o'clock, and it would be dark then, night and morning," Whitney
remarked. "This means that, supposing there was a wireless
installation, it could be used only at fixed intervals; roughly
speaking, it wouldn't be available one week out of two."

"Yes," said Andrew. "It rather upsets the supposition, but we may find
out something more."



CHAPTER XIV

A FAIR ALLY


It was bright afternoon, and Elsie sat beside a tea-table on the lawn
at Appleyard, with Williamson standing beside her. The days were
getting short, but the screen of stiff silver-firs kept off the light
wind, and strong sunshine warmed the air. It was what the Scot calls a
pet day; one borrowed from a finer season, and to be made the most of
when winter was close at hand. Madge Whitney lay in a canvas lounge
nearer the shelter of the trees, talking to Andrew, and several young
men and women stood about the tennis net across the lawn. They seemed
to be engaged in a good-humored dispute and their laughter followed a
remark of Dick's.

Williamson glanced at his companion and saw that her eyes were fixed
upon the boy. They were grave, and her expression was preoccupied, but
he did not see the softness he had expected. Indeed, her interest in
Dick was puzzling, because he did not think it was altogether
accounted for by the hints Staffer had given him, and this was a point
upon which he wished to be enlightened. Williamson knew something
about women, but, for the most part, they were not women of very high
character. With these he was not a favorite, although he was a clever
talker and his manners were good.

"You do play tennis sometimes," Elsie said after a silence.

Williamson smiled. Her meaning was obvious.

"Oh, yes, but one feels lazy now and then; and I imagined you let me
stay because you wanted to talk to me! Was I wrong?"

"No," answered Elsie; and he noted her unmoved calm.

She was young, but he had not expected shy hesitation or forced
boldness from her. He was, however, surprised when she said nothing
for the next minute; for he had usually found that an inexperienced
antagonist shirks the strain of silence. Then he indicated Dick, who
had just returned a difficult ball.

"He plays a good game."

"Dick does a number of things pretty well, although there's none at
which he really excels. I don't know which is the more useful--"

"You like a man to have some salient point of skill or character that
those who know him can rely upon?"

He noticed her glance wander and did not know that she was half
instinctively looking for Andrew, but it rested again on Dick,
brooding but calm. Williamson saw that she felt no keen animosity
against himself. She knew or suspected that they were, in some
respects, opponents, but this did not make her vindictive. She would
take the course she had determined on without hating him. This
indicated strength of character, but it was too detached an attitude
for a young girl fighting for her lover.

"Dick looks better than he did," he remarked to give her an opening.

"Yes," said Elsie, fixing her eyes quietly on his face; "very much
better than he did when he came home from town."

Williamson admired her courage.

"For which you held me to blame!" he said.

"Partly to blame."

"Well, I see you're trying to be fair, though I'm half afraid you
failed. But since you meant to raise this point, I must warn you
against looking at things out of their right perspective. It makes
those in the foreground appear too big."

"You mean one should not exaggerate their relative importance?"

"Exactly. You must, for example, allow for the exhilarating effect a
change of air has on a young man fresh from the country who spends a
few days in town. Remember that Dick leads a very quiet and monotonous
life at Appleyard."

"A sober life is much the best for him."

Williamson wondered whether she spoke with naïve girlish prudery; if
not, there was something he ought to know.

"Perhaps it's best for everybody; but we don't all like it, and a
change is bracing," he answered with a smile. "I suppose you are
looking at the thing from the moral standpoint."

"Not exclusively. Dick will soon be master at Appleyard, and that will
bring him duties he ought to be fitting himself for. Then you may not
know that he is not very strong."

"I guessed something of the kind, but a few late nights and a little
excitement can't do much harm."

Elsie looked at him with thoughtful eyes.

"Possibly not, in most cases, but they are bad for Dick."

"If you would be quite frank it would help." Williamson was anxious to
learn why quietness was necessary for the lad. "We might get on better
if we understood each other."

"Have I not been frank? You could hardly have expected me to say as
much as I have, even. But I am not Dick's doctor."

Williamson felt baffled, but he would not show it.

"You feel that I ought to have looked after Dick better. I think
that's hardly just, because I have, of course, no control over him."

"You are an older man, and he is easily led. A hint would have gone a
long way, and he doesn't resent good-humored firmness from those he
likes."

"You suggest that he likes me?"

"One can't tell," said Elsie in a quiet voice.

"Well, you must see how awkwardly I'm placed. I can't defend myself
without attacking Dick, and you wouldn't like that. Suppose I hinted
that he insisted on following his bent although I tried to restrain
him?"

"Did you?"

Williamson hesitated, which was an unusual thing. He had no
sentimental respect for girlish inexperience, but he could not make
the direct statement that would have cleared him. He reflected with a
touch of ironical amusement that Elsie would not be deceived.

"It was really difficult to interfere, but I did try a tactful hint,"
he said with an indulgent air. "Perhaps the way you regard the thing
is natural and deserves some sympathy, but I must say I feel a little
hurt. It looks as if you thought I had some object in encouraging Dick
to be extravagant and rash."

"No; I can't see what you would gain," Elsie replied thoughtfully.

"Well, that's some relief; but what do you want now? A promise that,
at the risk of offending him, I'll be very firm in future?"

Elsie was silent for a moment and then looked at him calmly.

"I don't think I will ask you for this," she said.

She rose, and Williamson turned away, feeling somewhat annoyed with
himself. Elsie had not asked for his promise, because she thought it
would not be kept. He had failed to convince her, and her opposition
must be reckoned with. Then, what she had said about excitement being
bad for Dick had roused his keen curiosity. The girl was inexperienced
and had used no artifice, but he did not think she could have played
her part better. Staffer apparently believed that she and Andrew
Johnstone were not important; but Williamson thought him mistaken.
While he crossed the lawn Madge Whitney watched him with a smile.

"That man," she remarked to Andrew, "has just got a set down, but I
imagine Elsie has been wasting her time."

"It looks as if you knew what they had been talking about," Andrew
replied.

Madge's eyes twinkled.

"Why, of course I do! You must remember that I've been here a week,
noticing things. Elsie doesn't like the man, and the only reason she
could have for talking to him confidentially is that she wanted to
warn him to keep his hands off Dick. But I don't think he will."

"Ah!" Andrew said sharply. "It's curious that you--"

"Shall I finish what you meant to say? It's curious that although I
haven't had much opportunity for seeing what is going on, I should
agree with the conclusion you have come to after mature deliberation.
Well, if you're afraid of complimenting me on my cleverness, you can
account for it by remembering that I'm an American. Of course, this
doesn't make me anything the less of an outsider."

"I didn't mean that you were an outsider."

"Perhaps you didn't. It was your Scottish reserve that made you hate
to talk about your family affairs; but Jim, who counts you as his
partner, has told me something. Then I don't mind telling you that I
like you and admire what you are trying to do. However, we'll keep to
the point. Williamson is leading your cousin into extravagance with
some object."

"I believe that's true," Andrew agreed quietly. "After all, you were
right to some extent, about my reserve; but now if you can help me
I'll be very glad. It isn't an easy job I have undertaken."

"Very well. I'll begin by telling you something. The evening
Williamson arrived, I was coming down to dinner before the rest--I
afterward found my watch was fast. When I got to the gallery at the
top of the stairs I stopped; it's rather dark where you come out of
the passage, you know. Dick was standing by the fire in the hall and
his manner indicated that he was waiting for somebody. As I hesitated,
Williamson came out of the opposite passage and went downstairs, but
his quick glance around showed he wanted to be sure there was nobody
but Dick about. I saw Dick's face, and it was eager. Williamson gave
him two or three bits of paper that looked like bank-notes."

"If Dick had given them to Williamson, I could have understood it
better," Andrew interrupted.

"Yes; the explanation would then have been obvious; but what I saw
suggests something graver. Dick went away, looking relieved; but
Williamson moved toward the stairs and then turned back, and a few
moments afterward Staffer came in. He said, 'So you have seen him!'"

Andrew made an abrupt movement, but said nothing.

"I suppose you see the significance of this?" Madge said.

It was plain to Andrew that Staffer had known, and no doubt approved,
of the transaction between Williamson and Dick.

"Yes; and I feel disturbed about it."

"Well," continued Madge, "I went back quietly and didn't come down for
some time; but I watched the three men at dinner. Williamson spoke to
Dick as if he had not seen him since he came, and Dick said he was
sorry he wasn't able to meet him at the station. In fact, they rather
overdid it; and Staffer seemed to think so, because he stopped them.
Then, perhaps, because he felt relieved, Dick--"

"Drank more than usual?" Andrew suggested grimly when she hesitated.
"I noticed that. Well, since you have seen so much, I'm glad to have
you on my side, particularly if you can tell me what I ought to do.
I'll admit that I don't know."

"I think you should watch and do what seems plainly needful, but
nothing more. Don't try to make clever plans, but take Mackellar into
your confidence."

"You haven't met him," Andrew said in surprise.

"Jim has, and I know what he thinks of him."

Andrew took her advice and soon afterward left Appleyard in the
side-car. Whitney let the high-powered bicycle go when they turned
into the main western road, which runs, straight and level, along the
Solway, and they reached Dumfries in an hour. Mackellar had not left
his office and in five minutes Andrew had made the situation plain.
Mackellar pondered it silently for a time, and then looked up.

"Weel," he said, "it gets interesting and I must set to work. I'll let
ye know when I have anything to report."

Andrew, knowing his man, was satisfied with this. He and Whitney drove
home at full speed, and arrived before their absence had been noticed.
Williamson left the next morning, and Madge Whitney a few days
afterward, and nothing of importance happened during the following
week; but Mackellar had, in the meantime, been carrying out a plan
that was to have some influence upon Williamson's affairs.



CHAPTER XV

A BARGAIN


There was no Sunday delivery of letters, and one Monday morning
Williamson sat rather anxiously watching the road outside a small
country house beside the Tweed. One of the tall gateposts at the end
of the drive had sunk to a slant and the gravel had not been rolled or
raked for some time. The borders round the lawn hinted at economy in
bedding out and gardener's hire, and the old house had a dilapidated
look. These things were significant and explained why Williamson had
been received there as a paying guest, with the privilege of some
rough shooting and salmon-fishing.

He could have found cheaper quarters, but the place suited him. For
one thing, his residence there gave him a certain standing in the
country, and his host, a decayed Scottish gentleman, was getting old
and left him alone. He could go and come as he liked without exciting
remark, and the people he met were well bred and not imaginative.
Since he had been received by his host, they took it for granted that
he was a man one could be friendly with.

The postman at last dismounted from his bicycle at the gate. It is
customary in that neighborhood to meet the post, but Williamson sat
still, as if he did not expect any letters. The man gave him three
before he went on to the house, and Williamson put them down and
carelessly lighted his pipe. He had learned to exercise caution in
such details, though he felt disturbed as he recognized the writing.

The first curtly reminded him that payment for the hire of a motor car
was two months overdue. The second enclosed a statement of a
fashionable tailor's account, which included an expensive fur coat;
but there was no difference in the hand. Williamson knew it well;
indeed, he had two or three similar demands in his pocket. Each ended
with an intimation that unless payment were made within a specified
time, proceedings would be taken to enforce it.

Williamson put down the notes and vacantly looked about. Not far away,
the Tweed, sparkling in the sunshine, ran through a wooded hollow
where beeches gleamed ruddy-brown among somber firs. Two men with guns
upon their shoulders were crossing the steep stubble that glittered
with melting hoar frost on the breast of a neighboring hill, and a
keeper with a couple of setters stood at the gate. Williamson was to
have gone shooting with his host; but now he must excuse himself, for
he had something of importance to think about.

His expenses were heavy, for it was important that he should pass for
a sporting man of means, and he was a good shot and skilful with the
salmon rod. As a rule, he had money enough for his needs, but his
supplies had been irregular since the war began, and as he had
luxurious tastes his debts had mounted up. Of late, his creditors had
grown impatient, but it was curious they should all have asked the
same lawyer to enforce their claims. This could not have happened by
coincidence. It looked as if somebody, who must have taken a good
deal of trouble to investigate his affairs, meant to put some pressure
on him. This was alarming, for several reasons; and as he could not
pay his debts in the time allowed, he determined to call upon the
lawyer and see what he could find out.

There was, however, another matter that demanded attention, and as he
took up a letter with the Newcastle postmark the Tweed drew his eyes
again. It reminded him of a wider river with older associations; a
river where terraced vineyards rose steeply from the waterside,
instead of the rounded Scottish hills, and barges slowly floating past
ancient towns. His expression changed and grew resolute as he thought
of it.

Opening the envelope he found, as he expected, a short note folded
round a letter. The note said that he would, no doubt, like to hear
how Jack was getting on in Holland, and ended with a few references to
mutual acquaintances. The letter was of some length, and narrated in
gossiping style its writer's business journey to several Dutch towns.
Williamson, however, knew that there was more in it than met the eye,
and he went to excuse himself from joining the shooting party. After
this, he spent some time studying the letter in his room, and when he
had burned it he went at once to the station.

Leaving the train at an old country town, he called at the lawyer's
office and was received by a suave elderly gentleman.

"It was my unpleasant duty to send you these notices," the lawyer said
with an apologetic air. "I appreciate your prompt response, and expect
the little matter will now be put right. You must admit that the
creditors have exercised some patience."

"But don't mean to do so any longer, eh? That is really what I came to
see about."

"Of course you understand that the war has made money tight. My
clients inform me that they find themselves compelled to press for
outstanding accounts and to take a course that in a happier state of
things they would not employ."

"Then I am to understand that these notices will be acted upon?"

"I think you can take that for granted," the lawyer answered in a
deprecatory tone. "However, there is a way in which you can obviate
all trouble to yourself and me--I mean by paying what is due at once."

Williamson looked at him with a grim smile.

"It sounds simple, but there are difficulties. Now, I can pay these
bills, but not in the time mentioned. Have you power to extend it?"

"No; but if you will make me an offer I will consult my clients."

"That would cause some delay. As I want the matter settled, I would
prefer to call upon the man who has brought it to a head. Will you
tell me his name?"

Williamson had hoped to catch the lawyer off his guard, but his amused
expression showed him that he had failed.

"There are several names. You know the people."

"Of course; but suppose you admit that I have some intelligence and
try to look at the matter from my point of view."

"It would be difficult, for the want of practise," the lawyer answered
dryly. "I have no debts."

"Still, if you had several creditors who lived in different places and
simultaneously put their claims into the hands of one particular
lawyer, what would you think?"

"It might be accounted for very simply. I believe I am known as a
businesslike, trustworthy man."

"I don't doubt it; but I suspect another explanation. There is
somebody behind these people who has persuaded them to stop my credit
or has bought up the debts. He must have a reason for this, and if I
could talk it over privately with him, it would simplify things."

"I'm not so sure that follows," said the lawyer. "All I can tell you
is that the bills have been sent to me for collection and unless they
are met I shall reluctantly be forced to--"

"Just so," Williamson interrupted. "At present, I cannot say whether
they will be met or not. I'm afraid we must leave it at that. And now,
good day."

A clerk politely showed him out; and he reached the station in time to
catch an Edinburgh train. There was no one else in the compartment he
entered, and he sat in a corner, thinking hard. Though he had not
learned much he felt that he was right in his surmise. Some one was
trying to put pressure on him through his creditors. His first guess
at his unknown antagonist's object caused him serious alarm; but after
some reflection he dismissed it with relief as improbable and sought
for another explanation.

To begin with, he must first discover the identity of his enemy. His
suspicions centered on Appleyard. Andrew Johnstone was certainly
hostile, on his cousin's account; and it was possible that he had been
helped by Mackellar, whom Williamson had met at Appleyard. He
determined to see Mackellar; but he could not do so until next day,
for a more important matter demanded attention first.

Getting out at the Waverley station, he took a cable tram, and,
leaving it on the outskirts of the city, walked on to Leith. Here at
dusk he met a man dressed like a sailor, and spent an hour with him in
the back room of a public house. When they came out the sailor
disappeared in the darkness and Williamson returned to Edinburgh,
where he dined and slept at a fashionable hotel. The next morning he
went to Glasgow, and left it shortly after his arrival by a train
which took him to Dumfries. It was not without a reason he had
traveled by three different railways. Williamson generally tried to
cover his tracks.

After lunch at the station hotel, he walked down the narrow High
Street and stopped at a garage, to order a motorcycle to be ready in
half an hour. Then, by an indirect route, he went to Mackellar's
offices.

As it happened, Mackellar was then talking to Andrew and Whitney in
his private room, and he smiled as he showed them Williamson's card.

"Maybe ye had better ask Mr. Davies to let ye out by the back," he
said. "If ye call again in half an hour, I may have some news."

"I wonder how Williamson got here?" Andrew said when they reached the
street. "There's no train that connects with the North British."

"Came in a car, perhaps," Whitney suggested. "Somehow, I'd like to
know. Let's try our garage; everybody puts up there."

They went to the garage and Whitney began to make an unnecessary
adjustment to the engine of his side-car.

"I suppose Mr. Williamson comes here when he's in town?" he said to a
man at work near by.

"Yes," the man answered. "He's in town the noo."

"Did Mr. Staffer bring him in his car?"

"She's no' in the yard, and Mr. Williamson's for Castle Douglas." The
man indicated the motorcycle on which he was working. "I'm tightening
her up for the run; no' that she needs it much. Mr. Williamson kens a
good machine and always asks for her."

"Is there anything doing at Castle Douglas to-day?"

"No' that I've heard of. He's for the moors, I'm thinking. There's a
gun-case to be strapped on the carrier; but if ye're wanting to see
him ye must leave word at the office. I'll be away at another job
before he comes in."

"It doesn't matter; we may meet him," Whitney answered carelessly; and
he and Andrew strolled away.

"Well," he said, "we have learned something! It seems Williamson's in
the habit of hiring a motorcycle here. Has he any friends in Galloway
who might give him some shooting?"

"None that I know of," Andrew replied with a puzzled look.

"I guess you noted that he makes a curious choice of a machine. She's
good--I know that make--but I can't see why he picks a single-cylinder
lightweight when they've several full-powered machines on the stand.
Looks as if he expected he'd have to wheel her. What's the Castle
Douglas road like?"

"It's the highway to the west, and we keep our main roads in good
order."

"You certainly do," Whitney agreed. "But I stick to my opinion that
he has some particular reason for choosing a light machine." He
hesitated a moment. "I don't want to butt in, and as the fellow's a
family friend, it's delicate ground; but if you feel you'd like a run
through Galloway--"

"Perhaps we'd better go; but we'll see first what Mackellar has to
say."

They walked down to the bridge foot, to pass the time; and in the
meanwhile Mackellar received Williamson.

"You wished to see me?" he said.

Williamson took out the bills and the lawyer's letters and put them on
Mackellar's desk.

"I wonder whether you know anything about these?"

"I know the gentleman who seems to have charge of the matter. Why do
you ask?"

"Because I prefer to deal with the principal instead of an agent. It
saves time, and one arrives at an understanding easier."

"In this case there's no great difficulty. Ye have only to pay the
bills."

"Precisely," agreed Williamson. "They can be paid--that's worth
noting--but not just yet."

Mackellar understood this as a hint that the power Williamson's debts
gave his antagonist was only temporary.

"In the meantime, ye might be put to some inconvenience," he replied.
"One cannot proceed against a man for debt without publicity, which is
apt to be damaging, and unpleasant to his friends."

"Exactly. That is what I want to avoid."

"And yet ye cannot pay the bills! Weel, ye are doubtless aware that
one gets nothing for nothing, and since ye must ask for some delay,
what could ye offer by way of consideration?"

"To begin with, I should like to hear what the principal, the man who
stands behind my creditors, wants." Williamson paused and added
meaningly: "I think you know."

Mackellar was silent for a few moments.

"I'll no' deny it," he then said. "Would ye be willing to produce the
notes of hand and the long-date bills Dick Johnstone has given ye and
cancel them on payment of the money lent with current interest up to
date? If ye insist, we might allow a little more interest, because ye
took some risk."

"I'd be willing to give up one or two," Williamson answered with some
hesitation.

"But no' the rest, which are no' in your hands?"

"I suppose I must admit that. But what did you mean by saying I took a
risk?"

"We'll talk of that again. Are ye willing to give your word that ye'll
lend Mr. Johnstone no more money, make no fresh bet with him, and no'
help him to negotiate a loan?"

"Is that all?" Williamson asked with a touch of sarcasm.

"I think the matter could be arranged on the terms I have laid down."

On the whole Williamson was conscious of relief. To do as Mackellar
asked would place him in an embarrassing position, but he had been
afraid of something much worse.

"It needs thought," he said.

"Then I will give ye five minutes; but it may help ye to decide if I
explain why ye took a risk. Ye're maybe aware that there's legislation
about a minor's debts."

"Dick Johnstone would not make that excuse for disowning his
obligations."

"I'm no' sure ye would have to deal with him," said Mackellar
meaningly. "Dick has no doubt been borrowing money on promises to pay
when Appleyard is his. Weel, it's no' certain that he'll live until he
gets possession."

"Nor may the lenders, for that matter!"

"Verra true," Mackellar agreed. "For a' that, the chances against
Dick's reaching twenty-one are greater than usual. It seems ye do not
know that two doctors would not pass him for the army."

"On what grounds?" Williamson asked with some sharpness.

"A weak heart that might stop the first time he was over-excited or
over-exerted himself."

Williamson was silent for some moments. He knew Dick was not strong;
but Staffer, who must have known the truth, had not told him how grave
the danger was.

"Still, suppose the worst happened. The new owner would not repudiate
his kinsman's debts."

"Who do ye take the heir to be?"

"Staffer."

Mackellar looked at him with dry amusement.

"Did he tell ye so?"

"No," Williamson said thoughtfully. "I can't remember that he ever did
say that exactly, but I was led to understand from the beginning
that--"

"Appleyard would be his? Weel, perhaps I may tell ye something about
the family's affairs. Dick's father left the house and land to the
lad, with a reversion to the next o' kin, in case he died before
inheriting. Mistress Johnstone got a separate portion and power to
manage the estate for her son's benefit until he came of age, subject
to the approval of the executors. She could appoint a guardian for the
lad, to superintend his education, but she could not alienate a yard
of land. It was not a will that I approved of, but Mr. Johnstone was
very ill when he made it and did not listen to my objections. Maybe he
hardly expected his widow to marry again. Mr. Staffer, who acted as
steward for his wife, now acts for Dick; but there his interest ends."

"Then, in the event of Dick's death, who gets the estate?"

"Andrew Johnstone."

Williamson got a double shock. Staffer, whom he had regarded as the
next heir, had not been straight with him; and he knew that Andrew
would be difficult to deal with. Besides, if Dick did reach twenty-one
Staffer's influence would cease. Mackellar was right: a serious risk
attended the discounting of bills by which Dick raised money for
gambling and similar extravagances. Since Staffer had played him a
shabby trick in leaving him in ignorance, Williamson need not consider
him and could look after his own interests.

"Very well," he said, "I'm ready to give you the promise you want if
we can come to terms."

"Then I'll pay off any notes of Dick's that ye may bring me, with
interest at two per cent. above the bank rate. If this will not enable
ye to satisfy your creditors, I'll engage that they will give ye
another six months."

"It's enough," said Williamson. "But of course you see that when I
have satisfied them your hold on me has gone."

Mackellar smiled.

"Verra true; but I believe I've shown ye that it would be wiser to
leave Dick alone. I'm thinking ye have sense enough to take a hint and
keep your word."

"You'll find that I mean to do so," Williamson replied.

Soon after he went out, Andrew and Whitney returned. Mackellar told
them what Williamson had promised, and added:

"The man might have been dangerous, but we need not fear any further
trouble from him. There are two points worth noting, though I cannot
tell whether they concern us or not. He's anxious to avoid anything
that might damage his credit and make him leave this part of the
country; and he expects some money before long. Can ye account for
this?"

They discussed the matter for a few minutes; and then Andrew and
Whitney hurried back to the garage.

"Our man must be some distance ahead," Whitney said. "We may even lose
him."



CHAPTER XVI

TRAILING THE MOTORCYCLE


For a few minutes Whitney's machine turned in and out of narrow
streets between rows of tall, old houses, and then went cautiously
down the dip to the Nith. There was some traffic on the bridge, and
when they had crossed, carts encumbered the road on the Galloway side.
Whitney fumed at the delay; but he opened out his engine as they
entered a stretch of open road, and the wind began to fan Andrew's
face.

For a mile in front of them the river-plain ran level, the stubble
shining yellow among squares of pasture and the dark green of
turnip-fields; then a ridge of hills rose steeply across their way.
The sun that flooded the valley with mellow light was getting low, and
while the trees upon the summit of the ridge stood out sharply
distinct, the wooded slopes were steeped in soft blue shadow.

"Looks like a climb," Whitney remarked. "I suppose we go right up
there?"

"Maxwellton braes," said Andrew. "I expect you have heard of then.
It's an easy gradient up a long glen."

"Then sit tight, and we'll rush her up on the top gear."

The dust whirled behind them, and the cropped hedgerows spun past;
they swung giddily round a curve at a bridge, and the throb of the
engine grew louder as they breasted the hill. Dark firs streamed down
to meet them; here and there a leafless birch and an oak that gleamed
like burnished copper swept by. There was a tinkle of running water in
the wood; and, now that they were out of the sunshine, the air felt
keen. Ahead, the ascending road unrolled like a white riband through
faint, shifting lights and lilac shadow.

Soon the glen ran out into a wide hollow that led westward across a
tableland. Low, green hills with gently rounded tops shut off the
rugged moors beyond; the shallow vale was cultivated and tame, but the
road was good, and Andrew felt the thrill of speed. Long fields and
stone dykes swept behind into the trail of dust. The sun sank toward a
bank of slate-colored cloud; its rays raked the valley, throwing the
black shadows of the scattered ash-trees far across the fields.

Andrew kept his eyes fixed steadily upon the road. This ran, for the
most part, straight and level; but, though they were traveling very
fast, there was no speeding streak of dust ahead.

After a time a long white village rose from the rolling pasture; and
when they ran in among the low houses Whitney pulled up. There was a
smith's shop by the roadside, and a man stood outside, holding a
cartwheel, while another moved a glowing iron hoop amid the flame of a
circular fire.

"You have been watching that tire heat for a while, I guess," said
Whitney.

"Lang enough," the other answered. "She's no' stretching weel."

"Then have you seen a small, black motorcycle pass?"

"No; there was a big gray yin, an' anither with a side-car."

"How long have you been outside?"

"Maybe twenty minutes; maybe a few mair."

"Thanks," said Whitney; and started the motorcycle.

"It's curious. He's traveling light, but I don't think a
single-cylinder engine could beat the machine I'm driving by a quarter
of an hour. Anyhow, I'll try to speed her up."

The sunlight faded off the grass as they raced away; the slaty clouds
rolled higher up the sky; and the wind that whipped their faces bit
keen. Andrew was swung to and fro in the rocking car, and sometimes
felt uneasy when his comrade dashed furiously round the bends; but for
most of the way the road ran straight, and they could see nothing on
the long, white streak ahead. After a time they came to a narrow loch,
ruffled by the wind, that lay in a lonely, grassy waste, and as they
ran past the thin wood on its edge Andrew asked Whitney to stop.

"A motor scout," he said, indicating a man in uniform who rode
leisurely toward them on a bicycle.

The scout dismounted when they called to him, and said he had left
Castle Douglas an hour before and had kept to the main road, but had
not seen a single-cylinder motorcycle. They let him go and Whitney
lighted a cigarette.

"Now," he said, "we have to think. Our man pulled out for Castle
Douglas, but hasn't gone there; my notion is that he didn't mean to.
Where's he likely to have headed?"

"It's hard to tell. A road runs northwest to New Galloway, but I can't
see what would take him there. It's a small place on the edge of the
moors."

"And right away from the Eskdale road!" Whitney ejaculated, looking
hard at him.

"Well," said Andrew quietly, "I'll admit I thought of that."

"As a matter of fact, you've been thinking of something like it for
quite a time."

Andrew was silent for a moment or two.

"There was a chance of my being mistaken," he said slowly. "However, I
now feel that it's my duty to get upon the fellow's track, if I can."

"Would you rather I dropped out?"

Andrew knew that the suggestion was prompted by delicacy, but he made
a negative sign.

"After all, you know something, and may as well know the rest--if
there is anything more to learn. Besides, you're quicker than I am in
several ways, and I might want you."

"When you do, you'll find me ready," Whitney answered. "But we'll get
back to business. Which way do you suppose he's gone?"

"On the whole, I think south toward Dalbeattie; it's nearer the
Solway. As it might be better to follow the road he'd take, we'll have
to run back nearly to Dumfries."

"That's all right," said Whitney. "Get in. She seems to be feeling
particularly good to-day, and I'm going to let her hum."

They raced back eastward while the distant hills turned gray in front
of them. Then they turned sharply to the south, and soon the road
skirted a railway line. Whitney got down when they reached a station.

"Have you seen a small, black motorcycle?" he asked a lounging porter.

"Yes; I mind her because I thought she was running verra hard for a
wee machine. If yon man's a friend o' yours, ye'll no' catch him
easy."

"When did he pass?"

"It would be about five minutes after the Stranraer goods cam'
through, and that's an hour ago."

Whitney ran back to his machine and jumped into the saddle.

"We're on his trail, but he must have come straight and fast from
Dumfries. Well, we'll get after him."

The car leaped forward as the clutch took hold; dykes and trees swept
down the road; and Criffell's bold ridge rose higher against the
eastern sky. Here and there a loch gleamed palely in the desolate
tableland, and in the distance a river caught the fading light, but
the cloud-bank was spreading fast and the west getting dim. At last
they saw from the top of a rise a gray haze stretched across a hollow,
and Andrew told his comrade that it was the smoke of Dalbeattie. Then
a man with a spade and barrow came into view on the slope of another
hill, and Andrew asked Whitney to stop. The man was cutting back the
grass edges on the roadside; he had not seen a bicycle of the kind
they described.

"How long have you been here?" Andrew asked.

"Since seven o'clock this morning."

Whitney started the car slowly, and pulled up when the roadmender was
hidden behind the hill.

"We want to talk this over," he said. "Williamson left the road
between the station and where we met the man. We know he hasn't gone
west or farther south. What about the east?"

Andrew glanced at Criffell, which rose between them and the sea. Its
summit cut sharply against the sky, but its slopes were blurred and
gray and the stone dykes that ran toward its foot had lost their
continuity of outline. Two or three miles away, to the southeast, the
mountain ran down in a long ridge.

"It's obvious that he hasn't gone over the top. He could cross the
shoulder yonder, but he'd have some trouble."

"He'd have to leave the motorcycle."

"That's so," said Andrew thoughtfully. "There's an old road between
here and the station and he might reach the moors by what we call a
loaning--a green track that sometimes leads to a farm or cothouse and
sometimes ends in a bog. Of course, if he found one and crossed the
hill on foot, he'd cut the main road from Dumfries round the coast
before he reached the Solway beach."

"You're taking it for granted that he'd try to make the beach--which
means the wreck."

"Yes," said Andrew quietly; "I believe it's what he'd do."

"Well, there are two things to note. He could have gone straight from
Dumfries by a good road on the other side of the mountain, but he
preferred this way and a rough climb across. Then he started for
Castle Douglas, when he might as well have told the garage people he
was going to Dalbeattie. This implies that he'd a pretty good reason
for covering his trail." Whitney paused and looked hard at Andrew.
"Before we go any farther, you have to decide whether you really want
to find out that reason. You can quit the business now, but you may
not be able to do so afterward."

"I'd rather stop, but I must go on," said Andrew grimly.

"Very well; we'll try to follow him."

They drove back, passing the roadmender, who leaned upon his spade
looking after them; and a little while later Whitney pulled up at a
broken gate that hung open. A rough track, grown with grass, led away
from it between loose stone walls.

"Not intended for automobiles!" Whitney remarked, as he cautiously
steered between the ruts. "Williamson must have found it easier than
we do."

Andrew nodded. His comrade's eyes were keen, for only a crushed tuft
of grass here and there suggested the track of a bicycle tire. Farther
along they stopped at a gate where the loaning forked. One branch ran
on; the other turned off, and in the distance a lonely white house
showed amidst a clump of bare, wind-bent trees.

"He would not have gone to the farm," said Whitney. "Jump down and
open the gate."

They went on again carefully, but after a time the loaning got very
rough and rushes grew across it where the ground was soft. After
narrowly escaping an upset into the ditch on one side, Whitney
stopped.

"I guess this is as far as she'll take us, and I see a peat-stack
where we could leave her."

Lifting down a small fir that closed a gap in the wall, they pushed
the motorcycle across a strip of heath and against a pile of turf;
and then they stopped to look about.

The light was rapidly going and the wind was falling. In front lay a
stretch of moor, seamed by black peat-hags, in some of which water
glistened; beyond the moor rough heather-covered slopes ran up to the
black hillcrest. A curlew whistled overhead, and the sharp cry of a
grouse rose from the darkening heath. Except for this, it was very
still and the landscape looked strangely desolate. Not far ahead a
patch of roof showed faintly among some stunted ash-trees.

"A cothouse," said Andrew in surprise.

"We'll look at it," Whitney answered, and started for the building.

One end had fallen down, but half the thatch remained upon the bending
rafters. The rest had gone, and it was plain that the cot had been
abandoned for a long time. Crossing a ditch by a rotten plank, they
stood knee-deep among withered nettles at the door, and the ruined
walls struck a mournful note in the gathering dark.

"There's a track here," said Whitney. "I guess the sheep go in."

He struck a match as they entered, and, avoiding stones and fallen
beams, they made for the door of an inner room. When they reached it,
Whitney struck another match, and smiled as he held it up, for the
light fell upon a single-cylinder motorcycle with a gun-case strapped
to the carrier.

"Well," he said, "I expected this. If we cross the end of the hill
going southeast, we would strike the sands somewhere abreast of the
wreck?"

"Yes."

"How's the tide?"

"High-water's about one o'clock. That means it's a big tide and, of
course, runs out a long way on the ebb."

"Then the sands will be dry and there'll be no gutters to cross. Well,
I guess it's a long walk, but we've got to make it. Take your overalls
off."

Three or four minutes later they left the cothouse and struck across
the heath. There was no track, but Andrew headed for a knoll on the
mountain's sloping shoulder. After they left the level, the heather
grew tall and strong, brushing about their knees and entangling their
feet. Then there were awkward rabbit-holes and granite boulders
scattered about, and they bruised their shins as they laboriously
plodded upward. The light had almost gone, and there was nothing
visible but the stretch of shadowy hillside in front.

Whitney heard Andrew breathing hard, and imagined that his injured leg
was giving him trouble.

"Are we rushing it too much?" he asked.

"I can hold out until we get to the top, and I'll be all right then.
It's gripping the brae with the side of my foot that bothers me."

He went on without slackening speed, and the slope grew easier and the
light breeze keener. Then the stretch of heather which had shut off
their view suddenly fell away, and they looked down through the soft
darkness on to a vast, black plain. There was nothing to distinguish
land from sea; but a faint cluster of lights that pricked the gloom
like pin-points marked the English-shore, and farther off the
flickering glare of blast-furnaces was reflected in the sky. In the
middle distance, a twinkle showed where the Solway lightship guarded
the fairway through the shoals; but there was no light near them, nor
any sound except the distant murmur of the sea. They stood remote from
the homes of men in the mountain solitude.

Andrew, stooping behind a mass of granite, struck a match and took out
his watch.

"We haven't much time to spare. I wish I knew if the lightship yonder
was still riding to the ebb," he said. "There's a burn somewhere below
us and running water is generally a good guide down."

They went on, floundering through tangled heather and falling into
rabbit-burrows, until the tinkle of water reached them softly. After
that they wound downhill beside the growing burn, past brakes of thorn
and hazel and over banks of stones, until a long wood led them to the
road. Following the wood for a time they went down again through
smooth pasture and turnip-fields and came to a wall that ran along the
beach. The empty space beyond it looked black and lonely, and the
mournful crying of wildfowl came out of the gloom, but at some
distance a beam from a lighthouse cast its reflection upon the sloppy
sand.

"Can you hit the wreck from here?" Whitney asked.

"I'll try," said Andrew. "It's a long way, and the tide must be on the
turn."

They took off their boots, and as they launched out across the dark
level the sand felt sharply cold. Here and there they splashed through
pools, but for the most part the bank was ribbed with hard ridges. The
shore soon vanished; Criffell's black bulk grew blurred and shapeless
against the sky; and they had only the misty beam from the lighthouse
for guide. Whitney, however, imagined that Andrew was going straight,
which was comforting, when they came to a wide depression where water
glimmered. He thought this was the channel that had stopped them
before, and he felt somewhat uneasy as he waded in. There was now no
boat they could retreat to on the other side of the wreck.

The water, however, hardly covered their ankles; and some time
afterward Andrew touched Whitney's arm as a dim, formless mass rose
from the sand. It got plainer as they cautiously approached it, their
bare feet falling noiselessly, and in a minute or two they stopped and
listened beside the wreck. There was no sound but the drip of water,
and Andrew, grasping a broken beam, swung himself up. Whitney
followed, his nerves tense, his muscles braced; and he held his breath
when he dropped into the forecastle. The next moment a pale light
sprang up, and he saw Andrew holding out a match. The feeble glow
spread along the wet planks and filled the forecastle before the match
went out, and Whitney was more relieved than disappointed to see that
nobody else was there.

"We have missed him," he said. "Take my box; they're wax and burn
better than the wooden kind."

Andrew struck another light, and it burned clearer. The candle they
had used and replaced on the last visit had gone, but two or three
matches floated in a pool. He picked them up and Whitney examined them
closely.

"These are quite fresh," he said. "Looks as if they'd just been
struck, though we can't be sure of that. Extra thick wax, same make as
mine; I got the best I could, because I wanted them to light the
bicycle lamp."

Then the match burned low, and Andrew threw it down.

"It proves nothing except that the man who used them wanted a good
article. The make is well known, but in this part of the country you
couldn't find it except at a tobacconist's."

"That's a point. Anything is good enough for a fisherman or a sailor
to get a light with. The fellow who came here must have meant to have
the best."

"After all, the matches don't tell us who he is," Andrew said slowly.

"They don't, but they may help us later. And now we'll hustle for the
beach. It would be awkward if we found the tide running up the
gutter."

They set off across the sands and waded through the channel without
trouble. Reaching land, they put on their boots and laboriously
struggled up the dark hill. Both were tired when they floundered down
through the heather on the other side, but they found the boggy heath,
and came at last to the cothouse. As they expected, the motorcycle was
no longer there. They trudged on to the peat-stack, and shortly
afterward Whitney started his machine, and with some difficulty kept
out of the ruts and ditches until he turned into the highroad.



CHAPTER XVII

THE MATCHBOX


The dead leaves were driving round Appleyard before a boisterous wind
that lashed the granite walls with bitter rain. A fire had been
lighted in the drawing-room, and Staffer sat talking to his sister.
Mrs. Woodhouse was a quiet woman, generally content to remain in the
background; and the influence she exercised at Appleyard was, as a
rule, negative. She rarely claimed authority, even over her daughter,
or openly interfered, but the things she disapproved of were seldom
done. Now her usually placid face was firm.

The drawing-room door was open, and she watched Williamson, who stood
near Elsie in the hall. His pose was gracefully easy as he smiled at a
remark of the girl's. He looked suave and well-bred, but Mrs.
Woodhouse's expression hardened.

"Will that man be here long?" she asked, when Williamson and Elsie
moved away.

Staffer gave her a quick glance. It was desirable that his relations
with Williamson should be cordial, but of late his guest had shown
some reserve. It was so slight that Staffer, knowing of no cause for
their disagreement, felt it instinctively rather than noticed it by
any particular sign. For all that, something had come between them,
and he wondered whether his sister was to blame for this.

"It looks as if you didn't wish him to stay," he said.

"I don't. His society is not good for Dick."

Staffer smiled, though he was puzzled. On his last visit Williamson
had rather avoided Dick.

"He can't do him much harm; and, after all, it does not look as if
Dick would marry Elsie, as we once thought was possible."

"No; Elsie will not marry him, and I would not wish it, if she were
willing."

Staffer was somewhat surprised.

"Then why need you bother about him?" he said. "If he indulges in
foolish extravagances, it's his affair."

She looked at Staffer with a listless expression.

"I don't think you would understand; but I do not want him to come to
harm."

"Well, there's something else to talk about. It won't be long before
Dick is his own master, and we must leave Appleyard. This will make a
big difference, because our means are small and Elsie has been taught
no profession. What will she do then, unless she marries somebody?"

"I do not know," Mrs. Woodhouse answered in a placid tone.

Staffer mastered his impatience, for his sister sometimes baffled him,
and there was a matter of importance about which he wished to sound
her.

"I'm sorry you seem to have a prejudice against Williamson. Is it only
on Dick's account?"

"No; I feel that he may bring trouble to us all. We were happier
before his visits began. There is a difference now at Appleyard, and I
don't like mystery. Why does he call himself Williamson?"

"Ah! You imagine it is not his name?"

"I have known for some time that it is not."

Staffer felt disturbed. His sister had been shrewder than he expected,
and he wondered whether anybody else shared her suspicions; but her
statement gave him the lead he wanted.

"Well," he said, "I dare say you can see that to use his proper name
just now might make things unpleasant for him."

"He did not use it when he first came here, and nobody would have
minded it then."

"I'm not certain; these Scots are prejudiced against foreigners; but
it's hard to see why you should dislike the man because he is one of
us." He paused and looked at her reproachfully. "Have you forgotten
the people you belong to, Gretchen, and where you were born?"

Mrs. Woodhouse's face was troubled, but there was a hint of firmness
in her voice as she answered.

"I have not forgotten. But when I married I knew I must choose between
my country and my husband's; one could not belong to both. I chose
his; his people became mine. He was a good man--I think there are not
many like him--and I was happy. When he died, I tried to bring up his
daughter as he would have her."

"You succeeded. Elsie is a Scot," Staffer remarked with a sneer.

Something in her face warned him that his sister was not to be moved.
It was seldom she had shown him her deeper feelings, but she had a
mother's heart, against which he could not prevail. She might have
made him a useful if not altogether conscious ally, but that idea must
be dropped. He had been beaten by a fundamental quality in human
nature; and he was half afraid he had said too much.

"Well," he added, "I'll be content if you treat Williamson as you
would any other guest. You needn't go beyond this, if you'd rather
not."

She turned and gave him a steady glance.

"I wish you had nothing to do with him, Arnold--I feel he's dangerous.
But I will be polite to him, so long as he does not harm Dick."

"That's all I want," said Staffer, turning away.

He entered the billiard-room where the others had gathered. Elsie was
knitting, Dick and Andrew were playing, and Williamson stood looking
on. Staffer thought this strange, because Andrew did not play well,
and Williamson had generally engaged Dick in a game for a stake.

"Making stockings now!" Staffer said to Elsie. "Whom is this lot for?"

"The Border regiment."

"The men who're lucky enough to get them ought to feel flattered,"
Williamson interposed.

"The brave soldiers are entitled to the best we can send them," Elsie
said staunchly.

Williamson carelessly examined the work.

"This is very neat. Knitting's an essentially Scottish accomplishment.
It's useful, which no doubt appeals to a race of utilitarian
character."

"That's why I like it," Elsie declared. "I am Scottish in all my
habits and feelings, you know."

Whitney thought there was something defiant in her voice, but he could
not tell whether Williamson noticed it.

When the game was finished, Whitney took out a cigarette and walked
to a match-holder, which he knew was empty.

"Will you give me a light?" he asked Williamson.

"Certainly," said Williamson, producing a well-made gun-metal case,
which he immediately returned to his pocket. "I think I used the last
there, but I have a box somewhere."

He handed Whitney an ordinary card box containing pine matches.

"Thank you."

As Whitney returned the box he noticed that Andrew was watching them.
Then he glanced quickly at Elsie, but she was quietly knitting, with
her eyes on the stitches.

A few minutes afterward a servant brought in the afternoon edition of
a Glasgow newspaper. Staffer glanced at the front page and then sat
down near one of the lamps. There was a certain deliberation in his
movements that Whitney noticed, though he admitted that he might not
have done so had not the matchbox incident roused him to suspicious
vigilance. He thought Staffer was waiting for something, and in a
moment or two Williamson left Dick and turned toward him.

Then Staffer folded back the newspaper.

"The A. & P. liner _Centaur_ has gone down in the North Channel," he
announced calmly.

Whitney started, Dick abruptly put down his cue, and Andrew's face
grew hard.

"Do you mean that she was blown up?" Elsie asked with a note of horror
in her voice.

"It looks so; but there's not much news yet."

Staffer began to read:

      "The captain of the Clyde coaster _Gannet_ reports
      that when he was off the Skerries near dark one of the
      big A. & P. liners passed him at some distance to the
      north. It was blowing fresh, and hazy, but when the
      vessel was almost out of sight he noticed a dense
      cloud of smoke. He ran to the box on the bridge-rail,
      where he kept his glasses, but when he got them out
      the liner had disappeared. He steered for the spot
      where he had last seen her, but it was dark when he
      reached it, and after steaming about for some time,
      and seeing nothing but a quantity of wreckage, he made
      for Rathlin and megaphoned the lighthouse-keepers
      before proceeding. An unconfirmed report from Larne
      states that a fishing craft passed a steamer's
      lifeboat, but lost her in the dark. The _Centaur_, a
      large and nearly new steamer, left Montreal with wheat
      and a number of passengers eight days ago."

Nobody spoke for a minute after he put down the newspaper, and Whitney
lighted a cigarette to cover his excitement. The news was startling,
but he thought it did not take Staffer or Williamson by surprise.
There was something curious in their expression. Andrew's face,
however, had grown very stern; and Elsie's was angrily flushed.

"This is not war, but murder!" she exclaimed. "The men who blow up
unarmed vessels ought to be severely punished."

"When you catch them," Staffer answered. "I expect that it will prove
difficult; and I'm afraid we must be prepared for some nasty knocks."

"It's rather exasperating to be hit hard where you flatter yourself
you're secure against attack," Williamson remarked. "The Admiralty
must have thought the North Channel safe."

"It _is_ except against treachery," Elsie declared. "Don't you think
so, Andrew?"

"I do," said Andrew quietly. "It's narrow and commanded by lighthouses
and coastguard stations; though perhaps, in a way, its narrowness is a
danger. But we must see that this kind of thing doesn't happen again."

"How would you try to prevent it?" Staffer asked, with a calmness that
was somewhat overdone.

Whitney gave Andrew a careless glance, and was relieved to note that
his grim look had vanished. Andrew's views on this subject would be
worth having, but it was obvious that he did not mean to state them.

"I'm not a navy officer," he answered and turned to Elsie. "One feels
that it won't bear talking about."

"Yes," she agreed, with a flash in her eyes. "There's no use in giving
way to rage when one is hurt. The best one can do after a treacherous
blow is to keep very quiet and wait until the time comes to strike
back."

"There's a true Scot!" laughed Staffer. "You're a stubborn,
unemotional race. I wouldn't like to fall into your hands if I'd
wronged your friends."

"The Scots are just: they repay both injuries and favors."

Then, by general consent, they talked about something else; and after
a time the others went out, and Whitney and Elsie were left alone. He
suspected that she had meant this to happen, but he was surprised by
her first question.

"Have you a bad memory?"

"I like to think that it's as good as my neighbor's."

"Then it's strange you lighted a cigarette with a match from your own
box after asking Mr. Williamson for his."

"Well, by jove!" Whitney exclaimed. "Do you think he noticed it?"

Elsie's eyes twinkled.

"No; he had his back toward you when you began the next cigarette. But
why did you ask for a match when you had some?"

Whitney looked at her frankly.

"I'd rather you didn't press me for an answer," he said.

"Why? Do you mean you wouldn't tell me?"

"Yes. And I shouldn't like to refuse."

Elsie smiled.

"You're not a good plotter. It was easy to catch you out."

"So it seems. But if I'm not as smart as I ought to be, I mean well."

"I don't doubt it, and I have some reason for trusting you. I think
you're a good friend of Dick's and Andrew's; and their friends are
mine."

"Thank you! But Williamson's by way of being a friend of Dick's."

"Oh, no; he only pretends he is. You must know this."

"Suppose we admit it. Don't you think Andrew's able to take care of
his cousin?"

"I'm glad he has your help."

"Perhaps it's more important that he has yours. We're three to one,
and that ought to be enough."

Elsie's face was calm, but she was silent for a moment, and Whitney
thought she was trying to hide some embarrassment.

"Tell me," she said, "was it on Dick's account you asked Williamson
for a match?"

"No; that is, not directly. I can't tell you anything more; but since
we are friends, can you arrange that there are no matches put beside
the bedroom candles?"

"The man is our guest," Elsie said with some hesitation. "Still
perhaps one mustn't be fastidious when--"

"When there's a good deal at stake--Dick's welfare, for one thing."

"Very well," Elsie promised.

An hour later the party broke up. They used oil-lamps at Appleyard,
and at night a row of candles in old-fashioned brass holders were
placed upon a table on the bedroom landing. As a rule, a few
matchboxes were put beside them; but sometimes this was overlooked.

Williamson went upstairs first, and stopped on reaching the table.

"Matches run out here, too!" he said to Whitney, who was close behind
him. "Shall I light your candle?"

Whitney's hand moved toward his pocket, but he remembered in time.

"Thanks!" he answered carelessly. "Perhaps you had better light the
lot."

Williamson took out the gun-metal box and struck a small pine match.

"I filled it up again," he remarked. "I always like to have matches
handy in an old-fashioned house."

"It's a good plan," Whitney agreed, and went away with his candle.

Five minutes later he opened Andrew's door and found him standing by
the window.

"Come in! I'm thinking about that Canadian boat."

"So I expected," Whitney answered meaningly. "But we'll take the other
matter first. Seems to me they're connected."

"The matchbox matter? I don't know whether it was a clever trick or
not, but I'd like to hear your views."

"Well," Whitney laughed, "I'm not so smart as I thought. Elsie soon
tripped me up."

Andrew frowned.

"Then she saw you? She understands?"

"Something. I don't know how much, but I'm free to admit that she's
cleverer than either of us. However, one thing's obvious: Williamson
took care to have a box that would hold a good many matches and keep
them dry. It's curious that he didn't shake it before he said it was
empty. Anyhow, he overdid the thing. If he had given me a thick wax
match like those we found on board the wreck, it wouldn't have proved
much; while his anxiety to show he used the small pine kind strikes me
as significant."

"Elsie must be kept out of all this," Andrew said firmly.

"Then I guess you'll have to keep her out; I'm not up to Miss
Woodhouse's mark. Did you notice Staffer's attempt to learn if you
knew much about the North Channel?"

"Yes; but we'll let that go for the present. The A. & P. boat was
mined or torpedoed. What are we to do?"

Whitney hesitated.

"To begin with," he said, "you must make up your mind right now how
far you are willing to go. You're proud of being a Johnstone, and put
the good name of the family pretty high."

"Yes," answered Andrew slowly; "that is true. These, however, are
personal reasons, and don't come first. You can take it for granted
that I'm ready to go as far as is needful for the good of my country,
regardless of--of any one at Appleyard."

"Then we must try to find Rankine and tell him what we suspect."

"Very well," said Andrew. "We'll sail on the ebb in the morning."

Whitney made a sign of agreement and went away. Andrew had not
hesitated about his decision, but Whitney knew it had cost him
something.



CHAPTER XVIII

A CONFERENCE AT SEA


North Barrule's blunt cone and the range of Manx hills beyond it cut,
harshly blue, against an angry blaze of saffron that had broken out
when the rain stopped and was now beginning to fade. The sun had sunk
behind the island, and the sky to the northwest was black as ink, but
the tall cliffs of the Mull of Galloway were traced across the
storm-cloud in a neutral-tinted smear. Between them and the _Rowan_
stretched a belt of lead-colored sea, which, in the foreground, rose
in hollow-fronted walls with livid white summits that overweighted
them until they curled and broke in cataracts of foam.

It was blowing hard, and threatened to blow harder soon, but Andrew's
wet face was tranquil as he sat on the weather coaming, braced against
the strain of the helm. Whitney was in the cockpit, where he could
avoid the worst of the spray, but he was cold and sore from
twenty-four hours of savage lurching. Clouds of spray drove across the
boat, striking the canvas and blowing out to lee under the boom, but
some fell short and splashed upon Whitney's lowered head. The _Rowan_,
beating to windward, progressed in jerks and plunges, nearly stopping
with a shock now and then as her bows sank into a comber. Whitney
thought she could not carry her shortened canvas long; but their port
was to windward, and they could not ease her much if they wished to
reach it.

"She's ramming them pretty badly," he remarked, as a white sea boiled
across the deck. "I suppose you'd find her hard to steer if I lowered
the staysail?"

"Yes; she makes my arms ache now. Still, if it doesn't blow much worse
in the next two hours, we'll find smoother water to lee of the
island." Something on the horizon caught Andrew's eye. "Get me the
glasses," he added.

Whitney went below to look for them, and lighted the cabin lamp. The
floor and beams were steeply inclined, and he had to brace his feet
against the centerboard trunk. The narrow cabin throbbed with a
muffled uproar, and water trickled in. There was a pool that splashed
about where the floor boards met the locker. The leather case of the
glasses had swollen, and he spent a minute or two in opening it,
though he made the best speed he could. They had been searching for
Rankine's vessel in weather that had tried their nerve and skill. Once
or twice it had looked as if they must run for shelter, but the breeze
had moderated a trifle, and Andrew had held on. Now, however, he was
making for Ramsey, to Whitney's keen satisfaction.

Andrew wound the tiller-line round one hand as he put the glasses to
his eyes. He saw what he had expected: two slender spars and a funnel,
both sharply slanted, that rose above the back of a distant sea. Then
a patch of dark hull swung into sight, and vanished again.

"The survey boat," he said, giving Whitney the glasses. "She must be
near the edge of King William's Bank, and we'll find an ugly sea
running there. You'd better start the pump."

It was hard work, for when Whitney unscrewed the plug on deck the sea
poured down the pipe to meet the water he forced out, and the boat's
wild plunges threw him against the coaming; but he persevered. As they
were likely to find the sea worse, she must be cleared of water before
more came on board. It was some time before the pump sucked and only
froth came up; then Whitney precariously balanced himself on the
cabin-top with his hand upon the boom while he looked about.

Every now and then the straining storm-jib plunged into a sea that
curled in foam across the bows, throwing showers of spray into the
hollow of the staysail. Then the bowsprit swung high above the turmoil
and the water blew away in streams from the canvas while a frothy
cataract poured aft down the uplifted deck. When he glanced to
windward the spray lashed his face, but he distinguished a rolling
steamer some distance off. There was no smoke about her funnel, and
after watching her for a few moments he did not think she moved.

"Lying head to sea," he said to Andrew. "Rankine might as well run
into the harbor: he won't do much sounding to-night."

"That's plain. It doesn't look as if he thought sounding his most
important job. Haul down the staysail."

Whitney scrambled forward, and when he let go the halyard he dropped
on hands and knees. The straining sail would not run down the wire to
which it was fastened, and he must cross the narrow deck to free it.
He did not want to go; for the _Rowan_ buried her bows as she plunged,
and the foam boiled over them a foot in depth; but the whitening of
the sea to windward showed that a savage squall was on its way. He
reached the inboard end of the bowsprit and held fast while a comber
washed across the rail, and then, rising half upright, he seized the
line that hung from the head of the sail. The loosened canvas thrashed
him; he was swung to and fro, in danger of going overboard; but he
held on until the sail came down with a run and fell on to his knees.

The plunges were not quite so vicious when he got back to the cockpit,
but the alteration in the sail-spread made steering difficult, and
Andrew strained against the pull of the tiller-line as he drove her
through the squall.

In the meantime, the _Rowan_ had drawn nearer to the steamer, which
now lay close ahead, rolling until her deck sloped like a roof, and
then lurching back with her streaming side lifted high above the sea.
Andrew went about and then ran close to leeward, where they checked
the _Rowan_ by hauling her jib aback. A man in oilskins leaned out
from the steamer's bridge, and the fading light touched his wet face.

"It's Rankine," said Andrew. "We must try to make him hear."

The next moment a shout came down across the broken seas that rolled
between the vessels.

"Yacht, ahoy! What d'you want?"

"To see you!" Andrew answered, throwing his voice to windward with all
his force. "Important!"

Rankine steadied himself against the rail, with his glasses at his
eyes.

"The _Rowan_; Mr. Johnstone! Could you jump on board our gig?"

"Can't leave the boat!" shouted Andrew, letting her forge ahead a few
yards nearer.

Rankine made a sign of comprehension.

"Very well. Follow us into shelter!"

Andrew waved his arm, and, trimming the jib over, drove the _Rowan_
ahead. As he did so, the steamer's screw splashed round half out of
water, and she slowly turned toward the north.

"That's not the way to Ramsey," Whitney grumbled.

"No," said Andrew. "I guess he has some reason for not going there. He
means to run in behind the Mull, though it's farther off."

Whitney frowned as he glanced across the wild stretch of foaming water
toward a twinkling stream of light. He was numbed and wet; it was now
getting dark and the bitter wind seemed freshening to a gale; but
Andrew meant to follow the steamer, and there was nothing to be said.
The only comfort was that their change of course brought the wind
farther aft and the _Rowan_ would sail fast.

Rankine's crew hung out a stern light as their vessel left the yacht,
and Whitney, getting down in the cockpit, tried to dodge the spray
while she rolled and tumbled across the high beam-sea. He was sorry
for Andrew, who must sit on the coaming amid the spray; though he
imagined that his comrade would be sufficiently occupied to make him
careless of the wet and cold.

As a matter of fact, Andrew mechanically avoided the rush of the
foaming combers, for he was thinking hard. He shrank from the meeting
he had sought, because he knew he was badly equipped for the
difficult part he must play. He suspected Williamson of practises
which must, at any cost, be stopped, since it was unthinkable that a
traitor should make use of Appleyard. This was bad; but it was worse
to know that Staffer was acting as Williamson's confederate.

The trouble was that if Andrew exposed the men, the innocent would
suffer. Staffer was Mrs. Woodhouse's brother, and Andrew pitied the
quiet woman. Then there was Elsie, whom Staffer had certainly treated
well. She would be crushed by shame if she learned his share in the
plot. Andrew knew her well enough to feel sure of this. Elsie was true
as steel; if he told her his suspicions, she would urge him to do his
duty. Still, she would suffer; and part of Staffer's punishment would
fall on her. It would not be forgotten that she was the niece of a
foreign spy; and her mother might be suspected of complicity.

It was a painful situation; for Andrew gladly would have made any
personal sacrifice that might save the girl a pang. He must try to
find a way of doing his duty without involving her; in some way he
must warn Rankine and yet keep back part of what he knew. This was a
repugnant course, and he frowned as he drove the dripping boat across
the foaming sea.

At times the steamer's stern light almost faded out, but it grew
brighter again, and Andrew knew that Rankine was waiting for him. It
was now blowing hard, and the combers looked very steep and angry,
though he could no longer distinguish them until they broke close to
the yacht. He imagined that they were stirred up by a strong tide, and
several pinnacles of rock rose from deep water in the neighborhood. He
hoped Rankine knew their position as he followed the steamer's light.

At last the sea got smoother and, instead of breaking, ran in a long,
disturbed swell. The wind no longer hove the boat down with a steady
pressure, but lightened until she swung nearly upright and then fell
upon her in furious squalls that sent her staggering along with her
lee deck deep in the foam. A lofty black ridge towered above her port
side, and Andrew knew they were behind the Mull of Galloway. The
water, however, was too deep, and the tide too strong for them to
bring up there, and he supposed Rankine knew of a safe anchorage.

After a time he heard a whistle, and the light ahead stopped; then
there was a roar of running chain, and as he luffed up a shout reached
him.

"Let go and give her plenty scope!"

The chain was nearly all out before Andrew thought she had enough, and
while she rolled and tumbled on the swell a splash of oars came out of
the dark. Then a white gig loomed up alongside, and he and Whitney
jumped on board as the crew backed away. They had to wait a minute or
two close to the steamer's side, until a smooth undulation lapped the
lurching hull, when they seized the ladder and scrambled up.

Rankine took them into a small, teak-paneled room with a brass stove
in a corner. It was remarkably neat, though a cushioned locker, a
small table, and two camp-chairs comprised the furniture. Nautical
instruments occupied a rack, and a large chart of the Irish Sea was
spread upon the table. Rankine put a bottle of wine and some
cigarettes on the chart, and then hung up his wet oilskins.

"We're safe here so long as the wind keeps to the west; and I can give
you a berth if your cabin's wet," he said.

"No, thanks," replied Andrew. "It's an exposed coast."

He tasted the wine Rankine poured out and lighted a cigarette. Whitney
said nothing, and there was silence for a time. Rankine waited, with a
polite smile.

"What are you doing near King William's Bank?" Andrew asked presently;
and the others knew that his question was more to the purpose than
appeared.

"Taking bearings and sounding, until the sea got up. I've made one or
two interesting discoveries about that shoal."

Although he sympathized with Andrew, Whitney felt amused, for he saw
that Rankine would do nothing to help him.

"You gave us a long run," Andrew said. "We would have got better
shelter in Ramsey Bay."

"That's true. I preferred this place."

Andrew frowned at the chart, as if he did not know how to go on; and
Whitney came to his rescue.

"I guess it suits you better to keep away from port; you don't want to
be seen and talked about."

Rankine smiled.

"Am I mistaken in suggesting that we don't make much progress. Now,
after meeting you at Craigwhinnie and inviting you to come on board,
it's a satisfaction to find you have taken me at my word; but if you
have any other reason for the visit, I'm at your command. I understood
this was so."

"The matter is important, and we want to feel we're justified in
talking about it," Whitney replied. "In fact, if your work's confined
to surveying, we'd rather you regarded us as casual guests."

"Then I think you can take it that my job doesn't end there. I'm still
a navy officer, though I'm now assisting the Trinity House."

Whitney laughed.

"Well, I guess that's as much as one could expect you to admit.
British official caution is a remarkable thing." He turned to Andrew.
"You'd better tell him what we've seen."

Andrew began with their adventures on the sands when the lamp went
out, and then mentioned the signal lights on Barennan Crag and what
they had discovered on board the wreck. He told the story well, adding
particulars that had escaped Whitney's observation, and Rankine
followed him closely on the chart.

He looked up with frank appreciation when Andrew had finished.

"I don't think I've ever heard as clear and concise a report before.
May I suggest that you're rather wasting your talents? You ought to be
in the navy."

"I had to leave the army," Andrew replied, coloring. "But that's not
what we have to talk about."

"No," agreed Rankine, and was silent for a while.

Whitney watched him with tranquil interest. The teak-paneled room was
warm and bright, and after long exposure to numbing cold it was
soothing to feel himself getting warm and drowsy; though the men still
held his attention. The navy officer was, no doubt, the cleverer of
the two, but Whitney thought he recognized a strong similarity in
their characters. They were resolute, quiet, and capable, and he felt
sure of their honesty. Rankine's face was now gravely thoughtful, but
Andrew's wore a troubled frown, and Whitney imagined he recognized
that the difficult part of the interview had not yet been reached.

"What you have discovered seems to have one of two meanings," Rankine
said. "It may indicate a signaling of military and political news,
which, strictly speaking, is not my business; or it may have some
bearing on the loss of the A. & P. liner, and perhaps lead to similar
attacks."

"Which _would_ be your business," Whitney drawled.

"I can't talk about that; but Mr. Johnstone did right in telling me,"
Rankine answered, and turned to Andrew. "Have you told any one else?"

"No." There was a curious quietness in Andrew's voice which showed
Whitney that he had decided on his course.

"Why not? If my first surmise is correct, it's a matter for the
military authorities."

"It seems to me the thing's not ripe. I have nothing but vague
suspicions to go upon."

"Then you suspect somebody?"

"Yes."

Rankine looked at him in silence for a few moments.

"I suppose you mean to follow up the clue you've got?" he then asked.

"You may take that for granted," Andrew answered.

"And if you find your suspicions right?"

"When I'm certain of that, I'll act; but not before."

"Well, you no doubt recognize the responsibility you're taking. There
are people appointed to investigate these things who could act with
greater skill and force."

"I see that," Andrew replied quietly. "And when I think the time has
come, I'll go to them, or you."

"But you mean to decide for yourself whether it has come or not?"

"Exactly; I must decide."

Rankine looked hard at him, knitting his brows.

"I cannot tell you what my orders are," he said; "but you put me in an
awkward position. I may do wrong in not reporting our conversation."

"Even if you did report it, I should stick to the line I've taken. If
it led to my arrest, that would, of course, prevent my watching the
coast--and I can do that as well as you."

"Better; for you wouldn't be suspected. Well, as I see you must be
indulged, I'll tell you how to find me when you have something more to
say. You must be careful to follow my instructions."

"Then write them down."

"I think not; I'm rather straining my authority in giving them to you
at all, and secrecy is important."

Whitney got up.

"Perhaps I ought to remind you that I'm not a British subject," he
said.

Rankine smiled.

"Since you are in Mr. Johnstone's confidence, you may remain. He won't
mind my saying that, so far as strictly nautical matters go, he's well
qualified to deal with them, but there are touches about what he told
me that seem to show he has had your help. Now you must exactly follow
these directions--"

He told them how they could learn his movements and send him word.

"That is all," he concluded. "If you think the weather permits it,
I'll be glad to keep you on board over night."

Andrew opened the door, and the bitter draught that swept in lifted
the chart on the table and swirled about the room. They heard the surf
beat upon a rocky beach and the wind scream in the shrouds.

"No, thanks," he said. "It's not a night to leave the boat."

Rankine went out with them and gave an order. Half-seen men ran aft
and dropped into the dark from the vessel's rail, and presently the
gig lay tossing abreast of the gangway. Whitney looked at the warm,
well-lighted deckhouse with regret, and then, buttoning his oilskins,
followed Andrew down into the boat.



CHAPTER XIX

A WARNING


Staffer and Williamson sat in the library at Appleyard. It was getting
late, and the rest of the household were in bed. Williamson had gone
to his room with the others, but afterward had crept down again
quietly. He had arrived that evening, but had found it difficult to
get any private conversation with his host without making his wish to
do so rather marked; for he imagined that Miss Woodhouse was watching
him; and Whitney was constantly about. Now, however, he had said all
he thought needful, and he wondered why Staffer did not let him go.

The library was spacious and was lighted only by a shaded lamp on a
table near them. The polished floor gleamed like ice in the
illuminated circle, but everything outside this was dim, and Staffer's
face was in the shadow. The fire in the big hearth had sunk, and a
pale-blue flame that gave no light played about the embers of the
hardwood logs. The room was very quiet and getting cold.

"You'll be in town next week," Staffer said. "Can you find a good
excuse for taking Dick? A boxing or billiard match, for example."

"I don't know of anything of the kind."

"Then you surprise me. You belong to one or two smart sporting clubs."

"Sporting events are not popular just now."

"There's always something going on; and if it's semi-private, so much
the better. When one is as young as Dick, a little mystery is
inciting, and it's flattering to feel oneself a privileged person."

"No doubt. For all that, I haven't heard of any attractive fixture;
and if I invented one that didn't come off, it would make the game
obvious, even to Dick."

"I suppose this means you don't want to take him," Staffer suggested.
"Let's be frank."

"Then you are anxious that he should go?"

"For one thing, it looks as if you had rather held Dick off lately.
This is against our plans. Then, if Dick's away, Andrew and his
American friend will leave. It would be safer not to have them about."

"Your last reason's good; in fact, it's better than the other,"
Williamson said dryly. "I'm going to take no further part in
exploiting Dick."

Staffer frowned.

"That resolve will cost you something. What has led you to make it?"

"The thing is getting dangerous. We can't afford to run an unnecessary
risk, you know."

"That's true, but I don't see where the danger lies."

Williamson pondered. He had acted as Staffer's tool in leading Dick
into extravagance; but Staffer had not been straight with him.
Besides, if he now explained that Mackellar was suspicious, it would
look as if he had turned against his confederate and tried to make
terms with the bank agent.

"Dick has friends who would carefully investigate matters if he had to
admit his debts, and they might find out enough to cause us trouble.
Then, we're engaged in another business of first importance that
can't be neglected while we make plans for our private benefit. If we
fail, the consequences would be unpleasant--to say the least."

Staffer laughed. Williamson wished he could see his face, for his
amusement had a hint of a threat.

"Remarkably unpleasant! As it happens, you haven't met with much
success of late. Another man whom I needn't mention brought off the
last big stroke."

"It was not my fault; things have been dead against me, as you know."

"So it seems! But our employers expect results, not excuses." Staffer
paused and resumed: "As you have been unlucky, I thought you might
find some advantage in helping me with Dick."

Williamson saw that Staffer's remarks were connected. He was being
warned, and asked to think over his refusal; but he stood his ground.

"The advantage doesn't counterbalance the danger," he said.

"Well, I suppose that is for you to decide. Perhaps you are wise in
concentrating on your particular business. Our employers are liberal
when they're served well, but not as a rule indulgent when a post is
unsatisfactorily filled."

Williamson was silent for a moment. Staffer was, in a sense, his
superior officer; but for all that, he was expected to use his
judgment, and he foresaw danger for both if he meddled with Dick.
Still, Staffer was powerful and had given him a significant hint.

"I don't think our employers have much to complain of," Williamson
said; "and we must try to work together as far as possible."

"Just so," Staffer answered, getting up.

They separated apparently on good terms; but they were conscious of
mutual distrust.

The next morning Whitney, after trying to get into range of a flock of
curlew feeding among the sands, threw his gun upon his shoulder and
set out for the _Rowan_. The sun was bright and the breeze fresh, and
after opening the skylights to ventilate the boat, he went below to
see if their blankets were damp. While he was busy he heard a foot on
deck, and Marshall, the fisherman, came down the ladder. He visited
the yacht now and then; and Whitney at once got out the whisky bottle.

"Help yourself, but you'll excuse my not joining you," he said. "It's
rather early in the morning, and I reckon my nerves aren't as good as
yours."

Marshall poured out a liberal portion and regarded him with a twinkle.

"I'm thinking they canna' be bad since ye're shipmate with Mr. Andrew.
He's no' the man I'd sail with if I was fleyt o' the sea."

"Well, he _is_ pretty daring; but he's cautious, too, and knows
exactly what he's doing. That makes a difference."

"Ay," agreed Marshall; "Andrew Johnstone's a by-ordinar' good seaman;
but ye may run a risk ye canna' see. Tide-rips and sudden blows are
bad, but they're no' the only dangers."

Whitney lighted a cigarette. It was plain that the old fellow had a
warm liking for Andrew, and Whitney imagined he meant to give him a
hint of some kind.

"I wish you'd tell me what you mean," he said. "You want to remember
that I'm an American and not used to dark remarks. In fact, it's more
or less my habit to say what I think."

"Ye'll find it expensive whiles," Marshall rejoined with a chuckle.
"Onyway, ye're a friend o' Mr. Johnstone's?"

"I believe so. It's a sure thing that I like him."

"Then he'll maybe need ye. It's no' an easy job he has. Yon two at
Appleyard are kittle-cattle, and would be better for watching."

"Why don't you tell me what they're after?"

"For yea thing, I dinna ken, but I'm certain it's naething good."

Whitney made a gesture of resignation.

"This is a pretty hard country for a stranger to get along in. You're
such a blamed cautious people that nobody can guess what you think.
Why don't you give my partner or Dick a hint, if you believe there's
something wrong?"

"There's aye a rizzon," Marshall replied with a grin. "Mr. Andrew
mightna' believe me, and Mr. Dick would let it oot to Staffer. It's
no' wise to offend the gentry, mair particularly your landlord, when a
salmon noo and then comes by accident into your flounder net or ye
chance upon a hare sitting ower close in her form."

"But Dick would not be hard on you, and he'll be your landlord soon."

"That's no' what Mr. Staffer's thinking," said Marshall meaningly.

Whitney gave him a steady glance, knitting his brows.

"My partner will get Appleyard if Dick dies."

"Ay, that's supposed to be the way o' it; but Mr. Dick has debts that
would have to be paid. Then Mr. Staffer's acting baillie for the
estate, and it wouldna' suit him weel to see Mr. Andrew get it."

"You mean he's a dangerous man?"

"Ye should ken. I'm thinking ye're intelligent, and ye're Mr. Andrew's
friend."

"I suppose that's a compliment, and I must try to deserve it," Whitney
smiled.

Marshall poured out another drink and then went away, leaving Whitney
in a thoughtful mood.

The old fellow's remarks were not clear, but two points appeared: he
thought Andrew was running some personal risk, and that Staffer might
put an obstacle in the way of his inheriting Appleyard. It was
difficult to see how Staffer could do so, even if he could take
advantage of Dick's extravagance in such a way as to give him a claim
on the estate; but suppose Andrew did not live to demand his rights?
Whitney remembered that his comrade had been in grave danger when the
gray car swerved in the glen, and again when the light went out on
Mersehead sands. That Dick shared the danger on both occasions might,
of course, be coincidence; but it might have a very sinister meaning.
Whitney felt disturbed about it; but he decided that as his suspicions
might be unfounded and the matter was delicate, he would not warn his
friends, and must be satisfied with keeping a keen watch on Staffer.

One morning shortly after this Williamson picked his way across the
moss at the foot of Criffell as day was breaking. He was tired and
hungry, but, even at the risk of missing his breakfast, he did not
want to arrive at Dumfries too soon. Dawn was late now and he must
not give the hotel people cause to wonder why he had set out long
before it was light.

The black mass of the mountain rose between him and the east with a
flush of pink above its sloping shoulder; the rolling country to the
west was shadowy, and dry tufts of wild cotton glimmered a ghostly
white among the dark-peat-hags. There had been light frost for a few
days, but it had gone, and a raw wind blew in Williamson's face. The
ground was getting soft, the rushes he brushed through were beaded
with moisture, and now and then half-thawed ice crackled beneath his
wet boots. Still, as he did not wish to loiter about Dumfries, he went
on leisurely.

When he got over the fence, he found the loaning softer than he
expected, and on reaching the cothouse he decided that it would not be
safe to ride the motorcycle. The machine, however, was light, and he
was glad of a chance to warm himself by pushing it to the main road.
There was nobody in the wet fields, but the light was getting clear,
and a thin streak of smoke rose from the farm among the trees.
Everything looked gray and cold and desolate, but as Williamson
splashed into a pool a jolt of the bicycle warned him that he had
better fix his attention on the ruts.

While he did so, he noticed a sinuous line running to meet him. At
first he supposed it was the track he had made in going down the lane;
then he thought it looked rather deep, and with sudden suspicion he
placed the back wheel of his bicycle beside it. The pattern the tire
left in the mud was different, and now he saw another line run out
from the grass. This seemed to indicate the track of a side-car, and
Williamson, leaning his wheel against the wall, followed the marks
back over the ground he had traversed.

They led him to a gap in the dyke, and after taking down the pole that
closed it, he traced them to a peat-stack. They were lighter here,
which showed that the men had dismounted. He knew that it would take
some trouble to push a heavy motorcycle with a car attached over the
soft ground; but this had been done, and the machine dragged close
behind the stack. After examining the ground carefully, Williamson
returned to the loaning and made his way to the highroad as fast as
possible. It was now important that nobody should see him coming from
the moss.

Reaching the road, where he would excite no curiosity, he sat down in
the shelter of a bank and lighted a cigarette, for he had received a
decided shock. Some one had driven a motorcycle down the loaning, but
had not gone to the farm. This was strange; and it was significant
that the man had taken a good deal of trouble to hide the machine,
which suggested that he must have meant to leave it for some time, and
wished to prevent its being seen. There was nothing on the moss to
repay a visit, and the owner of a motorcycle would have no reason for
taking a short cut across the mountain on foot, when he could drive
round as soon by road. That there was probably another man in the
side-car made the puzzle worse; and Williamson's face hardened as he
admitted the possibility of their having tried to follow him.

Looking back at the rugged fellside anxiously, he saw that as he
crossed its summit he would have been visible against the sky, though
any one coming up could not be seen against the dark heath. It was
unfortunate that he had not looked back as he went down the other
side, or hidden behind a boulder and waited; but he had no ground for
believing that anybody knew of his journeys across the hill.

He was engaged in a dangerous business, and the consequences would be
serious if the military authorities found him out; but this was not
the worst he feared. They might be baffled; but Staffer had hinted
that his employers were not satisfied, and it was a dangerous thing to
disappoint them. Their rewards were liberal, but their servants must
perform their task. Williamson shivered as he remembered what he had
heard about the fate of one or two who had not succeeded in this.

Cowering behind the bank, while the cold wind whistled past, he
carefully thought out the situation. He saw that he had to face one of
two dangers. Either he had by some carelessness excited suspicion, and
was being watched, or he was distrusted by his friends. In the latter
case, flight to America was the only means of escape, because he knew
enough to make his employers uneasy, and if they failed in one plan to
put him out of the way, they would try another. He would certainly not
be left free to save himself by telling what he knew. But if he had
only the British authorities to fear, there was less cause for alarm.
They could be thrown off the track; indeed, this must be done, for he
dare not now abandon the work he had undertaken.

Williamson was getting very cold, and a searching drizzle had begun to
fall; but he scarcely noticed it as he sat weighing the arguments for
and against each supposition. Eventually, he decided that he must
blame some incautiousness of his own, and he began to wonder whose
suspicions he had aroused. Whitney had a motorcycle, and its tires
would leave just such a mark as he had noticed; but this did not prove
much, because the make was in common use. The American was shrewd and
was a friend of Andrew's; but while both were antagonistic Williamson
thought they opposed him only on Dick's account. Well, he had promised
to leave Dick alone. That ought to satisfy them; and if he were very
careful he would be able to elude any other enemies.

Feeling that his scare had been needless, he set off for Dumfries;
although he had not yet reached an explanation of the motorcycle
tracks.



CHAPTER XX

THE WHAMMEL BOAT


Thin fog drifted down the Firth when, with Whitney's help, Andrew
pulled the dinghy up the bank and then stopped to look about. It was
nine o'clock in the evening when they left the _Rowan_ at anchor in
the channel a hundred yards away, and he knew the tide was beginning
to flow, which meant that he had an hour and a half in which to reach
and return from the wreck. Everything was obscured to the east, but to
the west the sky was clear, and a thin, bright moon shone in a patch
of dusky blue. The sand felt harder than usual, for the night air was
frosty, but the melancholy calling of the wild fowl told that the salt
ooze in the gutters was still unfrozen. There was no other sound
except the ripple of the current across the shoals.

"I suppose we'll let up for a bit if we see nobody to-night," Whitney
suggested.

"Yes," said Andrew; "the tide's getting late."

Whitney nodded agreement. They had sailed from the burnfoot three days
before, and after standing out to sea on the ebb, had returned to the
outer end of the channel in the dark as soon as they could stem the
slackening stream. Then, landing in the dinghy, they hung about the
wreck until the advancing tide drove them back. They had done this for
two nights, without seeing anything suspicious, and they could now
abandon the search, because as the time of high-water approached six
o'clock the tides did not run out far enough to enable anybody to
reach the wreck from land.

Striking across the flats, they stopped on the edge of a hollow
running through the highest part. The mist was driving nearer before a
cold wind, and the moon was dim, but they could see for some distance
toward the west across the level stretch of sand. Nothing broke its
smooth expanse, but the sound of the sea had grown louder and the wild
fowl noisier.

After a few moments, Andrew struck into the hollow and began to follow
it up. The sand was softer here, though there were spears of ice on
the muddy pools; but the men's figures no longer cut against the sky,
and Whitney knew the need for caution. The gutter got deeper as they
went on, until they could not see beyond its banks, and soon it began
to wind off to one side. When Andrew stopped at the turning, a wild
cry that was like a hoarse laugh came out of the dark.

"What's that?" Whitney asked.

"A black-backed gull," said Andrew thoughtfully. "They're suspicious
brutes and a nuisance when you're trying to crawl up to a flock of
duck. In fact, it often looks as if they laughed because you'd lost
your shot."

"Do you think something has disturbed the bird?"

"We'll know in a minute."

A mournful wail that ended in a quavering tremolo fell from the air as
the harsh laughter died away.

"That's a curlew going over," Andrew said.

Then a shrill screaming broke out; and Andrew turned toward the bank
and began to climb out of the hollow.

"Oyster-catchers now; they're all off," he said.

When they reached the level, Whitney looked round quickly. The haze
was crawling close up in long, low-lying belts, but it had not reached
them yet, and as his eyes turned seaward he saw a black triangle
projecting above the edge of the flats.

"A lugsail, isn't it?" he asked.

"Yes; a whammel boat."

Andrew seized Whitney's arm and, moving back a few steps, dropped upon
his knees and dragged his companion down. Whitney understood the
reason when he saw a faint, dark figure on the bank some distance off.

"After all, it may be a fisherman," he said.

"It's possible, but I don't know what he's doing here, and we'll
follow up the gutter until we're abreast of the wreck. The fog will
come down thick before we reach her."

"I don't know that I'm fond of fog," Whitney replied. "However, if you
think you can find the dinghy--"

Moving back into the bed of the channel, they went on as fast as
possible. They were out of sight, but the winding hollow lengthened
the distance. It got darker as they splashed among the pools; and when
at last Andrew thought they had gone far enough and they climbed the
bank, everything was hidden by drifting fog. Whitney was frankly
uneasy. Andrew knew the sands well, but, for all that, it would not be
difficult to lose their way, and they had purposely left no light on
board the yacht. Still, it was unthinkable that they should turn back
when the man they had been trying to mark down seemed almost in their
hands. Banishing his misgivings, he plunged into the clammy mist,
following closely behind Andrew.

The birds had gone; nothing broke the silence, and there was nothing
to be seen. Whitney imagined that Andrew was going straight, but this
was not certain, and he recognized that the man they hoped to surprise
might have turned back. Andrew went a few yards in front, a dim,
ghostly figure in the fog, but it was a relief to see that he showed
no hesitation. Though they tried to move quietly, they made some
noise. Where the bank was hard their footsteps rang through the haze,
now and then shells crunched beneath their boots, and there were spots
where they splashed through half-frozen mud.

At last they saw the blurred outline of the wreck.

"Go straight on and then wait until I creep up on the other side,"
Andrew whispered.

They separated, and Whitney braced himself for a struggle as he moved
softly forward. The man would no doubt be armed, but he must not get
away until they learned who he was. Whitney set his lips as he neared
the wreck. Andrew's footsteps had died away, and there was something
that daunted him in the look of the dark mass of timber; but he went
on, and presently stopped at the edge of a pool beside the vessel. He
did not think anybody had left her as he approached. The man must be
on board; but he must wait until Andrew came up. There was no sound
but the drip of water and the wail of the cold wind; it was eerie and
depressing to stand there in the fog; but at last he heard a cautious
step and knew that his comrade had reached the opposite side of the
hulk.

"Go ahead," he said softly; and scrambled up with a feeling of relief
that the waiting was over.

He heard Andrew's heavy boots rasp upon the planks; but he reached the
forecastle hatch first, and his nerves tingled as he dropped through
it in the dark. He came down safely; but he did not hear the clatter
of feet among the timbers he had expected. While he felt about, for
fear an unseen enemy might seize him at a disadvantage, Andrew sprang
down and the light of an electric torch flashed round the hold. It
showed broken timbers, sand, and glistening pools; but that was all.
They had wasted their efforts; nobody was there. Andrew moved about,
holding up the torch, and then extinguished it as he came back to the
spot beneath the hatch.

"Well," he said, "we're no farther forward."

"Could the fellow have seen us and slipped away?"

"Not on my side. The fog wasn't very thick, and I could see the wreck.
I suppose you kept a good lookout?"

"Of course. Perhaps he saw us when we noticed him on the bank."

"It's possible, but not likely. We had only just left the gutter, and
he was going the other way."

Andrew was silent for a minute.

"It would help us," he said "if we knew whether he could carry a
wireless apparatus across the sands. I don't think it could be hidden
on board."

"It might be buried outside in a watertight box. Shall we go dig?"

"No; we'd be seen from the shore, and a good glass would show what we
were doing. In the dark we would have to use a lantern."

"That's so," Whitney agreed. "Well, as there's nothing doing here,
let's get back."

They reached the dinghy before the tide flowed round her, and shortly
afterward got on board the _Rowan_. The fog was thick and the wind
blowing against them down the Firth, but Andrew decided to hoist no
sail when they hove the anchor.

"It's early yet to find deep water, and I can steer her with an oar,"
he said. "We'll let the tide take her up."

He sounded now and then as the current carried her away, and Whitney
wondered whether it would strand them on a thinly covered bank. Andrew
had no guide except the depth and the hoarse murmur the stream made as
it rippled across the shoals.

Suddenly Andrew began to scull vigorously.

"Not much water; I think we're too near the middle sand," he said.

The next minute the boat stopped with a jar and listed down on her
side while the ripples splashed angrily against her planks. Whitney
seized the boat-hook to push her off, but Andrew stopped him.

"She'll soon float, and the tide's not running very fast."

They sat in the cockpit to wait, and the noise the current made as it
swirled round her died away. She was not quite afloat, however, and
Whitney was picking up the boathook when a flicker of light shone
through the fog. He raised his hand in warning to Andrew, and both saw
the faint gleam go out.

Then a splashing sound grew louder, and a dim gray object drove toward
them. Whitney knew it was a lugsail boat beating up the Firth, and he
saw that she would pass at a few yards' distance if she stood on. So
far, he did not think they had been seen, for the _Rowan's_ hull was
low, and she had no sail set. While he waited in suspense he heard the
splash of an oar as somebody sounded.

"No' quite a fathom. Doon helm, Jock," said a hoarse voice.

There was a flutter of canvas, and the boat, swinging round, vanished
on the other tack.

"What are we going to do?" Whitney asked.

"Anchor as soon as they're far enough off not to hear our chain."

Andrew sculled the _Rowan_ into the channel, and presently dropped the
anchor. When she brought up, he went below and lighted the lamp.

"They didn't see us, but I won't want to follow them up the Firth," he
explained. "Their boat can cross the flats before we can, and when we
landed they'd all have gone. Besides, it might look suspicious if we
came up soon afterward. I think we'll wait for daylight."

Whitney put the kettle on the stove and lighted his pipe.

"Well," he said, "I guess it's puzzling, but there's certainly
something going on, and it may be something that will mean the loss of
another big liner. I expect you see that it ought to be stopped at
once."

"Yes," said Andrew firmly. "I mean to stop it."

Whitney nodded and thought for a few moments.

"So far," he contended, "we haven't scored much; it looks as if the
opposition were pretty smart. The point you have to answer is
this--suppose they do some serious damage before we can stop them?"

"You mean that in trying to keep the thing in my own hands I take a
dangerous risk?"

"Yes; but I can't tell you what you ought to do. You're awkwardly
fixed."

Andrew leaned back on the locker and grappled with a problem that had
troubled him much of late. He was quietly proud of the Johnstones'
traditions; and the honor of the family, which had long stood high,
was threatened. It was painful to admit that a traitor was making use
of Appleyard; but, had there been no other obstacle, Andrew would not
have hesitated about denouncing him. The trouble was that if he did
so, Elsie must suffer with her guilty relative. To keep silent might
enable the plotter to carry out designs which Andrew with his limited
powers could not thwart, and his duty to the State was obvious.

He did not want to shirk that duty; he was willing to bear any
personal loss, and even bring discredit upon Appleyard, but it did not
seem his duty to involve the girl he loved. Elsie had done no wrong,
but she was Staffer's niece, and that would be enough to condemn her.
Besides, he might be mistaken, and it was unthinkable that he should
bring suspicion upon Appleyard until his last doubts had vanished. If
Staffer were proved guilty, nobody would believe that Mrs. Woodhouse
and Dick were free from blame. And yet Andrew saw that his country
must not be left unprotected from the plots of its enemies.

He set his lips as he tried to balance contending claims, using
arguments on both sides that had led him into a maze before; and each
time he was forced back upon the decision he had already made.
Something must be risked, and in the meanwhile he would follow up his
clues alone; it would be time enough to warn the authorities when he
had found out what was to be feared.

His face was tense as he turned to Whitney.

"I think we'll have to work out this thing in our own way; but as the
tides won't suit for the next few days, we'll take a run north along
the Eskdale road."

"Very well, if you think that's somehow in the plot," Whitney agreed.
"It's possible you're right about the other matter. You'd put the load
on the proper shoulders if you warned your authorities, but if they
didn't get to work very quietly, they'd scare the fellows off before
they found out much. The trail's certainly not plain, but I guess we
can follow it without showing what we're after."

"See if the anchor's holding," said Andrew. "I'm going to lie down."

He lowered his folding cot, but the flood tide had covered the flats,
and the yacht was rolling gently on the swell it brought in before he
went to sleep.

Farther up the narrowing Firth the wind was faint, and Elsie, lying
awake toward high-water, heard the murmur of the sea. It throbbed in a
deep monotone through the stillness that brooded over the fog-wrapped
countryside. Elsie listened to it for a time, wondering what Andrew
was doing as she glanced at the obscurity outside her window, for the
Firth was dangerous to navigate in thick weather. He had promised to
return the next day, and she wanted him back at Appleyard. She felt
safer when Andrew was about. He was not clever, but he was practical,
and one could trust him to do the right thing in a difficulty.

Elsie was glad to remember this, because she had difficulties to
contend with. Dick had been restless and depressed, and his occasional
efforts at rather boisterous gaiety had emphasized his general
moodiness. He was obviously not well; but Elsie thought this did not
account for everything. Then her mother had been quieter than usual,
and her manner seemed to indicate secret anxiety.

Elsie felt that things were going very wrong at Appleyard. Something
mysterious and sinister threatened the household, but she could not
combat the danger, because she did not know what it was. Even now,
when every one was probably asleep, she had an instinctive feeling
that there was mischief on foot. She told herself that she was highly
strung and imaginative, but her uneasiness would not be banished.
Anyway, she could not sleep. Seeing that the fire had not quite gone
out, she got up, finally, and, putting on her slippers and kimono,
lighted a small reading lamp. She drew a thick curtain across the
window, and then opened a book; but she found that her thoughts would
dwell on Andrew, somewhere out in the fog.

With a gesture of impatience, Elsie closed the book and threw it down.
It had not made her sleepy, and the room was getting cold, but she did
not want to go back to bed and lie awake. Sitting still, she mused and
listened. The wind always moaned round Appleyard, and when the nights
were still one could hear the hoarse murmur of the Solway tide. Then
there were the mysterious sounds that occur in old houses: creaking
floors, boards cracking, and now and then the rattle of a door. Elsie
was used to these noises, but for no obvious reason her senses were
alert.

Suddenly she sat upright. Somewhere downstairs a door was being opened
cautiously. Her clock showed that it was just half-past two.



CHAPTER XXI

THE LOST PAPER


The sound of the opening door did not startle Elsie, because of her
curious feeling that something unusual was going to happen. With a
quick glance at the window she decided not to put out the light. The
thick curtain would probably hide it, and, if not, to darken the
window suddenly would show that some one was watching. Then it struck
her that she had not heard a key being turned or a bolt drawn; but the
door fastenings were carefully oiled. Staffer had had this seen to,
after having had difficulty with his latchkey one night.

Elsie was curious and highly strung, but not alarmed, for there were
no burglars in Annandale. Prompted by the suspicions that had filled
her mind lately, she determined to find out who had come in; so,
slipping quietly out of her room, she pulled her door to softly and
walked to the top of the stairs. The cold draught that came up from
the hall showed that the door was open, and she stopped when she had
gone down a few steps. So far, she had not paused to reflect, but she
recognized now that she had not acted altogether on an unreasoning
impulse. Dick and Staffer were at home; but she did not wish to warn
Staffer, and she felt it might be better if Dick did not go down.

Leaning over the banister, she heard a low voice in the darkness and
it gave her a strange, disturbing thrill. She could catch no words,
but the accent reminded her of Munich. Then a ray of light flickered
about the hall, and Elsie shrank back, her heart beating fast, as the
beam ran up the wall. Some one was using an electric torch. She began
to feel that she was in danger; but the light stopped and streamed
back again, leaving her in the shadow. After that it flashed round and
fell upon two men near the door. They had made no noise, and there was
something startling in the way their figures sprang out of the gloom.
Both were dressed in oilskins and rubber sea-boots.

One was Williamson; the other a stranger, who in spite of his dress,
did not look like a fisherman. He had blue eyes and a stiff, red
mustache; but he vanished as the light traveled past him to rest on
the door of the library, which opened out of the hall. Then, though
Elsie heard no sound, she knew the men had gone in. What was more, she
knew that Staffer carried the torch. This was the most disturbing
thing; and she leaned upon the banister while she tried to think.

She had frankly distrusted Williamson, feeling that he threatened
Dick, and she knew now that she had never really trusted Staffer. He
had treated her well; but she imagined this was for her mother's sake;
and instead of affection she felt a curious, half-instinctive
antagonism for him. After all, she had really not been his guest, but
Dick's; Appleyard, which she had come to love, belonged to the
Johnstones and not to her uncle. She felt that its peace was
threatened; and she determined to find out what the men were doing.

Moving noiselessly, she crept down to the hall, and as she reached it
a faint but steady light streamed out of the library door. This was
not the torch; Staffer had lighted one of the lamps. For a few moments
she stopped and hesitated, trying to master her fears. She knew that
she must not be discovered; though it was not Williamson but her uncle
she dreaded most. This, however, was not all of her trouble: the
stranger's accent had awakened a flood of disturbing memories. She had
been kindly treated in Munich, where she had learned her mother's
native tongue, and the sound of it had stirred strong, deep-rooted
feelings. The man with the red mustache had a look of command, in
spite of his rough clothes. She knew the stamp, for she had seen it on
officers whose wives had, for a time, been her friends. Some were men
she had admired; but now they were her country's enemies.

That was the trouble: one could not belong to two nations, and she was
Scotch. Appleyard was her home, and Dick and Andrew, although not her
kin, were dearer than any one except her mother; yet her mother's
blood was in her veins, and she felt it stirring now. But this must
not be allowed. She was her father's daughter, too, and belonged by
adoption to the Johnstones. She had accepted their traditions, and now
she must side with the men she loved; she felt that they were hers.

Having reached this decision, she realized that she must find a
hiding-place from which she could see into the library. She crept
across the hall, feeling her way to a tall, old clock that stood
against the wall. Its oak case did not project far, but by standing
straight behind it she would be in the gloom, and the half-opened
hall-door would help to conceal her.

Leaning forward from the corner, she found her view commanded the end
of the library table, where Staffer sat beside a shaded lamp, with
some documents spread out in front of him. The men bent over the
table, examining the papers with eager attention.

For a few moments no one spoke, and then the stranger with the red
mustache said something which Elsie did not catch.

"Yes," Staffer returned gruffly, "Rankine is an obstacle, but he
doesn't interfere with my part of the business."

Elsie could not hear what followed; but Williamson and the stranger
spoke in quiet, earnest tones that suggested that what they had to say
was important. Being accustomed to Staffer's voice, she could more
easily catch his remarks. Presently he stopped the stranger with an
impatient movement of his hand.

"No; you must get into the habit of calling him Sanders!"

The man's face was hidden, but Elsie thought his pose stiffened as if
he resented Staffer's tone. This seemed to indicate that he was a man
of rank, which something in his bearing had already hinted.

"Well," he said in English, speaking a trifle louder, "if he is
watched, as he suspects, you may have some trouble in getting his
instructions. To visit him in Edinburgh might lead--"

Elsie could not hear the rest, but she could see Staffer's smile as he
answered:

"We have a suitable messenger." He turned to Williamson. "Nobody would
suspect Dick, and he'd be safe, because he'd have no idea of what he
was doing. He's going up with me in the car to-morrow."

"I'm not sure--" Williamson began; but they had gradually ceased to
lower their voices, and Staffer stopped him with a warning sign.

Elsie caught her breath as Staffer suddenly turned in his chair; but
he was only looking for a map which was buried beneath the other
papers. When he opened it, he spoke quietly, and the others listened
with close attention. At first Elsie could not catch a word; but as
their caution lessened with their intense interest, an occasional word
or phrase reached her.

". . . submarine . . . coast of . . . this line marks . . ."

Staffer's voice dropped to a murmur again; until finally he folded the
papers and handed them to the stranger.

"Now it's up to you," he said, quite distinctly. "You know what will
happen to you if you fail!"

Elsie crouched back as the men straightened up. She knew the interview
was over, but she did not dare risk crossing the hall to the
staircase. A clink of glass reached her; and then she stood straight
against the wall, pressed close against the old clock, for she knew
the men were coming out.

Williamson entered the hall first, and as he pushed the door back the
light touched the clock. Its tall case was shallow, and when
Williamson turned partly round Elsie's heart beat fast. He went on,
however, and the stranger followed, putting the papers Staffer had
given him into a pocket under his oilskin coat. He wore thick woolen
gloves, but perhaps his hands were cold, for an envelope dropped out
at the bottom of the oilskin. It fell a foot or two from where Elsie
stood, and she thought she could not escape discovery if he stooped
to pick it up; but the next moment the library went suddenly dark. The
man passed on, and Staffer flashed on the electric torch as he came
out, but its light did not fall near the corner. He extinguished it
when the men reached the house door, and Elsie stood very still with
tingling nerves.

She had escaped, but the envelope lay on the floor, and she felt that
Appleyard was threatened by some plot in which Dick was to be
involved. Both must be protected; she must get the paper. Its loss
would no doubt embarrass the conspirators, and would probably not be
discovered for some time, but she must be quick. Their footsteps were
almost noiseless, but she heard them go down the steps. Stooping
swiftly, she drew her hand across the floor, found the envelope and
thrust it inside her kimono. Then she darted across to the stairs, and
when she reached the landing she stopped to listen. It was possible
that the stranger might feel if he had all the papers before he left.

No sound reached her, and she breathed a sigh of relief; but she
forgot that the others had moved silently, and a flash of light swept
up the stairs and struck her face. She was dazzled and alarmed; but
with an effort she kept her self-control. It would be dangerous to be
seen trying to steal away, but if she remained, looking down over the
banisters, her presence might be accounted for.

"Who's there?" she asked in a sharp voice.

For a moment or two the light rested on her face, and she was glad to
remember that she would not be expected to look composed.

Staffer laughed as he turned the beam on Williamson.

"Our friend and I," he answered. "I'm sorry we startled you. Perhaps
I'd better get a candle."

He looked cool. That was comforting, for it suggested that he did not
know she had been in the hall; but she thought it wiser to wait a
minute. Staffer struck a match; then he put out the torch and gave the
lighted candle to Williamson.

"If you don't want supper, we may as well go upstairs. The room you
generally use is ready."

Elsie imagined that Williamson had not meant to stay, but he came up
in front of Staffer, carrying the candle. She noted that he wore
rubber knee-boots and that Staffer had only his stockings on his feet.
When they reached the landing, Williamson looked rather keenly at her,
but his face was inscrutable. She could not be sure that he had not
seen her behind the clock; and Staffer's attitude might be intended to
hide some plan for her embarrassment. But she must keep cool.

"I think we could find Mr. Williamson some cold meat if he is hungry,"
she said.

"He'd rather have sleep," Staffer answered. "He meant to stay at
Langholm, so as to get home early to-morrow; but you can never rely on
a motorcycle." He turned to Williamson. "How far did you have to walk
when it broke down?"

"Four or five miles, after I'd spent some time trying to put it
right," Williamson answered, and made his excuses for disturbing them;
but Elsie thought he was taking Staffer's cue, and she knew that they
were both watching her. For all that, she smiled as she replied with
conventional politeness.

"Well," resumed Staffer, "it's getting cold, and I'll look after
Williamson. If you hear a door open another time, you'd better call me
instead of going down." He paused a moment, and there was a slight
change in his tone. "We know your pluck, but I can't allow you to run
a risk."

Elsie turned away with keen relief, and on reaching her room she
locked the door before she took out the envelope. The name
_Thorkelsen_ was written across it. That suggested a Norwegian or a
Dane, and was not what she had expected, but she sat for a time with
the envelope in her hand. She had no doubt that it contained some
dangerous secret. A plausible excuse had been made for Williamson's
visit; but she had noticed his clothes, and deck-boots, which were not
what one generally wore when motor-cycling. Then, why had the man in
oilskins come to Appleyard when he might have expected every one to be
asleep? It looked as if her uncle had a part, and a leading part, in
some plot in which Williamson was engaged; but she could not reason
the matter out. Now that the strain had gone, she suddenly felt limp.

With an effort she roused herself and threw the envelope into the
fire. She could not betray her uncle, to whom she owed much; but he
should not lead Dick into trouble, and Appleyard must not be used by
her country's enemies. The situation, however, was embarrassing, and
she felt that she could not ask Andrew's help. She longed to do so,
because she instinctively turned to him when she was in a difficulty,
and he had never failed her. But it was impossible now. She must wait
and trust to finding some way of baffling the conspirators without
staining the family honor.

At last she went to bed, and presently fell asleep; but she got up
early in the morning and found Dick outside, watching Watson clean the
car.

"Are you going to Edinburgh to-day?" she asked, as they turned back to
the house.

"Yes," said Dick. "A bit of a change is bracing."

"But Andrew and Mr. Whitney are coming back."

"I suppose that means you don't want me to go; can't trust me up in
town?" Dick said lightly.

"It isn't that." Elsie hesitated. "I imagine they want to make some
use of you."

Dick gave her a curious glance.

"I suppose you mean Williamson does?"

"No," said Elsie, with a touch of color in her face; "I mean both."

"Ah!" Dick looked at her keenly for a moment. "You're generally frank,
Elsie; open as the sunshine, in fact; and I'm not clever at hiding
what I think. Suppose you tell me what you really do mean?"

"I can't, Dick; but I want you to be careful in Edinburgh, for my
sake."

"Very well. I'll promise that; and I think I can manage not to let
others see I've had a hint. It's a funny thing, but although I am a
bit of a fool, I really have more sense than people imagine."

Elsie was puzzled by his manner. The hardness in his tone was not like
Dick; but she let the matter drop.

"Who is Rankine? Do you know him?" she asked.

"Yes; he's a friend of Whitney's people, a navy officer. Struck me as
a remarkably good type."

"Where is he now?"

"I don't know. Somewhere between here and Ireland, surveying for
charts."

"Perhaps Mr. Whitney will bring him to Appleyard when his ship's in
port."

"I'll ask him to, if you like. But I don't know you as a plotter.
What's the scheme?"

"I can't tell you," Elsie answered with a careless smile. "You'll have
to trust me, Dick."

"That's easy," he said in a different tone. "Anybody who knew you well
would trust you with his life."

Elsie gave him a quick, affectionate glance, and they went into the
house.



CHAPTER XXII

STAFFER'S MESSENGER


Dick spent several exhilarating days in Edinburgh, although on the
whole he conducted himself with a sobriety that surprised his
companions, who were thus encouraged to leave him alone.

As they were getting breakfast on the morning they left Edinburgh,
Staffer said to Dick:

"We must start back as soon as we can, but there's an adjustment to be
made on the car that may keep me half an hour at the garage. I don't
suppose you'll mind doing an errand for me in the meantime?"

"Certainly not," said Dick.

"Then you might go to the Caledonian Hotel and see a man called
Sanders. I'll give you his room number, so you needn't bother them at
the office. Go straight up in the elevator and ask if he has any
message for me; then you can come back to the garage, where we'll be
waiting."

"He doesn't know me, but perhaps that won't matter?"

"I don't suppose so; the thing's not important," Staffer answered
carelessly. "However, since you mention it, if he should hesitate, you
can show him this."

He gave Dick a handsome silver cigarette-case, engraved with a rather
unusual pattern round the crest.

"Be back in half an hour," he said.

It was a fine morning with bright sunshine and a keen east wind, and
Dick walked along carelessly, looking at the shops. At one he bought
some gloves for Mrs. Woodhouse, and at another some delicate, quilled
chrysanthemums caught his eye. He bought a larger bunch than he could
conveniently hold, imagining that they might please Elsie, and farther
on he purchased an enameled locket.

With a box of gloves sticking awkwardly out of his pocket, and a
wrapped-up jewel case dangling by a loop from a finger of the hand
with which he clutched the great bunch of chrysanthemums, Dick entered
the hotel. None of the pages or porters asked him what he wanted when
he strode through the entrance hall; for his twinkling smile and easy
manner banished suspicion. There were very few people who ever
distrusted Dick. Staffer had chosen his messenger well.

Dick found Sanders reading a letter in his room, and thought the
fellow had been surprised when he entered unannounced. The paper in
his hand was crumpled, as if he had meant to put it out of sight, but
he turned to Dick with a quiet movement. His face was expressionless,
but his glance was very keen.

"Perhaps I ought to apologize for breaking in on you like this," Dick
said.

"It's not quite usual," Sanders replied. "The general custom is to
send in a card."

"Well, I was told to go straight up; and as I was thinking of
something else, I'm afraid I forgot to knock."

"I'm afraid you did," returned Sanders. "Who told you to come up?"

"Staffer. I understand you have a message for him. We're just starting
home."

"Ah!" Sanders' voice was quiet, but Dick imagined that he felt some
surprise. "You will excuse my remarking that, as a rule, one likes to
know something about a messenger."

"Of course; I forgot." Dick took out the cigarette-case. "Staffer is
my step-father, and he said you'd know this."

"Then you're Mr. Johnstone of Appleyard?"

Dick nodded and felt that he was being quietly studied. It was obvious
that Sanders knew something about him.

"How long have you been in Edinburgh?" he asked, and looked thoughtful
when Dick told him.

"Well, I have no message for Mr. Staffer. As a matter of fact, I was
expecting some news from him, and have not received it. You might tell
him so."

"I see; you can't reply to a message you didn't get. But I'll send him
round when I reach the garage, if you like--and there's the
telephone."

"You seem to understand the situation," Sanders smiled. "I won't
trouble Mr. Staffer, as it is not important. Will you come down and
smoke a cigarette?"

"No, thanks. Staffer's waiting," Dick said.

Sanders picked up the cigarette-case, which he had left on the table.

"This is Mr. Staffer's, and perhaps you had better return it as soon
as you see him. The thing is valuable."

Dick left the hotel, but took out the case and examined it as he
walked back up the street. It was heavily gilded inside, and he
thought the engraving round the small gold crest remarkably good. The
case was beautifully made, and must have been expensive; but he
suspected that this did not altogether account for Sanders' warning
him to take care of it. Dick's face grew thoughtful as he remembered
the crumpled letter, which the man had not had time to thrust into his
pocket. Then, it was strange that he had been unwilling to use the
telephone; and, when one came to think of it, Staffer could have
avoided some delay by ringing him up. Moreover, Elsie had told him
that he might be made use of in Edinburgh.

As he remembered this, Dick smiled. After all, he was not so simple as
he looked, and people who misunderstood his character sometimes
suffered for their mistake. His mind was occupied as he went on to the
garage, where he found the car waiting at the door with Williamson
inside. They had not brought Watson, and when Dick appeared Staffer
started the engine.

"I suppose you saw Sanders," he said carelessly.

"Yes," replied Dick. "Hope I haven't kept you; I wasn't with him
long."

"Jump up," Staffer said, as he threw in the clutch, and the big car
rolled away down the street.

The traffic was thick when they crossed the railway bridge, and
Staffer was forced to drive cautiously; and when they ran between tall
houses along the narrow highway out of the town, there seemed to be an
unusual number of carts about and tramcars on the line. It was not
until they were speeding past the last of the small villas on the
outskirts that Staffer could relax his watchfulness, and then he did
not speak to Dick. Staffer and Sanders had given him to understand
that the message was of no importance, and Dick knew that Staffer
would accordingly show no haste to ask about it.

They ran under a lofty railway viaduct and through a colliery village;
then the road led upward across open country toward a high, blue ridge
that rose between them and the south. As the car sped on, the careful
cultivation that marks the Lothian levels became less evident. There
were fewer broad belts of stubble, and the dark-green turnip fields
were left behind; no copses and patches of woodland lined the winding
road. Rushy pastures rolled away from it, the hedgerows were made of
ragged, wind-stunted thorns, which presently gave place to dry stone
dykes. Round hilltops began to rise above the high table-land where
the white bent-grass grew, and a keen wind from the North Sea stung
their faces as they climbed the last ascent. Here Dick's eyes swept
the landscape.

The Forth had dwindled to a thin, glittering streak, Edinburgh was
hidden by a haze of smoke, and the Craigs and Arthur's seat were
fading into the background of the highland hills. Ahead, across the
divide, a long, gently sloping hollow opened up where Gala Water wound
among the fields and woods. The road, however, ran straight along the
hillside, which gradually rose above it, while the valley melted
through deepening shades of gray into a gulf of blue shadow. As the
car rushed down the incline a faint white line was drawn across the
distance, and Dick, glancing at his watch, imagined it was an
Edinburgh express.

Then Staffer turned to him.

"By the way, what about the message Sanders gave you?"

"Oh," said Dick, "he didn't give it to me."

Staffer looked round as far as he was able, but dared not neglect his
driving, and so missed Dick's grin.

"But you saw him!" he exclaimed.

"Oh, yes; but he had nothing to say. He didn't know what you wanted,
because he hadn't heard from you. Anyway, that's what I understood."

The car had swung toward the edge of the road, and Staffer was
occupied by the wheel for the next few moments, but Dick imagined that
he and Williamson exchanged glances.

"Can you remember his exact remarks?" Staffer asked when he could turn
again.

"I'm afraid not. Still, I think he expected you to send him something
that hadn't come."

Staffer said nothing more, but Williamson put his hand into his
pocket, and took out what appeared to be a time-table. A thin spire
with a few white houses below it now stood out from the hillside two
or three miles away, but Dick thought Williamson would not get out
there. It would look significant after hearing his report, and he
could get a train to Edinburgh farther on. Staffer said something that
Dick could not hear, and the car raced through the village without
slackening speed.

For a time the road ran southward beside the sparkling stream, and
then wound round wide curves where woods rolled down the hollows of
the hills, until, as they turned a corner, Galashield's factory
chimneys rose about the waterside, and a haze of smoke floated across
the valley. Staffer reduced speed as they ran in among the houses, and
drove very slowly when they reached a sharp bend near the station.

"I want some oil," he said. "We'll stop here and get a tin."

He pulled up in front of a big red hotel, and they went into the
smoking-room.

Williamson walked over to the fire.

"It's a cold day for driving, and I don't think I'll go any farther,"
he remarked. "I want a few things that I can buy in the town, and I'll
go on by the afternoon train."

"As you like," said Staffer. "Your place is off our way."

When Williamson left them, Dick turned to Staffer.

"I wonder if you would lend me a pound or two?" he asked.

"I might take the risk; but why do you want it?"

"Well," Dick said apologetically, "it's difficult to bring much money
back when you go to Edinburgh; and if you don't mind I'll stop here.
If Andrew and Whitney aren't in the neighborhood, I'll come on by
train, but I expect to find them at Melrose or Abbotsford. You see, I
felt rather shabby about leaving on the day they were coming home."

Staffer did not object, but Dick thought his compliance was accounted
for by the whistle of a stopping train that was then starting for
Edinburgh.

"Andrew has eccentric tastes, but, allowing for that, it's hard to see
what satisfaction he and his American friend can get from cruising
about the Galloway coast in winter," Staffer said.

"They're fond of a shot at the black geese."

"They can get snipe and partridges at Appleyard without much trouble."

"They can," Dick agreed, smiling; "that partly accounts for it. If
you knew Andrew as I do, you'd understand why he prefers the geese.
Anything he can get easily, doesn't appeal to him. No doubt, it's a
matter of temperament, but I imagine he goes punting after geese
because it's a remarkably good way of getting cold and wet."

"Then it's only the shooting that takes him along the coast."

"Of course. I can't think of anything else. Can you?"

"No," Staffer said with a quick laugh. "But I'll admit that I don't
understand your cousin's type of character."

They left the hotel soon afterward, but Dick's face grew thoughtful
when Staffer drove off in the car. He had known for some time that
Williamson derived an advantage from exploiting his extravagance, but
he had not minded this. Of late, however, Williamson had left him
alone, but Dick did not think this was because Staffer had interfered
on his behalf. He had admired and trusted his step-father, who had
always treated him indulgently; and he now retained some liking for
him, though he was beginning to know him better.

Leaving the town he took the road to Abbotsford lost in gloomy
thought; but presently he braced himself to ponder the line he ought
now to take. After all, he was the heir to Appleyard, and although he
had recklessly ignored his responsibilities, he loved the old house.
Now, all was not well there: something mysterious was going on. Dick
held Williamson mainly accountable for this, but it looked as if
Staffer had a part in the plot. This complicated things, because
Staffer was his step-father and Elsie's uncle, and Dick cherished the
honor of his house.

He looked up as he heard the hoot of a motor horn, and his tense face
relaxed into a smile. Andrew, in the side-car of Whitney's bicycle,
waved his hand and Dick's troubles began to vanish. One could rely on
Andrew, who, after all, was a much better Johnstone than himself.
Somehow, Andrew would stand between them and whatever threatened the
honor of Appleyard.



CHAPTER XXIII

AN EVENING AT APPLEYARD


Rankine had got a few days' leave and was spending it at Appleyard. He
sat beside Elsie in a corner of the billiard-room, where the party had
gathered after dinner. He had arrived during the afternoon, and Andrew
was not altogether pleased to see him, although he liked the man.
Elsie had suggested that Dick should invite him, and had added that he
might as well come when Madge Whitney was there. Since Elsie had not
seen Rankine until he arrived, Andrew wondered what she meant; but he
admitted that she generally had a reason for what she did.

Nobody had been playing billiards or wanted to begin. Elsie and Mrs.
Woodhouse were knitting and the others were talking quietly, while
they waited for the evening newspaper.

Presently Staffer made a remark about the Navy, and Madge Whitney
looked at Rankine with a smile.

"Don't you feel that you must answer that?"

"I don't know that I can," Rankine answered good-naturedly. "To some
extent, Mr. Staffer's right. The Navy certainly occupies the
background of the stage, just now."

"It strikes me as being out of sight altogether," Staffer said.

"Well, perhaps that's its proper place. But I expect it will emerge
from obscurity when it's wanted."

"We must hope so," Staffer returned. "No doubt, your commanders are
waiting for the right moment to make a dramatic entry on the scene;
but one imagines that ambitious young officers must find being kept in
the background rather galling."

Andrew caught Whitney's glance and understood it as a warning not to
speak. It had been blowing hard for the past week and he thought of
the great battleships rolling until it was scarcely possible to keep a
footing on their stripped decks, while anxious men slept beside the
guns and bitter seas foamed across the ponderous, low-sided hulls. It
would be worse on the swift destroyers, driving, half submerged,
through the gale and trembling when the combers struck them, until
their thin steel skin and beams racked and bent with the strain. No
man could really keep a lookout in the blinding clouds of spray, and
their decks would be swept from end to end with icy water. Rankine
knew this, but he smiled tranquilly as he turned to Staffer.

"Oh, I don't think they mind--so long as they feel they're useful!"

"Is that what you feel?"

"Something of the kind. Surveying's not the work one would prefer,
just now, but it's necessary. The banks and channels shift and our
commerce must go on."

"There have been interruptions," Staffer said dryly.

Andrew felt puzzled. Staffer's manners were generally good; but now,
while there was nothing offensive in his tone, he had gone farther
than was altogether tactful. It looked as if he wanted to sting the
young navy officer into an indignant protest, though Andrew could not
see what he expected to gain. Rankine, however, agreed with Staffer.

"That's so; and it's possible we may hear of another interruption or
two. Our men will do their best; but, while our cruisers are pretty
active, they can't be everywhere at once."

The newspaper was brought in and Staffer handed it to Dick.

"You can read it to us. I can't see very well where I am."

Dick took the thin sheet.

"Nothing of importance on the western front; a trench or two carried,
another lost."

He stopped with an exclamation, and the others leaned forward eagerly.

"What is it, Dick?" Elsie asked in a hushed voice.

"They've sunk another ship in the North Channel--a wheat ship from
Canada!"

"Read it!" Andrew said tensely.

Dick gave a quick look at Staffer before beginning; but Staffer at
that instant was lighting a cigar, so his face was masked.

      "A telegram from Londonderry reports that the British
      cargo steamer _Meridian_ with grain from Canada was
      beached in a sinking state near Greencastle last
      night. Full particulars have not yet been received,
      but a violent shock was felt when the vessel was off
      Malin Head and soon afterward she began to settle
      down. The water rose rapidly in two of her holds, but
      the bulkheads stood the strain and the captain was
      able to reach the mouth of Lough Foyle. Whether she
      struck a mine or was torpedoed is not at present
      known, but some light is thrown on the subject by the
      crew of the _Concord's_ experience. The latter, a
      steamer of 6,000 tons, bound from Montreal to Glasgow,
      passed Tory Island yesterday, steering east. A high,
      confused sea was running, and it was getting dark when
      she was abreast of Portrush, where the lookout forward
      reported a submarine.

      "The captain immediately altered his course, and the
      vessel, which was rolling wildly, listed over as she
      obeyed her helm. The lookout, running across the
      forecastle, after he hailed the bridge, as if to see
      the submarine better, was thrown down the ladder and
      picked up, unconscious, on the iron deck. The captain
      steamed out to sea and returned an hour or two
      afterward nearer the Kintyre side. The injured seaman
      had not recovered consciousness when he was landed in
      the Clyde."

There was silence for a few moments when Dick put down the newspaper.
Andrew's face was hard, for Rankine had given him a meaning glance;
Elsie was very quiet, but she was lightly flushed.

"I suppose it wouldn't be difficult to recognize a submarine?" she
asked presently.

"No," said Rankine; "not if it were at the surface. One might,
however, mistake a spar or batten, floating upright, for a periscope."

No one followed up his explanation, but the party seemed to find the
pause trying.

"They burn gasolene, don't they?" Madge asked.

"Either that or oil when they're running on the surface. The engines
are driven by electricity when they're submerged."

"Can they carry much gasolene?"

"Not very much," Rankine answered, guardedly.

"Can they carry enough to take them from Germany and back?" Madge
persisted.

"I believe some can do so; but they wouldn't have much to spare, and
they'd run a serious risk if they remained any time as far away from
their base as the North Channel."

"You must see that the point's important," said Elsie.

"Its importance is obvious," Rankine agreed.

"If the boat couldn't carry enough fuel, she'd have to get some while
she was out on a trip?"

There was another long pause and then Mrs. Woodhouse spoke.

"You must mean somewhere in Scotland," she said.

"Disagreeable conclusion, isn't it? But we don't know yet that it was
a submarine," Rankine answered.

"But suppose there _should_ be an enemy submarine in the North Channel
that hadn't much fuel left, how could she renew her supply?" Staffer
asked.

Rankine seemed unwilling to talk about the subject, but he smiled.

"Oh," he said, "it's hard to tell. One could form plausible theories,
but they'd probably be wrong. Perhaps we'd better leave the matter to
the people whose business it is."

He began to talk about something else, and the curious tension that
all had felt gradually slackened. Soon afterward, a servant announced
that Mackellar had arrived. Staffer had been expecting him, and when
he left the room Madge and Dick went to the drawing-room with Elsie
and Mrs. Woodhouse, and Rankine found himself alone with Andrew and
Whitney.

"Have you made any progress with your investigations?" he asked.

"No," Andrew answered quietly; "nothing very marked."

"And you are still resolved to keep them in your own hands, after the
news we got to-night?"

"Do you know that the loss of the cargo boat has any connection with
the matter?"

"No; but it looks suspicious," Rankine answered, with a touch of
grimness. "If I did know, my course would be clear."

"So would mine," said Andrew. "We found some matches and a candle on
board the wreck, and followed a man across Criffell to the beach
abreast of her--or rather we followed his tracks. Then we saw another
fellow on the sands at night; but that's all I have to tell."

"Could you see either of the men clearly?"

"No. I didn't see the first at all; and the other was some distance
off, and a thick fog was coming on."

"That means it was impossible for you to recognize him."

"Quite," Andrew said firmly. "Besides, I didn't expect to recognize
him; there was nothing to indicate it was anybody I'd ever met. Have
you learned anything?"

Rankine smiled.

"I've examined the wreck and dug up the sand, besides watching the
flats for several nights. The place might be used for a wireless
installation, but, lying in a hollow, with hills on both sides, it's
not particularly suitable." He paused and looked at Andrew. "That had
some influence with me."

Andrew thought Rankine meant that if he felt certain that messages
were sent from the wreck, he would have brought some pressure to bear
on him.

"How did you get there?" he asked.

"We ran in behind Ross Island when it was too rough for surveying, and
afterward brought up near Abbey Head. You get some shelter there so
long as the wind's not south."

"But it's a long way from Abbey Head to the wreck," Whitney
interposed.

"I shipped a steam launch at Belfast."

"And went to the wreck and back at night? Wasn't it blowing hard?"

"Hard enough," smiled Rankine. "We had some trouble to keep the fire
from being swamped, but she's a powerful boat and has a good big pump.
Then we traveled most of the distance shortly before and after
low-water, when the sea was not so bad; but I'll confess that I
couldn't have found my way among the shoals except for Mr. Johnstone's
directions. We made three trips and got back before daylight without
noting anything suspicious."

They looked at him in surprise. A steam launch voyage along that
dangerous coast on a wild winter night was a bold undertaking,
particularly when one must cross surf-swept sands with only a few feet
of water under the boat. And Rankine had safely accomplished it
thrice.

"What about the digging?" Whitney asked. "Mightn't it alarm our man?"

"The surf would level the sand in a tide," Andrew said; and turned to
Rankine. "What do you think of doing now?"

"I don't know, but I'm afraid I can't stay here as long as I expected.
The steamer's in Loch Ryan. We went in to make some repairs after a
hammering we got. Now, perhaps we had better join the others."

Andrew left them in the drawing-room and found Mackellar alone in the
library.

"I'll have finished with these in a few minutes," he remarked,
indicating the papers before him. "Mr. Staffer's accounts don't give
much trouble. He's a man o' parts."

"Yes," agreed Andrew; "the estate is managed well."

"We must give him all the credit he deserves, but there's another
matter I'm anxious about. We have not got to the bottom o' your
cousin's debts."

Andrew frowned.

"Do you mean that Williamson has got hold of him again?"

"No; I'm thinking he's out of the game, and the borrowed money's none
o' his. But Dick has incurred some fresh liabilities. Here's a bit
statement; ye can study it."

Andrew felt disturbed, but he waited until Mackellar put the papers
into his pocket.

"I can't see how Dick has spent so much money; but how did he get it?"

"On notes that will mature when he's twenty-one. I found the man who
cashed them, but he parted with the paper, and I canno' tell who holds
it now."

"I've no doubt you tried to find out."

Mackellar's eyes twinkled.

"Ye may take that for granted. If there had been a weak spot in the
man's affairs, I'd have made him tell."

There was silence for a minute. Andrew suspected that it was Staffer;
but he did not think it was time to speak, and he knew that Mackellar
would take him into his confidence when he saw fit.

"The fellow who really made the loan has some courage," he said
presently.

"I'm thinking he kens the Johnstone character. Dick would no' disown
his debts on the ground that he was under age; nor would ye, if your
cousin died before he inherited."

"No," said Andrew. "Dick's debts must be met; but I would pay what he
borrowed with reasonable interest, and nothing more."

"Ye're a true Johnstone," Mackellar remarked, with dry approval. "My
opinion is that the lender's no' expecting ye to inherit."

"Well, it's most unlikely, and I'm glad it is so. I suppose you have
nothing more to say, but you'll tell me when I can help."

"I will," Mackellar promised.

Andrew did not feel inclined to join the others. He strolled into the
hall, and found Elsie sitting in a corner with her knitting.

"I stole away to finish this belt," she said. "It's the last of a
dozen I promised to let the committee have to-morrow."

"You keep your promises," Andrew replied. "It must be a comfort to
feel you're useful, because somebody in the snow and mud will be glad
of that warm belt. I begin to wish I'd been taught to knit."

Elsie gave him a sympathetic glance, for there was a hint of
bitterness in his tone.

"What is troubling you to-night, Andrew?" she asked gently.

"It is rather hard to explain; a general sense of futility, I think,"
he answered with a smile. "Did you ever feel that you had come up
against a dead wall that you could neither break through nor get
over?"

"Yes; I know the feeling well. There is so much that ought to be done
and it seems impossible. But what did you want to do?"

Andrew stood beside the hearth, silently watching her for a minute.
Her face was quiet but faintly troubled, and although she was looking
at the fire and not her knitting, the needles flashed steadily through
the wool. Elsie had beautiful hands, but they were capable and strong,
and it was not often that she allowed her feelings to interfere with
her work.

"To tell what you meant to do and couldn't sounds pretty weak, but I
had two objects when I came home," he said. "I wanted to help Dick and
keep him out of trouble; but the proper kind of help needs tact, and I
haven't much. Besides, there's something peculiarly elusive about
Dick; you think you have him, so to speak, in a corner, and the next
moment he slips away from you. Sometimes I suspect he's a good deal
more clever than we imagine."

Elsie nodded.

"Yes; I know what you mean. But you're a very good friend of his and
it wouldn't be like you to give him up."

"I don't mean to give him up; but just now it looks as if I could get
no farther. That's the trouble."

"You mean part of it," said Elsie quietly. "What was your other
object?"

Andrew hesitated.

"It was rather vague, but I thought I might somehow be useful--to the
country. I'm lame and can't enlist; I can't give much money; but I
might, perhaps, help to watch the coast. Then there was the Eskdale
road. You know my hobby."

Elsie stopped her knitting and gave him a steady look.

"And after a time, you thought you saw a way to be of use. You found
out something?"

"Yes," he said in a disturbed voice. "Still, it looked as if I
couldn't go on with the thing. Some of the clues broke off and those I
tried to follow led me into difficulties. You can't act on faint
suspicion: it might lead to unnecessary complications."

"One must take a risk now and then," Elsie answered. "I mean, do one's
duty and face the consequences."

Andrew did not reply and she picked up her knitting.

"Well, peace must come, sometime," she said. "Have you thought what
you will do then?"

"Yes; if I could see Dick starting well as the owner of Appleyard,
and, better still, safely married, I'd go away again."

"What do you mean by 'safely married'?"

"I think you know. He's such a good sort, and a girl who understood
him and was patient with his failings would soon help him to get rid
of them. She'd make the most of his good points, and Dick has
talents--"

"Are there girls like that?"

"Yes," said Andrew, firmly; "I am quite sure that I know one."

Elsie gave him a curious glance.

"But you're only thinking of Dick. What about yourself?"

"Oh," he said with a brave effort to be cheerful, "I don't count for
much. I've no money and no particular ability beyond being able to
sail a boat. Still, I have the sea and I'm fond of wandering. It's a
pretty good old world, after all, and if you keep an open mind, you
make friends wherever you go."

"But it must hurt to leave the old ones."

"Yes," he agreed with a hint of strain; "it hurts very much. But you
never leave them altogether. Things change, of course, but you can
come back if you are wanted."

He left her rather abruptly, and Elsie dropped her work and sat
looking into the fire, a curious, gentle smile on her face. Andrew was
true to the core; he would never seek his own advantage when it
conflicted with his loyalty to his friends. Now he was willing to
sacrifice himself for Dick; though perhaps his poverty influenced him,
too. Still, he should see--Elsie resolutely picked up her knitting.
She must not indulge in disturbing thoughts like these--and the belts
must be finished. Shivering men, worn with stern fighting in Flanders,
needed them.



CHAPTER XXIV

THE BUOYED CHANNEL


A bitter east wind was blowing through light mist, though the moon was
in the sky, when Andrew came out of a little shop in a lonely village
near the Galloway coast. He carried a basket of provisions and wore a
thick jersey and oilskins, but he shivered as he looked down the
street. It was empty, and dark except for a faint yellow glow here and
there in the windows of the small, white houses that rose abruptly
from the rough pavement.

"Dick's a long time in getting the eggs," he said to Whitney.

"That's so; we've been 'most half an hour buying the few things you
wanted. He's probably talking to somebody. Making friends with
strangers is a way he has, particularly when he knows we're waiting."

"I could suggest another explanation," Andrew replied.

He looked round at a clatter of heavy boots and saw two dark figures
against a square of light. Then a door was shut and Dick came up with
a man who wore an oilskin cap and jersey. Dick was awkwardly holding a
big paper bag.

"It's no' a good night," said the seaman. "I wouldna' say but we might
have a shift o' wind before long. They're telling me ye have brought
up in the west bay."

"For the night," said Andrew. "It's an exposed place."

"It's a' that. If the wind comes from the south'ard, it will take good
ground-tackle to hold ye."

"What about the burnfoot gutter?"

"It's snug enough, but ye might have to stop a week. Ye canna' beat
oot when there's any sea running on the sands."

"Are there any geese about?"

"Weel, I did see two or three bernicle, a week ago; but if it's
shooting ye want, ye'll have to gang doon west. The geese have moved
on, but I hear the duck are throng on the flats roon Deefoot, behind
the Ross."

Andrew said nothing. He had picked up Dick at Kirkcudbright on the
Dee, but had not seen a duck about the river mouth. It seemed that the
man had learned that they came from the head of Solway, but did not
know they were then returning from the west. He left them at the end
of the village and Andrew then asked Dick what had kept him.

"The eggs," Dick grinned. "Jim insisted on them and I didn't want to
disappoint him, though they're scarce just now. I should advise him to
take them before they smash; I'm not clever at carrying eggs in a
paper bag."

"Where did you get them?" Whitney asked as he took the bag.

"Where do you think? When you're in doubt in a Scotch clachan, it's
safe to try the change-house."

"I suppose that means the saloon," said Whitney. "Well, I suspected
something of the kind."

Leaving the road outside the village, they struck across some wet
fields and came to a marsh, through which a muddy creek wound
crookedly. After jumping deep drains and floundering through rushes,
they reached a steep bank of gravel, with a cut where the creek made
its way to the sea. A mooring buoy floated in the channel; and across
the channel lay a waste of sand, dotted with shallow pools. This ran
seaward until it was lost in the haze.

An old shooting punt that Andrew had repaired lay upon the gravel and
they dragged her down. As she was larger than usual and the big gun
had been unshipped for the voyage, she would carry them all; though
her shallow hull was deep in the water and the yacht some distance
off. They had brought their ordinary shoulder guns on the chance of
getting a shot at geese or duck. The village was about a mile away,
and the spot looked strangely desolate; although a raised causeway,
lined by stunted thorns, that ran back into the mist, seemed to
suggest that a road came down to the sands across the creek.

Andrew took the long paddle when they pushed off, and the tide carried
them away between muddy banks veined with tiny rivulets of water. In
coming, soon after high tide, they had crossed the sands, following
the line of beach, but now they must head seaward until they could
round the end of the projecting shoal. Soon the banks got lower and
the riband of water widened; and then a tall upright branch rose ahead
of them.

"That perch is new since I was here last," Andrew remarked. "Who was
the fellow you were talking to, Dick?"

"I don't know. He told me he had a boat at the burnfoot, but the
fishing wasn't good."

They drifted on until a strong ripple broke the surface ahead. A small
black object tossed in the disturbed patch.

"What's that?" asked Whitney. "Looks like a lobster trap."

"Lobsters prefer stones," said Andrew. "I don't think there are any
here, but we'll see, if you get hold of the buoy. Anyhow, it will let
me stop paddling and throw some water out."

He headed across the channel, and Whitney, crouching on deck, seized
the ring of corks. The punt swung round sharply with her bow to the
stream and there was an angry splash against her planks. Whitney was
glad to ease the strain on his arms by making fast the wet line.

"The tide's running strong," he said.

Andrew nodded.

"The buoy's not on a lobster creel or we'd have pulled it up. I wonder
what depth there is?"

He pushed down the double-ended paddle, which, as used in shooting
punts, is about nine feet long, and touched bottom when it was wet
half-way up. Then he held the blade against the stream until the punt
sheered across the channel, dragging the line with her, when he tried
again. This time he could not find bottom.

"It looks as if the corks are meant to mark a corner of the bank," he
said. "In a way, that's curious, because fishermen don't often bother
about a buoy. They know the ground and are satisfied with sounding
with an oar."

Andrew began to bail her out, and Whitney and Dick sat on the after
deck while he caught the water which ran toward them in the bailing
can.

"What about the geese?" Whitney asked.

"The man mentioned bernicle and I'd expect to find them on the outer
end of the flat, because it's soft ground and bernicle get their food
in the mud. Besides, I'd like to see how this channel runs as the
sands dry; there's more water than I thought. Suppose we leave the
punt and walk down the edge? As it's lower than the top of the bank,
we'd be out of sight."

"I'll stay in the punt," said Dick. "I'm not fond of crawling through
soft mud. Then, if you put up some birds, they'll probably fly over
me."

They paddled ashore and left him with the punt, Andrew showing him two
small rollers, which would help him to launch her if he wished to come
after them. The sand was soft and made a sucking noise about their
sea-boots, but this was the only sound except the faint ripple of the
tide. The shore was hidden and there was nothing visible beyond the
stretch of sloppy flat that vanished into the mist. The haze, however,
was not thick, and faint moonlight filtered through.

"What do you expect to find here?" Whitney asked.

"I don't know. I'm curious about the buoy and I imagine that the
fellow Dick was with wanted us to clear out. He was right in saying
that we'd brought up in an exposed place; but why did he tell us ducks
were plentiful down west?"

Whitney made a sign of agreement.

"It's certainly suspicious."

They went on while the sand got softer, but they saw nothing except a
few small wading birds and a black-backed gull. Then Andrew stopped
near the outer end of the bank. Something black floated in the midst
of a tide-ripple, about forty yards away.

"Another buoy and a bigger one, marking the fairway to the gut," he
said thoughtfully. "With that and the compass course to the corks we
saw, I'd take a boat drawing eight feet up to the burnfoot at five
hours' flood, on an average tide."

"Eight feet draught would give you a pretty big boat; a vessel of
about a hundred tons would float on that. But what would bring her
here?"

"That's the point," said Andrew. "I believe old wooden schooners
sometimes take cargoes of coal up these gutters and dump it into carts
on the beach, but I'm not quite satisfied."

He turned suddenly, as he heard a flapping of canvas, and a few
moments later, a tall dark shape emerged from the haze. At first, it
had no clear outline, but Andrew knew it was the topsail of a
cutter-rigged boat, beating in against the tide. She grew in
distinctness until they could see her black hull washed by a streak of
foam, and the straining mainsail, slanted away from them. The iron
shoe of a trawl-beam projected between her shrouds, and the net hung
in a dark festoon over her weather side. The wind was abeam just there
and she passed them, sailing fast; but they waited, knowing that it
would draw ahead where the channel curved. Presently, there was a
banging of canvas that suddenly swung upright, and then filled and
vanished on the other tack.

"Smart work!" Andrew commented. "They'll have about twenty yards of
deep water to gather way in before they bring her round again, against
the stream. The fellows who can beat her round that bend don't need
buoys. I'd like to take some bearings: this gutter's very sketchily
indicated on the chart."

"Shore bearings wouldn't be of much use to anybody who wanted to come
up in the dark."

"That's true," Andrew agreed thoughtfully. "But we came for geese, and
we may as well make our way back across the middle of the sand."

After a while they found a nearly dry gutter, and moved up it
cautiously until Andrew stopped. Out of the dark came a clear, high
note, the clanging cry of the bernicle geese. It was answered from one
side and behind, and then a measured fanning became audible. This
swelled into a rhythmic creak as the broad wings beat the air.

The men crouched low, with tingling nerves, clenching their guns and
straining for the first glimpse of the approaching birds.

"Flying low and right over," Andrew whispered. "Fire when you see the
first!"

Whitney got down on one knee, while the ooze soaked through his
trousers and ran into his sea-boot. But this did not matter; it was
worth sinking waist-deep to hear the wild call break out close ahead.
A dark object, planing downward on extended wings, shot out of the
mist; another came close behind; and the gun-butt jarred Whitney's
shoulder while smoke blew into his eyes. He swung the gun as he pulled
the second trigger, and saw a red flash leap out; and then the dark
was filled with a harsh clamor and the furious beat of wings. Andrew
jerked his gun open and the burnt cartridges shot out while smoke
curled about the breach.

"Two, I think," he said. "Yours is up the bank."

Whitney found it presently: a small, black-breasted goose.

"My first bernicle!" he said with a thrill of pride. "They're more
like a big duck than the heavy lag birds we've already bagged. Do you
think Dick will get a shot?"

"He ought to. They were flying straight up the bank."

They waited a few minutes, but no gunshot came out of the mist, and
when everything was silent they turned back down the gutter.

"The geese won't alight again," Andrew said. "As Dick knows that,
he'll probably launch the punt and come to meet us."

When they reached the edge of the water, Whitney stopped and lighted
his pipe.

"It's pretty soft farther on. Let's wait here for the punt," he
suggested.

He had nearly smoked his pipe out when they heard the splash of a
paddle, and presently the punt crept out of the mist. Its low,
gray-painted hull was hard to see; but Dick's form was more distinct
and Andrew made an abrupt movement as he watched him. He sat facing
forward, on the after deck, and he lurched clumsily from side to side
as he dipped the paddle. The punt was not going straight, but sheered
about, and Dick did not seem to be making for the bank. This projected
in a short cape, not far away, and then the sand ran back toward the
east, leaving a stretch of rippling water that vanished in the haze.
The tide was rapidly running seaward and the wind blew off the flat.

"Dip to leeward!" Andrew shouted. "Head her up for the point!"

Dick stopped and flourished his paddle.

"I'm not coming ashore," he answered with a chuckle. "Do you good to
walk back. Jim's getting fat!"

Whitney looked at Andrew in alarm.

"Yes; he's drunk!" Andrew said with an impatient sign.

It was plain to both that the situation was not free from danger. A
shooting punt, with its sides only from six to eight inches high, is
essentially a smooth-water craft and is easily swamped, in spite of
her deck. There was a good breeze, and if Dick passed the short point,
he would risk being blown out to sea. The tide did not follow the
sweep of bank but ran straight out.

"Don't be a fool!" Andrew shouted. "Run her in at once!"

Dick sat hunched up, with the paddle on the deck, and they heard him
laugh.

"It's quite oll ri'," he answered. "Needn't bother about me. I'm going
to look for submarinesh."

Andrew ran toward the point, and Whitney, following, tore two buttons
off his oilskin jacket as he tried to unfasten them with numbed
fingers. He wore ordinary serge trousers and heavy sea-boots, but the
punt must be stopped before she drifted past the little cape.
Afterward, it would be too late.

Andrew reached the spot first, while the punt was still upstream of
it, and at once plunged in; but Whitney, who had now got rid of his
oilskin, stopped and tried to pull off his long, wet boots. He hardly
thought Andrew could wade out far enough, and one of them might have
to swim. He was furious with Dick; but the boy must be rescued. He got
his boots off and went in up to his knees; but then he stopped; for he
would not be needed if his comrade could reach the punt. Andrew was
waist-deep but still floundering on, when Dick, laughing hoarsely,
threw something at him. It fell into the water, but the next shot was
better aimed, for Whitney saw an egg smash on Andrew's oilskin cap.

Another struck him in the face; but the punt was near now, and after a
few more floundering strides, Andrew threw himself forward. The craft
lurched as he fell across her deck, and Whitney thought she would
capsize; but the next moment Andrew flung Dick into the well and then,
kneeling on the deck, brought the craft ashore with a few strokes of
the paddle.

Whitney felt very cold, and he was getting stiffly on board when
Andrew asked:

"Hadn't you better bring your coat and boots?"

Whitney found it a relief to laugh as he went back for the things; and
Andrew pushed the punt off when he got on board.

"I'll paddle while you keep the young ass in the well," he said.
"Knock him down if he tries to get up."

"Don't want to get up," Dick remarked. "Quite snug down here. Only
trouble is I'm sitting in the eggs."

"I think that's correct," said Whitney. "_In_ is the proper word.
There's rather a mess on your face, too."

"Good shot, ole man," Dick observed with a grin.

Andrew said nothing as he swung the long paddle, for the ripples were
getting larger as they left the sand, and the breeze was freshening,
but at last the yacht's light twinkled in the mist. Getting on board,
they hustled Dick below, where Andrew stripped off his wet clothes and
put him into his berth, while Whitney got the stove to burn.

After a time, Dick put out his head.

"Feel I'd like some supper, before I go to sleep."

"You can go to sleep without it," Andrew said sternly. "I suppose
there's no use in talking about it now, but you've been warned that
this kind of thing may kill you."

"I'm 'shured," Dick rejoined. "Good big policy and I don't pay the
premiums."

"Who does pay them?" Andrew asked, in a quiet, insistent voice; but
Dick only grinned.

"That'sh secret, ole man. You're very good fellow, but don't know
everything. Don't bother me any more; I'm sleepy."

He was silent after this, but Whitney waited until he thought Dick was
really asleep.

"He looked sober when he joined us at the village," he said.

"I think he was," Andrew agreed. "Perhaps he'd drunk enough to make
him want more, and brought a bottle away. No doubt, we'll find it when
we clean up the punt." Then he forced a smile. "You'll have to go
without your eggs."

"That's obvious. But what did he mean about his being insured, and
somebody else's paying the premiums?"

"I don't know, and don't expect to get any more information when he's
sober, but I'll see what Mackellar thinks. Sometimes I feel like
giving up the whole business. Dick's too clever for me; and when I
turn to the other matter, I'm brought to a full stop."

Whitney nodded sympathetically.

"It's an awkward job, but you won't let up. You're not a quitter, and
luck or Mackellar may help you through."

He got into his cot, and the regular splash of ripples against the
boat's side, and the soft slapping of the halyards on the mast, soon
made him drowsy, but the last thing he saw was Andrew sitting on the
opposite locker with a stern, thoughtful face.



CHAPTER XXV

A CLUE


There was a touch of frost in the still air and the light was fading.
A yellow glow lingered in the southwest beyond Criffell's sloping
shoulder, which ran up against it, tinged a deep violet. Masses of
soft, gray cloud floated above the mountain's summit; but the sky was
clear overhead, and a thin new moon grew brighter in the east This was
why the murmur of the sea came out of the distance in a muffled roar,
for the tides run fast when the moon is young.

Elsie, walking homeward, vacantly noticed how bright the crescent
gleamed above the dusky firs, as she entered the gloom of a straggling
wood at the foot of the hill on which Appleyard was built. She had
been out all the afternoon and now she shrank from going home, for she
felt that a shadow rested upon the house. Dick had returned from a
cruise with Andrew, looking dejected and unwell; and she was glad that
Whitney had taken both away again, on his motorcycle, because Dick had
lately had fits of moody restlessness when he was at home. Still, she
missed them badly, for her mother was silent and preoccupied; and when
Andrew was away, she found it hard to banish the troubles that seemed
to be gathering round. They were worse for being very vaguely defined,
but she felt convinced that something sinister was going on.

As she thought of Andrew, her face grew gentle and she smiled. She
knew his worth and his limitations, and loved him for both. He had his
suspicions, too, and would follow where they led. Andrew was not the
man to shirk a painful duty, but she could not openly help him yet.
That might come, and in the meanwhile she would at least put no
obstacle in his way. Still, if her fears were justified, the situation
was daunting and she might need all her courage.

As she neared the lodge, she saw a man loitering in the shadow.

"Are you waiting for somebody, Jock?" she asked.

Marshall, the fisherman, turned and looked at her thoughtfully.

"Weel," he said, "they telt me Mr. Andrew's no' at home."

"Did you want to see him about the yacht?"

"It wasna' that, a'thegither."

"No?"

"Ye see, I've missed him twice and I'm for Stranraer the morn. We're
gaun west to try the herring fishing."

"And you wanted to tell Mr. Johnstone something before you left? Can I
give him a message when he comes back?"

Marshall hesitated.

"Weel," he said, "ye can tell him that the _Nance_ cam' up the Firth
the night before he started for Edinbro'; that's a while ago, ye mind.
Last night she cam' up again, wi' the same crew; the Edinbro' man I
telt him o', anither wha keeps a trawl boat doon the Colvend shore,
and yin who has a reid mustache."

Elsie started, and then wondered whether she had betrayed her
surprise.

"I'll try to remember. I suppose this is for Mr. Johnstone alone?"

"Just that," said Marshall. "I'm thinking it would be better that ye
telt naebody else."

He moved off, and Elsie, looking round a moment afterward, saw that he
had vanished. It was nearly dark among the trees, but she knew that
she could have seen him had he kept on the road; besides, his heavy,
tacketed boots would have made some noise, and she had heard nothing.
Then she saw a figure coming from the lodge and her brain acted
quickly, because she recognized Staffer.

Marshall had hinted it was important that his message should be kept
secret; and fishermen had good sight. He must have noticed Staffer
before she did, and did not want to be seen talking to her. Then she
remembered that the night before Andrew started for Edinburgh was when
Williamson and the man with the red mustache had entered the house.
The stranger had come up the Firth in one of the salmon boats shortly
before his visit to Appleyard, and had been there again without her
seeing him.

She felt a thrill that was half apprehension and half excitement as
she went on slowly. The lodge was about a hundred yards away when she
met Staffer.

"There's something I want to ask you," he said. "Have you any reason
to doubt the honesty of our servants?"

Elsie saw at once where his question led, and tried to nerve herself.
He was a clever man and she was young and inexperienced.

"No," she said; "I have none; and Mother's quite satisfied with them.
Why do you ask?"

"You'll remember the night Williamson arrived rather late. He lost a
paper in an envelope, and it looks as if somebody in the house had
picked it up."

"Have you inquired about it?" Elsie asked, remembering that it was the
man with the red mustache who had dropped the envelope.

"No," Staffer said carelessly; "I didn't want to make the thing look
more important than it was, and I thought the envelope might turn up."

"But it must be of some consequence, or you wouldn't bother about it
now."

"That's obviously true. It has become important since we lost it. It
gave us some particulars that we find we can't remember."

Staffer gave her a scrutinizing look.

"It was dropped in the house," he said slowly. "Somebody must have
found it."

Elsie wondered whether he suspected her. He had seen her looking down
from the landing and might not have been satisfied that she had come
to see who was in the house; the men had been careful to make no
noise.

Staffer frowned when she did not answer.

"If the thing doesn't turn up," he declared, "I'll dismiss everybody
about the place! We can't have people round us whom it's impossible to
trust."

"None of the servants found it," Elsie said with forced quietness.

"You seem strangely sure of it!"

Elsie hesitated. She could not allow innocent people to suffer for
what she had done; but the matter had greater issues. Though much was
dark, it was clear that she and Andrew were on one side, and Staffer
and his friends on the other. Andrew could be trusted, but Staffer
could not. For all that, she felt the tie of kinship and could not act
treacherously to him.

"I am sure," she said slowly, "because I found the envelope myself."

Although the light was bad, she saw his face change, and she grew
suddenly afraid. There was a fury in his eyes that made her quail; but
he kept his self-control.

"So you were downstairs that night!"

"Yes," she said, and waited with tingling nerves, though she thought
the worst was past. For a moment or two she had, perhaps, been in
danger.

"What did you do with the thing?" he asked harshly. "Did you give it
to Andrew Johnstone?"

"Why do you think I did that?"

Staffer saw he had blundered by hinting that the paper related to
matters which might concern Andrew.

"Never mind; answer me!"

"I burned it at once, without opening it."

He looked at her as if he found this impossible to believe.

"It is quite true," she said with forced calm.

"But why? You steal a letter belonging to my guest, which you must
have thought important, and then burn it unread. Do you expect me to
understand your action? The thing seems purposeless."

"It isn't easy to explain, but I must try," she answered, nerving
herself for an effort.

"That's obvious."

She hesitated a moment and then spoke bravely.

"I knew that something not right was going on at Appleyard."

"Ah! Did you know what it was?"

Elsie made a negative sign.

"I really didn't want to know; but I believed that the letter was
dangerous. If I had read it, I might have felt forced to tell what I
found out; so I put it straight into the fire."

"Knowing that its loss might embarrass Williamson or me!"

"Yes," she said; "I thought of that. But I felt it would be safer for
us all if I burned the paper."

"I suppose you understand that what you have admitted must make a
difference? You have set yourself deliberately against me."

"If I had meant to injure you, I would have kept the letter; but I
won't urge this. If Appleyard were yours, I would go away at once, but
it is Dick's and he could not get on without my mother."

"Then you mean to stay and continue spying on my guests!"

"So long as no harm comes to Dick or Andrew, I shall leave you and
your friends alone."

Staffer laughed.

"I'm afraid you're letting your imagination run away with you. What
harm could come to either of them through me? But we'll say no more
about it, just now."

He left her at the door and she went to her room and threw herself
down on her couch, feeling rather limp, for the strain had told on
her. Besides, her suspicions now were no longer vague. She had found a
clue and she began to see where it led. Andrew was obviously watching
the mouth of the Firth, while Rankine had some mysterious business
farther west. Marshall thought it well that Andrew should know that
the man with the red mustache had come from the suspected neighborhood
late at night, in a salmon boat. The man had been at Appleyard, where
he dropped an important letter; and Williamson and Staffer were in
league with him. From all this it looked as if their business were
treasonable.

This filled her with alarm, but she was glad she had told Staffer that
she found the envelope. After all, he was her uncle and to have kept
silence would have been treacherous; but the struggle between family
obligations and her duty to the State got keener. It was unthinkable
that she should spy upon a kinsman to whom she owed much; but would
she not, in a sense, be an accomplice if she allowed him and the
others to carry on their plots? This question, however, was dismissed
for a time. There were other points to think about.

Did Staffer imagine she was in Andrew's confidence and secretly
helping him; and had he believed her statement that she had destroyed
the letter? If not, she was, perhaps, in some danger, because his
laughing remark about her imagination had not been convincing. But,
after all, what could he do? She could hardly be kidnapped and
smuggled out of the country; and it was, of course, absurd to think of
his attempting anything worse.

After a while she began to see her way. She would not watch her uncle,
but if chance brought her clear proof that he was helping her
country's enemies, she would see that he was stopped. This was a
compromise that she suspected could hardly be justified; but the next
decision was easier, because it had to do with those she loved. If
Staffer or his friends plotted any harm to Dick or Andrew, she would
remorselessly use every weapon she had against him.

Then she roused herself and bathed her face and hands, for she had
felt some physical strain while she thrashed out the painful matter.
She would need calm and courage to meet Staffer as if nothing had
happened, so that her mother might not suspect trouble. The part she
had chosen was difficult, but she must play it out. When she went in
to dinner she did not know whether she was relieved or not by
Staffer's smile, but he talked to her with the suave good-humor he
generally showed.

Two days after Elsie's talk with Jock Marshall, Andrew and Whitney
were sitting in a Melrose hotel, when a postcard from Stranraer was
brought to Andrew. There was a tarry fingermark at the bottom,
alongside of the straggling signature, _J. Marshall_, Andrew read it
aloud:

      "As I'm away at the fishing, it might be weel if ye
      cam' home and lookit after the boat. Miss Elsie will
      give ye a bit message. I would not leave her until the
      tides get low."

Whitney smiled.

"You Scots are a remarkably cautious and capable lot," he said. "I can
imagine the wrinkled old image writing this, with a wooden face and a
chuckle inside. The meaning of the last sentence is cleverly
ambiguous. I suppose the boat is quite all right?"

"Of course; no tide could hurt her."

"It's plain then that Marshall thinks you're wanted on Miss
Woodhouse's account. I can have the motorcycle ready in five minutes,
and if we pull out now we can be home soon after dark. Will you tell
Dick?"

"No. We'll put him on the train, if there is one. Get that railway
guide."

Whitney opened it.

"If you mean to see him off, you'll have to wait an hour; and, on the
whole, I think you'd better. He seems to have made a number of
acquaintances in the bar. Anyway, with this light frost, the roads
will be good and hard."

Dick showed some unwillingness to leave the town, but Andrew was firm
and put him on the train. When it started, he joined Whitney, who was
waiting with the motorcycle.

The light was getting dim as they ran down the long dip to Hawick,
though pale saffron, barred with leaden gray, shone above the western
hills. When they swept down the last hill, frosty mist hung about the
woolen mills in the hollow, and Whitney throttled his engine as they
jolted past glimmering lights and half-seen houses.

"It doesn't look very cheerful for a fifty-mile run, but I suppose you
want to get on," he remarked.

"Yes," said Andrew. "I hope Dick won't miss the train at one of the
junctions, but he'll be all right if he reaches Carlisle. He can't
well get into trouble at the place we stay at there."

The mist melted into the keen brightness of a frosty night as they
climbed beside Teviot to the snow-sprinkled moors. Whitney's eyes were
watering and his hands numb as they crossed the high watershed.

"We haven't lost much time, so far, but I suppose I'd better let her
go her best," he said. "There oughtn't to be much traffic on the
road."

Andrew nodded and pulled the rug tighter round him as the motorcycle
leaped forward down the hill. He was eager to get back, for he felt
anxious. It was not for nothing that Marshall had warned him that he
was wanted.

There was moonlight in the shallow depression that led down from the
summit, but soon the hilltops rose higher and they plunged into a dark
glen. A glimmer of light flashed up to meet them, and as the side-car,
rocking wildly, raced past the Mosspaul hotel, Andrew remembered what
had happened there a few months previously. He had seen since then
that Dick had not been in much danger when Staffer's car swerved; the
risk of being struck down had been run by him only. Well, that did not
matter much. If any one was threatened now, it was neither himself nor
Dick, and it was horrible to feel that Elsie might be in some danger.
Whitney was driving recklessly fast, but Andrew frowned impatiently as
he watched the hillsides unfold out of the dark and rush by while the
throbbing of the engine filled the narrow glen.

They swung out at Ewes doors, leaning over hard as the car took the
curve with an inch or two between the wheel and the drop to the burn.
Then the widening valley grew bright again and they raced up and down
rolling hillsides, past scattered farms and white cothouses, until the
lights of Langholm stretched across the hollow. Whitney slowed his
engine here, but they narrowly escaped the wall, as they took the
bridge below the town, and then sped on again furiously through the
woods that line the brawling Esk.

Appleyard was reached in time for dinner, and Andrew was relieved to
find that Staffer was not at home. Everything was as usual; it was
difficult to imagine any cause for alarm; and he wondered whether he
had been needlessly disturbed. After dinner, Mrs. Woodhouse took
Whitney into the drawing-room and Andrew found Elsie knitting in a
corner of the hall.

She looked up with a smile when he sat down near her.

"Haven't you come home earlier than you planned?" she asked.

Andrew studied her face. It was quiet and undisturbed, but he
suspected a thoughtfulness that she meant to hide.

"Yes," he said. "I got a postcard from Marshall. He's at Stranraer and
seemed to think I ought to look after the boat."

"The boat? But it's fine weather. Isn't she quite safe?"

"Oh, the tides are pretty high and run up the gutter fast."

Elsie counted her stitches, and then gave him a quiet look.

"Dick was with you," she said; "so it couldn't have been on his
account that you came back."

Andrew smiled.

"That's obvious."

Elsie was silent for a moment, while a faint touch of color crept into
her face. His explanation about the boat had not deceived her, and
she had noted his searching glance when he first came in. Marshall
must have been hiding near by when she was talking to Staffer, and
have given Andrew a hint. It was for her sake he had hurried back. She
knew that he had hurried, because she had tactfully led Whitney into
making some admissions about their speed. She hardly thought she had
been in actual danger; but she knew that she was quite safe now, and
her heart went out to the man who had come to help. If only she could
confide in him! But it was impossible. His very loyalty to her made
her feel more strongly that she could not betray her uncle and bring
disgrace upon her mother.

"Marshall gave me a message for you," she said. "I'll deliver it as
nearly as I can."

She watched him as she repeated the fisherman's words. Andrew was a
bad actor and she was not misled by his clumsy indifference. It looked
as if he knew that the man with the red mustache had dealings with
Williamson and Staffer.

"Thank you," he said. "I'm afraid we'll have to go west again, before
long."

Elsie put down her knitting.

"You'll be careful, Andrew. I want you to keep out of danger."

His heart beat fast, for he saw that she was anxious about him. Elsie
knew something and would be sorry if he got hurt; but he must not
alarm her or show where his suspicions led.

"Of course I will," he answered cheerfully. "As a matter of fact, I'm
not running much risk."

"I'd rather you didn't think so; it leads to carelessness. You won't
be rash?"

"Certainly not. Tell me why you are anxious."

Elsie hesitated, and the color in her face grew deeper.

"Somehow, I seem to feel that trouble is hanging over us, and"--her
voice dropped to a caress--"I want to have you near."

Andrew caught his breath.

"Elsie," Mrs. Woodhouse interrupted, "I think Mr. Whitney would like
to have some music."



CHAPTER XXVI

TIGHTENING THE MESHES


Andrew spent a week at Appleyard, without noticing anything that
caused him uneasiness; and then he got a letter from Rankine asking
him to meet him in the pool behind the Ross, near Kirkcudbright. He
did not want to go; but he thought that he could get back in three or
four days; and Staffer was to be away from home. Besides, Dick would
be there to take care of Elsie.

Sailing at high-tide, with a keen east wind blowing down the Firth, he
found water across the sands to the mouth of the Nith, where he left
the boat and drove to Dumfries. Here, he and Whitney called upon
Mackellar and were taken into his private office.

"I have some news that may surprise ye," the banker said. "Dick's
principal creditor is his step-father. Here's a list o' his
obligations, though I'm no' sure it's complete."

"Ah!" exclaimed Andrew, "I don't know whether I'm surprised or not,
but I begin to see a light." He frowned, as he noted the figures. "It
won't be an easy matter to pay this off; the estate will feel the
strain for some time. But how has the young idiot got rid of the
money?"

"Betting."

"But he doesn't go to many races, and turf accountants wouldn't deal
with a boy under age."

"Verra true," Mackellar agreed dryly. "Dick would get somebody else to
put the money on for him--or at least that's no doubt what he thought
he did. Williamson, or one o' his friends, would be willing."

"Why do you say it's what Dick thought?"

"I have my doubts whether his go-between made the bets at all. Where
was the need? The fellow had only to take the money when Dick lost."

"But Dick's not a fool! He wouldn't back the wrong horse every time.
He reads the sporting papers and I suppose their forecasts are right
now and then."

Mackellar smiled.

"If he's no' a fool, he's near it. A tip anybody can buy for a penny
is no' of much account; but it's flattering to feel ye ken the secrets
o' the inside ring. Staffer's friends would see he had that
satisfaction. In other words, they'd tell him how he ought to bet with
them, and, although they'd let him win at times, I imagine they found
it a profitable game."

"It must be stopped!" said Andrew.

"Just so; but ye would prefer it to be stopped quietly. There's
another thing I learned, and ye put me on the track when ye told me
what Dick said about his being insured. A policy has been taken out
for a large sum."

Andrew made an abrupt movement, and Whitney looked puzzled.

"That's pretty hard to understand. His is not the kind of life they'd
take except at a big premium."

"It gave me something to think about and I have no' come to the bottom
o' it yet. It's possible the insurance was effected some time ago,
before Dick's weakness had developed. His parents were sound and it
was long before we suspected there was anything wrong with him.
However, I had an interview with the company's local agent and
afterward with the Edinburgh manager."

"What did you learn?" Andrew asked.

"Nothing much. In fact, I'm thinking I met my match; the heads o' that
office are men o' some ability, and I had no good ground for
interference. For a' that, they know something and if it was offered
the bank in the way o' business, I would not make a big advance
against the policy."

"In whose favor is it drawn?" Whitney asked.

"I canno' tell ye; they were verra reserved gentlemen, but the name
would no' be Staffer's, though the transaction would be ultimately to
his benefit. Mr. Staffer's a man o' retiring habits."

Andrew was silent for a minute and then looked up.

"I see now that I have suspected something like this from the
beginning," he said. "What are we to do?"

Mackellar's face hardened.

"I think we'll see Mr. Staffer and tell him what we know. It's
possible he'll fight, but that's no' what I would expect. I'm most
concerned about Dick's attitude. We canno' do much if he's against
us."

"Dick has been rather a puzzle lately. I'll be away for a few days,
but we'll interview Staffer as soon as I'm back."

Mackellar said that he expected to call at Appleyard shortly, and
would make an appointment then; and Andrew and Whitney drove back to
the yacht. Getting under way at once, they sailed down-channel with
the last of the ebb between wastes of drying sand; and dusk found them
slowly forging out to sea against the incoming flood. They met Rankine
where he had arranged, and, carrying out his instructions, sailed east
again. One evening late they landed from the dinghy at the mouth of
the buoyed gutter. It was near low-water and the tide had run far out.
Fine rain was falling and it was very dark, but as they waded ashore
through the fringe of splashing ripples, an indistinct figure appeared
at the edge of the bank.

"Is that you, Jock?" Andrew called; and Marshall came up.

"I startit when yere letter came and Mistress Wilson at the wee shop
in the clachan has taen me in," he said.

"Did you keep the letter?"

"Na," said Marshall; "I pit it in the fire."

Andrew nodded.

"Then I suppose you understand what you are to do."

"I'm to try the net-fishing for flounders and keep my een open, though
it's no' just the season the flatfish come up on the banks. They telt
me, at the clachan, there were verra few to be had; but I allooed they
couldna' be scarcer than Loch Ryan herring."

"He's got it right," Whitney laughed. "Come along and take your net.
You'll have to carry it up the bank; the dinghy's loaded deep and the
tide's still running out."

When they had dragged the net ashore, Marshall lighted a lantern and
examined it carefully. Whitney, picking up the light, turned it on
the fisherman's wrinkled face and was not surprised to see a twinkle
in his eyes.

"What do you think of it?" he asked.

"It's gran' gear, but maybe, a bit heavy for flounders. I wouldna' say
but the heid-rope would haud a shark."

"It's better to be on the safe side," Whitney said with a laugh. "When
you set a net you can't tell what you're going to catch. That's why we
brought you some iron pipes for the posts. Now you'd better show us
where you want the net put up."

They went back and pushed off the dinghy while Marshall plodded up the
bank abreast of them with the net on his shoulder. At a bend of the
narrowing channel he hailed them.

"She'll do here--though I dinna' ken aboot the fishery board," he
said, when they landed and gave him the iron posts. "Ye're no allooed
to stop a through-running watter."

"I'll be responsible for that," Andrew told him.

"Then it would be a kind o' pity to leave yon gutter open," suggested
Marshall, turning to Whitney. "A flounder-net in a runway only fishes
on the ebb. Ye haul her up to the heid-rope when the fish come in with
the flood, and let her doon when high-watter's past. Then a' that's
gone by her canna' get back. Onyway, yon's the usual plan, but she'd
maybe fish better here if we keepit her doon with lead and pulled her
up afterwards wi' a heid-rope tackle."

"I was going to suggest something of the kind," Andrew said. "You'll
want a boat, but there are two or three old punts on the beach. Hire
whichever you like and I'll be accountable. But what about the
trawler fellow who keeps the boat at the point?"

"They telt me he's awa' doon west."

"Good. You can begin to put up your stakes, using the pipe. We have
another job to look after, but we'll come back when it's done."

Whitney shoved the dinghy off and they paddled up the channel. It was
very dark and the rain made the obscurity worse, but Andrew searched
one bank carefully as the dinghy crept along its edge. Everything was
quiet, for there seemed to be no birds about, but they could hear the
thud of Marshall's hammer as he drove in the pipes. Whitney, sitting
aft, felt damp and cold as the water trickled down his oilskins.

"How much do you think the old fellow suspects?" he asked.

"I can't tell. He suspects something, and I didn't try to put him off
the track. There were one or two reasons for thinking I'd better not.
Anyway, he's to be trusted. Where's that corner buoy?"

Whitney laughed.

"If you were anybody else, I'd wager you wouldn't find it on a night
like this. You don't know it was on a corner, to begin with."

"Well," Andrew said, "I'm pretty confident about hitting it in the
next few minutes."

He pulled on steadily, while the rain ran down his face and trickled
from the dinghy's thwarts. The bank was scarcely distinguishable a few
yards away, but the water had not the opaque blackness of the sand,
and Whitney scanned its surface narrowly. There was not a ripple, for
the stream was slackening, and the channel was smooth as oil except
for the disturbance the dinghy made. The water she displaced lapped
upon the sand astern, but there was nothing on the narrow dark strip
ahead.

"You haven't made a center shot this time," he said presently.

Andrew laughed and, pulling hard on one oar, swung the dinghy round.

"The buoy's certainly not in the water. We'll try the bank. The tide
hadn't ebbed so far when we were here last."

They landed, and plowed through slushy sand. At last Whitney caught
his foot in a rope.

"You've struck it after all," he laughed, as he followed up the rope
to a ring of large net-corks. "Now, we'll get to work."

Returning to the spot where the rope came out of the sand, he began to
dig with a spade they had brought; but he did not make much progress.
Water and soft ooze ran back into the hole almost as fast as he could
throw them out; his heavy boots sank into the yielding ground; and his
oilskins hampered him greatly. When he was hot and breathless, Andrew
took the spade.

"The fellow who moored the buoy here, didn't mean it to go adrift," he
remarked as he flung the wet sand about.

The spade jarred upon something hard, and Andrew worked its edge under
the object while Whitney seized the rope. For a time, they tugged and
wrenched at it, and then, when they were gasping and splashed all
over, a heavy stone slowly rolled out of its muddy bed. Andrew let it
lie and walked back a short distance toward higher ground.

"The next step needs care," he said. "We mustn't move the stone far,
because that would show that its position had been changed; but the
bank is steep and a few yards will make a difference. If I can shorten
the depth by half a fathom, it will satisfy me."

Whitney chuckled.

"That ought to be enough. When your draught's pretty deep it's
embarrassing to find half a fathom less water than you expect."

Andrew carefully estimated the difference of level along the bank.

"I think we'll put it here," he decided.

It took them some time to move and bury the heavy stone.

"What about the fairway buoy?" Whitney asked when they had finished.

"We'll let that stay. I want our man to get in and his troubles had
better not begin until he's going back. The flood would soon float the
vessel off if she grounded going up, but it will be a different matter
coming down, when the tide's on the ebb."

They pushed the dinghy off and Whitney pulled away against the stream,
which was beginning to run up the channel. The rain had got heavier,
but they could hear Marshall's hammer as he drove down the stakes.
When they were abreast of him, Whitney stopped rowing. For a few
minutes the fisherman stood beside the dinghy while Andrew gave him
instructions, and then he vanished into the gloom as Whitney pulled
away. Andrew lighted a small lantern and, putting it beside a compass
in the bottom of the craft, kept his comrade on his course.

"Harder with your left; the tide's on our port bow," he said: "Steady
at that; we're round the point. Pull as even as you can."

The sharper rise and fall and the splashing about the craft showed
Whitney that they had reached open water, but he had no other guide.
They had left no light on the _Rowan_ and black darkness enveloped the
dinghy. The faint glow from the lantern in her bottom made it worse,
and all that Whitney could see was Andrew's face and the wet front of
his sou'wester as he bent over the compass. The rest of his figure
melted into the surrounding gloom. Whitney was tired and wet, and
gritty sand scraped the backs of his hands as the oilskin sleeves
rubbed across them. There was some risk of Andrew's not finding the
yacht, and he must pull hard to reach her before the tide got too
strong.

This was very different from yachting in hot weather on the Canadian
lakes and Long Island Sound; but it had a fascination he would not
have thought possible a few months ago. Andrew and he were playing a
bold and somewhat dangerous game, the end of which, he thought, could
not be long delayed. As an American, he had no stake on it, except,
perhaps, his life, but he understood his comrade's patriotic keenness
and meant to see him through. Then he had read enough about the
sinking of unarmed merchant ships and the drowning of the crews to
fire his blood. He thought this was excuse enough for not observing a
strict neutrality; then, as he felt the dinghy lurch across the swell
and heard the hoarse murmur of the surf upon the shoals, he knew that
the sport was in itself engrossing.

He had caught the big gray trout of the lone Northwest, the bass, and
the fighting tarpon, but he was now angling for fiercer prey and he
hoped the murderous steel monsters that lurked in the dark water would
rise to the bait. They were handled with a relentless cunning that
struck him as devilish; and Rankine had hinted that two of the largest
and fastest were not far away, lying in wait for a huge new battleship
that was coming from the Clyde. Whitney could not think calmly of her
lurching under, shattered by a torpedo, with her swarming crew.
Besides, his partner had resolved that this should not happen.

"Pull with your right!" said Andrew. "She's sagging to lee'ard now."

They crept on against the tide, Whitney panting as he tugged at the
oars, for he had enough; and it was with keen satisfaction that he
heard Andrew call out presently:

"Hard with your left; let her swing! I see the boat!"

Whitney got a glimpse of a rocking mast, as the dinghy came round, and
a few moments afterward he put out his hand to ease the shock as they
ran alongside. A quarter of an hour later the anchor was on deck and
they went eastward with the flood under easy sail.

"You might put on the kettle. It will be high water before we're up
the Firth," Andrew said. "If we can get our business with Staffer done
to-morrow, we'll sail again for the wreck as soon as it gets dark."

Whitney hesitated a moment.

"No doubt you see the consequences if we catch our man at work."

"They're obvious, but they must be faced," Andrew said in a hard
voice. "I've held back longer than I should, but it wasn't for my own
sake and I can't shirk my duty now."



CHAPTER XXVII

THE RECKONING DAY


It was getting dark in the library at Appleyard, and Mackellar stopped
speaking when a servant entered to light the lamps. Staffer leaned
back in his chair as if the interruption were a relief, but Mackellar
sat grim and upright, watching him. Irvine, the other executor of
Dick's father's will, nervously fingered his gold-rimmed eye-glasses;
and Andrew found the servant's deliberate movements exasperating. He
wanted the matter settled. The situation was painful and galling to
his family pride; and the cautious way that Mackellar had led up to
the climax had tried his patience. So far, Staffer had made no reply.

At last the servant withdrew, and the feeling of tension grew keener
after the soft snap of the closing door. They could now see one
another's faces, and all looked somewhat strained. No one spoke for a
few moments, and Irvine began to polish his eye-glasses with his
handkerchief.

"It might now be well if Mr. Staffer would tell us his views," he
said. "I think Mr. Mackellar has made ours plain."

Staffer seemed to rouse himself.

"It's obvious that you want to get rid of me. Your suggestion is that
I should relinquish control of Dick and leave Appleyard at once?"

"Precisely," said Irvine. "I see no other way."

"Does your demand extend to my sister and niece?"

"Certainly not," Mackellar replied. "We all think it would be an
advantage if Mrs. Woodhouse stayed at Appleyard, and, with Dick's
consent, we would make her a suitable allowance. The management of the
household could not be in better hands."

"That's some relief," said Staffer. "Now, in the ordinary course of
things, my authority here would terminate very soon, when Dick is
twenty-one, and I should be willing to go then. Is it worth while to
make a drastic change, which would inconvenience everybody, for so
short a time?"

Andrew was somewhat surprised by Staffer's half conciliatory attitude,
but he thought he saw anxiety in the man's face. It looked as if he
had some strong reason for not wanting to leave Appleyard just yet.

"Our opinion is that it would be well worth while," Irvine said dryly.

"Suppose I refuse to go? How do you propose to turn me out?"

"We'll apply for the necessary powers," Mackellar answered.

"Do you mind telling me what grounds you mean to urge?"

Mackellar sorted the papers in his hand, and Andrew marked his quiet
deliberation. Indeed, in spite of a certain feeling of tension, the
proceedings had, so far, been characterized by a curious calm. Perhaps
this was because three of the actors were Scotch; but Andrew felt that
the calm was deceptive. The situation had strong dramatic force.

"I cannot see why ye should not know," Mackellar replied. "I would
begin by proving undue and dangerous influence on a young man of
extravagant habits who had been placed in your charge."

"Can you prove it?"

"Weel, these figures relating to money lent and bills discounted,
would go some length, particularly when it was shown that ye concealed
the part ye took by acting through agents."

He read out particulars of the money borrowed, with the high rate of
interest charged, and traced the transactions back to Staffer through
other hands. It was a telling accusation and Andrew thought Staffer
was surprised and alarmed by Mackellar's knowledge.

"I'm not sure that we could not establish a charge o' conspiracy,"
Mackellar concluded.

"There is no fraud!" Staffer declared hotly. "The terms were stated;
Dick knew what he would have to pay."

"He did not know to whom he would have to pay it," Irvine interposed.

Staffer was silent for a moment.

"You can do nothing without Dick's consent," he said slowly. "Why did
you not let him speak for himself? Are you afraid of him?"

"We found ye had sent him to Dumfries, and we thought ye would prefer
that he was not consulted yet. But there's another matter: the
insurance policy, by which we have ground for believing ye would
ultimately benefit."

"What do you know about that?"

"At present we do not know everything, but there's much that we
suspect, considering the state o' Dick's health."

Staffer looked at him keenly.

"Do you imply that Dick's health is very bad?" he asked.

"Ye should ken."

Andrew thought Staffer looked puzzled, as if he suspected the other of
knowing more than he did himself.

"Well, is it your intention to dispute my claim or disown Dick's
debts?"

Mackellar took up a paper.

"No' at all. Here's a memorandum of our terms, which ye would be wise
in agreeing to. I'll read them out."

Staffer smiled.

"Then if threats prove useless, you mean to bribe me to go! Very well.
Give me another three months here, and I'll accept."

"Our offer is made on the understanding that you leave at once."

"Then I'm afraid you'll have to turn me out--and you may find it
rather hard. But you haven't answered a point I raised. Suppose Dick
takes my side and insists upon my staying?"

"Our being executors would warrant our interference; and there's
another party on whose behalf we could make a plea. Mr. Andrew
Johnstone could claim the protection o' his interest as the next heir,
on the grounds o' the direct inheritor's dangerous health."

"Would you urge this in court?"

"If we were forced," Mackellar said dryly.

Staffer's self-control gave way and he turned to Andrew with a savage,
sneering laugh.

"So _you_ are responsible for the extraordinary line these gentlemen
have taken! You have been counting on your cousin's death!"

Andrew flushed.

"As you well know, I came home from Canada to take care of him. Still,
I agree with the executors. If you can still persuade Dick to believe
in you, he must be saved in spite of himself."

Staffer gave him a curious look. It was plain that Andrew was his most
troublesome antagonist. There was something in Staffer's expression
that disturbed the others.

"Very well," he said. "You must do what you think fit. I shall remain
at Appleyard."

He rose, as if to intimate that there was no more to be said; and
Andrew accompanied the others to the car that was waiting at the door,
and afterward found Whitney and told him what they had done.

"You'll have to be careful, partner," Whitney cautioned. "He might be
dangerous now."

"Well," Andrew replied thoughtfully, "I must try to avoid risks. But
we must get down the Firth, to-night, and you'd better bring the
motorcycle round as soon as you can."

A quarter of an hour later, Andrew came downstairs, dressed in a thick
jersey and his old boating clothes and met Elsie in the hall. She
thought his face looked unusually stern.

"Are you going to sea again, to-night?" she asked, in surprise.

"Yes; I didn't know beforehand whether I could get away until
to-morrow. As a matter of fact, I don't want to go at all, but I
must."

She put her hand gently on his arm.

"If you feel it's your duty, you must go; but I'm anxious, Andrew, and
you'll be careful for my sake. You see, I have come to depend on you,
and I feel that something is threatening us all."

He thrilled at her touch, and it cost him a stern effort to stand as
if unmoved while he noted the tenderness in her eyes and the flicker
of color in her face.

"You mustn't imagine things."

"Tell me the truth, Andrew. Am I mistaken?"

"Well," he said quietly, "perhaps Appleyard has, so to speak, been
under a cloud for a little while, but I see the light breaking. In
fact, the shadow may be gone in the next few days. But you may need
some courage--and I know you have it."

"Ah!" she said. "You mean that something may happen here?"

"I'm sorry I can't tell you anything now," Andrew replied, with an
embarrassed air. "I may be able to do so when I come back."

She gave him her hand with a gentle look.

"Then I must wait. But you won't be rash. Remember that I shall be
anxious about you!"

He left her and for a while she sat quietly in the hall. Andrew was
not going on a shooting cruise; it was some more serious business. She
had already connected it with Rankine and the sinking of the merchant
ships. The reasons that led her to this conclusion were not very
clear, but she felt that Williamson and the man with the red mustache
had something to do with the matter. She wondered whether she ought to
warn Andrew; but she felt that she could not betray her uncle unless
she was certain that Andrew was in danger.

She roused herself when she heard the car outside. Madge Whitney was
coming to spend a week with them. Shortly after Madge's arrival, Dick
returned from Dumfries, looking ill; and when the party gathered in
the drawing-room after dinner, conversation dragged. It was a relief
when Mrs. Woodhouse suggested that they go to bed. Elsie went with
Madge to her room, and they sat together on a low divan before the
fire.

"Now," Madge said, "what's the matter with you all?"

"I don't know," said Elsie. "I don't feel very gay; but you didn't
cheer us much. I'm sorry your head aches."

"The trip was pretty bad. But I had a little adventure."

Madge smiled charmingly.

"What?" Elsie asked indifferently.

"When we stopped at Dumfries, I got out to get a paper, and as I ran
along the platform I bumped into a man who'd come from the cars across
the track. He had his hands full of things and said a kind of swear in
German, when he dropped them all about."

"In German!" Elsie exclaimed.

"Sure. Well, I didn't want him to miss the train, so I picked up the
nearest thing. It was a nice little box that flew open, and I thought
it had a clock in it. He got into my car and began to apologize in
very good English, and then I asked him what was in the box. I thought
he hesitated, but he showed me that it was a compass, with a brass
thing that turned around its top and had two little slits for looking
through."

"An azimuth; Andrew has one. They're used when you want to be
accurate in taking bearings. But go on."

"There's not much more. He was rather a charming man and had been in
America. We talked all the way to Annan, where he got out."

"What was he like?"

"Tall and big with a sunburned face, very light blue eyes, hair
between red and brown. He looked like a sailor--a captain or something
of the kind, though he was dressed plainly in thick, blue clothes and
had a bundle of oil slickers."

"Had he a red mustache?"

"He had none at all, but I guess it would be red if he let it grow. Do
you know him?"

"No," Elsie said quietly; "at least, I'm not sure."

Madge gave her a keen look.

"You make me curious; I went into detail because you are more
interested than you want to show. Of course, I thought it strange that
a man who spoke good English should relieve his feelings in German
when he felt annoyed, and afterward try to convince me that he wasn't
a foreigner. I think he did try and that was the reason he talked so
much."

"I was thinking about the compass; you said it was in a nice little
box. They use things like that on small yachts and boats."

"This one was about as long as your hand. Where does the other track
that runs into Dumfries come from?"

"From Glasgow."

"Oh!" said Madge. "You build warships there, don't you?"

She opened her traveling bag and took out a time-table which contained
a map of Scotland.

"Look at this," she said, indicating Stranraer, Portpatrick, and
Ramsey. "Rankine's been at these places, because I've had notes from
him, and you see how they command the way out from the Clyde. His
business doesn't stop at making charts."

"Has he told you so?"

"No." Madge blushed prettily. "Still, he's admitted something; you
see, we are friends. Besides, he's a smart officer; they wouldn't
waste a man like him on taking soundings. That would be quite absurd."

Elsie's smile was sympathetic, for she thought she understood her
friend's belief in Rankine's talents.

"He's here on guard in the west," Madge went on; "Andrew's there,
about half way between him and Annan; and now we have a German sailor,
who speaks English and has a boat-compass, at the head of the Solway
Firth."

Elsie made an abrupt movement, for Madge had found the missing link
and the chain was complete. Men were working night and day at
armaments and warships on the Clyde. Her face was troubled, but her
lips set firm, for she began to see that she could no longer keep her
secret. The time when she must act had come.

"I think you have guessed right," she said after a moment or two.

"Then you understand that we have some responsibility."

"I don't see yours."

The color crept into Madge's face.

"Oh, well! For one thing, my brother's with Andrew." Then she put her
arm impulsively round Elsie's waist. "We've got to see this through,
dear."

Elsie's reserve gave way.

"Yes," she answered steadily; "we must. The man you met has been at
Appleyard when they thought we were all asleep--and I'm afraid he'll
be here again."

Madge showed no surprise.

"I know how you're fixed. But think! Andrew and Jim may be in danger.
We can't let them get hurt."

"That's impossible! But what must we do?"

"Watch for the German sailor, first of all," Madge advised. "Try to
find out what he has come for, and spoil the plot. I'm glad you gave
me the room next to yours. I can reach you by that inner door, if it's
necessary." She leaned forward and kissed Elsie. "Now you must go to
bed, dear. You look anxious and tired."



CHAPTER XXVIII

A WILD RIDE


Elsie went to sleep at last, but her rest was broken and once or twice
she awoke with a start. She was uneasy and highly strung, but she
heard nothing unusual. The wind moaned about the house and the splash
of the little burn rose from the glen. Staffer had gone out before
dinner and as he had not come back when she went to bed, she did not
think any stranger would visit Appleyard. Telling herself that she
must not indulge in nerves, she went to sleep again. Some time later,
when lying half awake, she heard a soft rattle; and her heart beat
fast, for she knew that the handle of her door was being gently
turned. She was glad that she had locked it, though this was the first
time she had ever done so.

The sound stopped, a board in the passage creaked, and as the shock of
alarm began to pass, Elsie guessed that it was Staffer trying to make
sure that she was in her room. This implied that he was going
downstairs to meet some one; but she waited until she got calmer,
wondering if, after all, she had been mistaken. Staffer could not have
returned until late, and it was strange he had allowed his visitor to
risk coming to the house when he might be out. She tried to believe he
had not done so; but when she heard a faint tap on the other door,
which opened into Madge's room, there was no longer any doubt.
Nerving herself for a painful effort, she got up and hastily put on
some clothes. Then she went into the other room and saw Madge's
shadowy figure standing by the window.

"You heard it?" Madge whispered. "Somebody's gone down. Do you know
who it is?"

"Yes. . . . It is my uncle."

Madge put out her hand in the darkness and squeezed Elsie's cold
little fingers sympathetically.

"You have to choose between him and Andrew, dear," she said.

"Yes," Elsie agreed in a strange, toneless way.

"Then we must find out what's going on. My brother's on board the
_Rowan_ too, you must remember--and there's the survey ship. I was
thinking of them all and I couldn't sleep."

"Are you ready to come down?" Elsie asked.

Madge shivered as she opened the door. It was very dark and cold in
the passage, and she shrank from the adventure; but she followed
Elsie, when the girl quietly locked the door, taking out the key.
Elsie had better cause to hesitate than Madge, but her resolution was
fixed. Andrew might be threatened and that was enough. She loved him,
and he loved her, though he had tried to hide it. He was hers, and,
with a woman's deep-rooted instincts, she was ready to fight for him.
The choice she had made was no longer hard. Her uncle had now no claim
on her; he was her lover's enemy. For the time, all complexities had
vanished; Elsie was driven by primitive impulses. She would protect
Andrew as a mother protects her child.

As they approached the top of the stairs, she put out her hand and
stopped Madge.

"Not this way," she whispered. "Follow me close. We'll go down by the
back."

They turned into a passage that led through the servants' part of the
house. It was dark and narrow, but Elsie moved down the middle and
Madge kept behind her. When they reached a small, back landing, Elsie
guided her to a hole in the floor, and, putting down her foot
cautiously, Madge felt a step. They were newel stairs and the stone
struck cold through her stockings as she tried to find the broader
side. When she reached level ground, she crept forward behind Elsie,
across a large empty space which seemed to be the kitchen. The next
moment Madge struck something that jarred noisily on the floor, and
she and Elsie stopped with frightened gasps. The sound seemed to echo
through the house.

They waited, listening with tingling nerves, but all was silent, and
they crept on until they came to a closed door. Elsie, putting both
hands on the knob, turned it cautiously. The latch clicked and they
stopped again; but heard nothing. The gloom in front was impenetrable,
but a draught of cold air touched their faces and Madge thought they
were looking into the hall. After a few moments, she heard a sound
that suggested a chair being moved, and then a half-distinguishable
murmur. It seemed to come from somewhere near by.

"They're in the drawing-room. Wait here," Elsie whispered; and the
next moment Madge was alone.

It was very cold and the darkness was daunting, but she tried to brace
herself. Her brother was engaged in dangerous work, and the secret
conference that was being held in the room across the hall might
threaten him. Then, Rankine had some part in the business. She felt a
thrill that brought the blood to her face and gave her courage as she
determined that no harm should come to him.

The murmur in the drawing-room grew louder, and Madge wondered if she
could get nearer to it. Advancing cautiously into the hall, she tried
to remember where the furniture was; but her outstretched hand struck
something that rattled, and she stopped, alarmed. She had been on the
point of knocking down a vase, and it was plain to her that further
progress would involve risk. Elsie had some plan, and a noise would
spoil it. Madge went back to her post and waited there in the
darkness, highly strung and shivering.

Elsie, in the meantime, had left the house and crept round it on the
grass until she reached a greenhouse built against one side of the
drawing-room. The door was open, as she had expected, and, feeling for
the edge of a flower-stand, she followed it up until she could crouch
down beside the steps leading to a French window. It was closed but
not latched, for when she ran her fingers along the joint, she felt an
aperture; but she dared not try to pull it open. Still, she could see
in. The lamps had not been lighted, but an electric torch lay on the
table and threw a ring of light on the opposite wall, two or three
feet from the ground. The rest of the room was in darkness, but a dim
illumination which spread beyond the bright beam showed two figures
faintly.

The men sat at the table. Elsie could not hear what they said; for
their voices were low and they spoke in curt sentences. As soon as
they had finished their business, one of them would get up and go, and
she might not be able to steal away in time; besides, another man
might come in by the door behind her. She must risk trying to open the
window. She got her fingernails into the crack; but the hinges began
to grate, and she let her hand drop. The voices, however, were now a
trifle more distinct and she recognized one as her uncle's. Only a
word or two was audible here and there, and she could not connect them
with what she missed; but, after a time, she heard Staffer say:

"All falls through unless Williamson gets into touch. . . ."

"He must . . . should be there now . . . low water," said the other
man.

Elsie missed Staffer's answer, but soon she caught:

"Andrew Johnstone and the American. . . ."

"Must be stopped . . . know too much . . . No scruples . . . can't
hesitate."

Staffer laughed; and Elsie shuddered at his half-heard voice.

"I don't . . . do what you like . . . But make sure . . . know too
much . . . both dangerous."

Elsie shrank down as Staffer rose and the light traveled along the
wall, but the men crossed the floor and she heard a cupboard being
opened. They were now near the hall door and she missed what they
said; but she had heard enough and must escape before the stranger
left by the window.

Stealing out of the greenhouse, she ran back, with her brain busily at
work. Madge was waiting where she had left her. Together they crept up
the back stairs and into Madge's room.

Elsie was very calm when at last she felt it safe to speak.

"They came to the door once. What did you hear?" she asked in a
whisper.

"_The wreck. About three hours. There before high water!_ It wasn't
Staffer's voice."

Elsie pressed her arm, and, listening eagerly, they heard a stealthy
footstep in the passage. Then the handle of Elsie's door shook, as if
it had been touched, and there was silence.

They waited for a few minutes while Elsie thought quickly. The
situation, though still obscure, was getting clearer. Andrew was
interfering with something it was necessary that Williamson should do,
and Staffer had told his visitor that he could stop him as he liked,
but must make sure. There had been something horribly threatening in
his laugh as he said that Andrew and Whitney knew too much. The
visitor was to do what he had undertaken, about low water, near a
wreck.

The question was: _What had he undertaken?_

"What is that?" Madge whispered, turning to the open window.

A faint throbbing came out of the dark. It was some distance off, but
Elsie recognized it as a motor running down the valley.

"It's the man going to Annan," she said. "Listen while I explain--"

Her conclusions grew clearer and more logical as she put them into
words, and she got up resolutely when she had finished.

"We can do nothing more; Dick must help us now."

Stealing down the passage, she entered his room and shook him gently.
He awoke, and she put her hand on his face to check the exclamation
she half expected.

"It's Elsie; you mustn't make a noise," she whispered. "Do you know
anything about a wreck?"

"I know where it is," he answered drowsily.

"Andrew's there to-night, isn't he?"

"It's possible," said Dick, lifting himself on his elbow. "Why do you
ask?"

She told him what she had overheard, and he was silent for a moment,
though she knew that he was now wide awake.

"Andrew must be warned," he said; "and the other fellow's got a start.
I couldn't get the car out without bringing Staffer down, and
Whitney's motorcycle is at the Burnfoot. I'll have to take my
bicycle."

Elsie noted that he had shown no surprise, which was curious, and that
he was very cool. Then she remembered that he had not been looking
well for some days.

"Can't you get a fisherman to go?" she suggested. "You could give him
a guarded message or a note."

Dick smiled.

"I'll have to take a fisherman, but I'm going. Andrew's a very good
sort and I owe him something." His tone changed strangely. "Will you
give me a kiss, Elsie? You haven't done so since we were kiddies--but
I'd like you to."

Elsie stooped and kissed his cheek and he put his hand on hers.

"Thank you, dear. Now you'll have to go. I must start as soon as
possible."

She left him, wondering at something unusual in his manner; and five
minutes afterward Dick crept down the back stairs. When he wheeled out
his bicycle, the lamp would not burn and he had no time to look for
fresh carbide. It was difficult to keep on the drive, and he feared
that Staffer might hear the crash if he ran into the border and fell,
but he avoided this, and opened the gate at the lodge without wakening
its occupants.

The valley was dark, the road wet, and Dick could scarcely see the
clipped hedgerows. Indeed, at first, he ran on to the grass, but by
degrees his eyes got used to the gloom and he let the bicycle coast
down a long hill. It gave him a good start, but when he came to the
bottom, the hill in front was steep, and he knew a stern effort would
be needed, as he changed to the low gear. He was distressed and
panting hard when he was half-way up, and as he forced the cranks
round, the tires slipped and skidded in the mud. The trees that
stretched their bare branches overhead kept the road soft, but it
seemed to him that they also shut out the air. He could not breathe in
the thick gloom beneath them, and his heart was throbbing painfully.

This was the kind of thing he had been especially warned against; but
he could not stop. The wind was light, and, allowing for some loss of
time in waking a fisherman and getting his boat away, it would be past
low-water when they approached the wreck. Remembering what had
happened the night the lamp went out, Dick saw that Andrew's danger
would begin when the flood-tide raced across the sands.

The breeze met him in the face when the road turned toward the coast
at the summit of the hill. He found it refreshing, but it threatened
to increase his labor and the mud got worse as he ran down to the
seaboard plain. Light mist thickened the gloom and the bicycle skidded
badly when he struck the boggy strip along the half-seen hedgerows.
Still he toiled on, while the perspiration dripped from his forehead
and he got dizzy. The exertion he was making was not sufficient cause
for this, but he had paid for rashly running upstairs at a Lockerbie
hotel a few days before. Something the doctor had warned him of had
happened, and he had not recovered from it yet. For all that, he must
reach the lower end of the channel before the tide began to flow.

He knew the road well, but he could not distinguish where he was, and
was half afraid he had taken a wrong turning, until a few faint lights
shone out ahead. These must mark the outskirts of Annan. Five minutes
later he ran down the main street. The houses were dark, and he had
some trouble to find the narrow lane that turned off to the waterside.
There were no lights here, but the road was paved, and when he passed
under a railway bridge tall black buildings rose between him and the
river. A sour smell came from the wet mud-banks behind them, and the
splash of running water warned him that the tide was falling fast. He
must lose no time if he meant to get away before the boats were left
aground.

He passed a silent factory and a long, shadowy mill; a schooner's
masts rose out of the gloom, and he was in the open. When the road
stopped near a wharf-shed, Dick pushed the bicycle through a gap in a
hedge and across a field, until he reached a very muddy lane. He would
rather have left the machine; but time did not permit; and for the
next five minutes he jolted furiously among the pools and ruts.
Somehow, he saved himself from falling, and jumped down when a dark
row of houses, on rising ground, cut against the sky. Throwing the
bicycle against a fence, he climbed the hill, breathing hard, while
his head swam and he felt the heavy thumping of his heart.

When he knocked at the door, a man came down and took him into a
small, plainly furnished room. He was a big fellow, with keen blue
eyes, and a brown face covered with fine wrinkles.

"Noo ye can tell me what ye want," he said.

Dick gave him a rather inadequate explanation, and the fisherman
looked thoughtful.

"Weel," he said, "I dinna' understand it athegither, but it's enough
if ye think Mr. Andrew's in trouble." He paused for a moment, as if
pondering, and then resumed: "The big shrimp-boat would take us doon
faster, but she draws four feet and we'd want a punt to get ashore.
I'm thinking we'll take the whammeler. She's a smart bit craft and we
could pull her if there was need."

He gave Dick a bundle of black oilskins.

"Pit these on. Ye'll need them."

Dick thought this probable, for he was wearing only his thin, ordinary
clothes.

"Thanks," he said, as he got into the oilskins, which were softer and
more pliable than any he had seen in shops. "You see, I left in rather
a hurry."

"I ken. An' noo we'll start."

His curtness was reassuring, for Dick knew his countrymen. The
fellow's immediate business was to take him to the wreck, and he would
fix his mind on doing so. It was obvious that there was something
mysterious about their errand, but although the Scot is as curious as
other people, he seldom asks unnecessary questions when there is work
to be done. His habit is to concentrate upon the main issue.

They left the house, and a few minutes later crept along a slippery
plank to a boat lying against a timber framework on which nets were
dried. She was sharp at both ends, half-decked, and about twenty feet
long; with a short, thick mast. Now that the tide had ebbed, the river
mouth was about a dozen yards across, and a row of larger craft,
sheering to and fro in the eddies, nearly filled the channel. Behind
these, a cluster of white buildings and a low promontory loomed out of
the dark. On the opposite side, a high gravel bank seemed to close the
narrow entrance.

"Lowse the stern-mooring!" said the fisherman; and there was a harsh
rattle of chain as the boat slid out into the stream.

He threw an oar into the sculling notch and they drifted away,
slipping between the trawl-boats that rose out of the gloom and
vanished astern. A minute later, the stream boiled noisily along the
gravel bank, the white buildings faded, and they were swept into the
darkness that brooded over the Firth. The fisherman hoisted a small,
black lugsail and jib, and took the tiller as the boat listed gently
down to a biting wind.

"Maybe ye'll find it warmer in the for'ad den," he said. "Ye can light
the bit stove and set the kettle on."

Dick was shivering, and he was glad to crawl through a hatch into a
narrow dark hole, where he lay down, after feeling for and lighting
the stove. There was no room between floor and deck-beams to sit
comfortably, but an old sail and some ropes made a couch on which he
could rest. He felt shaky, and an unpleasant faintness threatened to
overcome him.

He heard the water splash against the planks and felt the boat list.
That was comforting, because he thought it was fourteen miles to the
wreck. Still, the ebb would run nearly four miles an hour, there was
some wind, and the whammel boats sailed fast. If his companion could
keep her off the ground as the banks dried and the channel narrowed,
they ought to arrive by low-water.



CHAPTER XXIX

WHEN THE TIDE TURNED


The wind fell as the tide drained out, and belts of mist hung
motionless about the sands when the whammel boat crept slowly down to
the mouth of the channel. The sail lay on deck, and Dick panted as he
pulled an oar while his companion sculled astern. He felt faint, and
the heavily ballasted boat was hard to move, but he thought the tide
was turning now and he knew that he must hold out. Occasionally he
turned and looked ahead, but saw nothing except the mist. There were
no birds about, the water was smooth, and everything was very quiet.
At length, a tall mast grew out of the haze and Dick stopped rowing.

"The _Rowan_. Scull her in to the bank," he said. "I want to see where
the dinghy is."

They could not find her, but presently came upon a whammel boat lying
near the edge of the sand.

"It's the _Nance_ that Tam Grahame selt awa'," the fisherman remarked.
"I canna' see what she's doing here with naebody on board."

"We'll pull off to the yacht," Dick replied.

The dinghy was not astern when they boarded the _Rowan_; and when Dick
went below and lighted a lamp, his companion looked puzzled.

"It's queer! There's seeven feet o' watter, and Mr. Andrew wouldna'
swim ashore."

"Not when he had the dinghy."

"But she's no' on the bank."

"I imagine she's out at sea, by now," Dick said grimly. "How long do
you think the _Nance_ has been here?"

"Maybe half an hour. Her keel's weel in the ground and the tide
doesna' fall much on the last o' the ebb. They're no' expecting to be
back until the flood makes, because her anchor's up the bank."

"That's what I thought," said Dick. "Now, I will tell you that Andrew
is in danger. I had meant to find him, but I don't feel well enough. I
suppose you can use a gun?"

"We get a shot at a whaup or shellduck whiles. Ye're no' looking
weel."

Dick lifted a big 10-bore gun from a rack and searched a locker for
cartridges.

"Fours," he said, putting down a packet. "I think you'd better have
B's. Here they are."

The fisherman looked at him curiously as he took the cartridges, which
were loaded with large shot; and Dick smiled.

"You may meet the man who set the punt adrift," he explained. "I want
you to go to the wreck and find my cousin. Tell him to be careful,
because one of the gang has come down the channel after him. If
there's trouble going on when you get there, do what you think best;
but bring Andrew back. The police won't blame you afterward if you
have to use the gun."

The man nodded quietly, and Dick knew that he could be trusted.

"Ye'll be for staying here. Will I light the stove?"

"No," said Dick. "I imagine it would be safer if I waited in your
boat. She'll be needed when the tide flows, and I can make myself
comfortable in the den."

The fisherman sculled the boat ashore and put out an anchor; and then
he went away across the bank and Dick crept into the forecastle. The
stove was still burning, and the small, dark place was warm. It had
been a strain to hold out until all that was necessary had been done,
and now he was glad to lie down among the ropes and sails. There was a
weight on his chest, his breathing was hard, and his pulse seemed to
be getting sluggish. He wished he had some brandy or there was
somebody about; but he must not give in yet. The boat would be needed
when Andrew came back and it might be tampered with.

While the fisherman and Dick had been hurrying to them, Andrew and
Whitney, well armed, crossed the bank toward the wreck and then
separated at a short distance from her. Andrew went straight forward
while his comrade made a round so as to approach her from the other
side. Hitherto, their visits had led to nothing, but Rankine seemed to
think it would be different this time.

When he got near the wreck, Andrew found that the tide had scoured out
a pool round her after part, and this threatened to make things
difficult. His figure would be visible against the pale gleam of the
water and he could not get across without splashing. He must go round,
but this would take him away from the place where it was easiest to
get on board. For all that, he must not make a noise, and he moved
cautiously across the wet sand until he reached the broken timbers on
the edge of the pool.

He heard the water trickle through the vessel's seams and the murmur
of the languid surf in the distance, but presently he thought there
was something else. The sound seemed to come from inside the wreck. He
moved a few yards nearer and then stopped, with his feet in the pool,
listening hard. There was a curious snap and crackle, like the
striking of matches; and, looking up, Andrew saw that something was
sticking out from the masthead. His lips set in a hard line. A
wireless installation was at work, perhaps giving a message that would
send another ship to its doom. But it looked as if he could surprise
and seize the operator, and he meant to do so, though he realized what
the consequences might be.

It was, however, impossible to climb up with the gun in his hand, and
he was sorry that he had brought it. Leaning it against the wreck, he
found a rest for his hand and lifted himself to a stringer. His head
and shoulders were now above the top of the vessel's ribs, but he did
not see how he was to reach the deck, which had fallen in abreast of
where he was. While he looked about there was a sharp report behind
him and a tremor in the wood. It had been struck by a bullet a few
inches from his side. Letting go quickly, he fell back with a splash.

Andrew was afterward uncertain whether he lost his hold in alarm or
dropped back with instinctive caution. He came down in the water, and
did not get up, because a dark figure stood on the other side of the
pool and he feared that a movement would draw a bullet. His gun was
some yards away; but Andrew thought he would be nearly invisible
against the side of the wreck so long as he kept still, and the shot
would bring Whitney to his help.

There was a shout from the deck, and Andrew recognized Williamson's
voice. He was obviously alarmed, but the other man called out sharply
in German, ordering him back. Andrew imagined from this that the
message he was transmitting was of urgent importance, or perhaps the
newcomer had another to send.

It was plain that the men must not be allowed to finish their work,
and Andrew wondered whether he could creep back to where his gun lay
while the fellow's attention was diverted. He was getting up
cautiously when the enemy's pistol flashed and a spurt of water
splashed into his face. Then there was a streak of light and a heavier
report farther back on the sands, and his antagonist turned and ran a
few yards along the beach.

Andrew knew that Whitney could not have fired the shot. But at the
moment this was not important; he must get his gun while the man was
occupied. As he felt for it he heard Whitney run round the stern of
the wreck. He was safe now; but that crackling sound had begun again,
and at all costs Williamson must be stopped. Besides, Andrew had a
signal of his own to make. Leaving the gun, he climbed up a timber and
had just reached the deck when an indistinct figure rushed across it
and vanished over the broken bulwarks on the opposite side. Then a
patter of feet on the sand indicated that Williamson was escaping.

For all that, Andrew stopped, and, dragging a tin from his pocket, put
it on the rail and struck a match. As he dropped it into the tin a
bright blaze sprang up. Then he jumped down to the sand and seized his
gun. The fellow who had shot at him had disappeared and there was
nobody in sight; but he could hear men running on the other side of
the wreck.

"Come on!" Whitney's voice reached him out of the darkness.

As he splashed through the water around the vessel's stern he saw two
figures on the sand. One he took to be Whitney and the other was
evidently a friend. Making an effort, he caught them up, and Whitney
began to talk in breathless gasps.

"An Annan man--Dick sent him. Think coastguards will see your flare?"

"Where's Williamson and the other fellow?" Andrew asked quickly.

"Close ahead. They were going back to the channel, but couldn't get
past us. What about the tide?"

Andrew began to understand the situation. While he was trying to
surprise Williamson, his assailant had quietly come up behind him; and
he, in turn, had been followed by the man Dick had sent. The fugitives
must now make for the Scotch shore, or risk being shot at if they
tried to go around his party's flank. In order to prevent this, he
must extend his line.

"Spread out!" he cried. "Tide's flowing now, and the water will be in
the gut when we get there!"

Whitney and the fisherman moved off left and right, and Andrew,
glancing round, saw that his flare was burning. The men they followed
could not see it because they faced the other way, and although there
was some mist, he thought the signal would warn the coast-patrol, whom
Rankine had told to keep a good lookout. They ran on, splashing across
wet sand and into pools. Sometimes they caught a glimpse of two
figures ahead and sometimes lost them in the haze. It was hard to tell
whether they were gaming or not. Andrew dared not stop to take off his
long boots, and the Annan man, hampered by his oilskins, was falling
back; but Whitney was running well and drawing in front.

The sound of the advancing tide steadily grew louder, and a breeze was
getting up. As the three men came panting out of a belt of mist a
streak of water glimmered among the sands, and beyond it a black
hillside rose from the dusky beach. The fugitives were plainer now,
and it looked as if they could not escape; but the men held on
steadily, and Andrew wondered what depth there was in the gutter.
Glancing to one side, he thought he saw something moving along the
edge of the channel; but he could not be sure because there was mist
about the spot, and he could not stop to get a better view, for he was
determined to follow Williamson.

A few minutes later he saw the men in front stop at the edge of the
water, and he wondered why they did so. The channel was rapidly
widening and they must cross at once or surrender. Instead, they ran
along the bank for some distance and stopped again; and Andrew now saw
that a white boat was moving along the opposite side. Changing his
course, he ran on, panting hard, and saw that the men in front were
waiting. A moment later one plunged into the channel while his comrade
stood still.

As Andrew got nearer, there were two or three quick, bright flashes,
and he heard a bullet pass his head and saw the sand spurt up at
Whitney's feet. The fellow meant to stop them while his partner got a
start; or perhaps he imagined that the water was too deep to cross.

Whitney stopped. A puff of smoke blew about him and there was a heavy
report. The man on the bank staggered, fired his pistol again, and
splashed awkwardly into the water. A moment later Andrew plunged in.
He was close to the fellow now, but he had dropped his gun, because he
did not mean to shoot. The man turned and raised his pistol, but his
arm fell back, and Andrew sprang upon him.

They went down, and the stream boiled about them, but Andrew held on,
and a minute later Whitney was at his side. They dragged their
prisoner out.

"My arm!" he said breathlessly. "There is also some shot in my leg."

"Where's your pistol?" Andrew asked.

"In the sea."

"Well," said Whitney as the fisherman joined them, "I wish I knew what
we ought to do with him. We can't stay here."

This was obvious; for the tide was already flowing past their feet. As
they stood a moment, puzzling, they heard a hail and saw the white
boat pulling slowly toward them against the stream. She struck the
sand and a man in uniform jumped out.

"I see you have got one of them," he said. "Do you know him?"

"I never saw him before," Andrew answered. "Where's the other?"

"Gone down, I think. We saw him trying to swim, but the tide swept him
up the gut, and when we were getting close he disappeared. We pulled
round the spot, but saw nothing. No doubt, he'd have on his oilskins
and sea-boots."

"Well, this fellow's hurt. Will you take him?"

"Certainly. And you'd better come with us. You're Mr. Johnstone, I
suppose. We were told to look out for you. We launched our gig as soon
as we saw your flare."

Andrew said that he must get back to his boat and barely would have
time enough to do so; and after a hurried account of the affair, he
set off across the sands with his companions. Though they lost sight
of the water presently, they made the best pace they could, and the
Annan man, whom Andrew had recognized, related Dick's attempt to join
him.

"It's as weel, Mr. Johnstone stayed behind," he concluded. "I'm
thinking it was the fellow ye caught who set your dinghy adrift and
he'd maybe have a mate hanging roon the _Nance_."

When they came down to the channel, the tide was rising fast and the
_Nance_ had gone. The other boat was floating, but was held by the
anchor the fisherman had carried up the bank. There was no answer to
their hail and Andrew plunged into the water.

"Mr. Johnstone's nae doot in the den. He wasna' looking weel," said
the fisherman.

Andrew was on board in a few moments, and as he looked into the
forecastle while the others pulled the boat ashore, it was with relief
that he heard Dick's voice.

"Got back all right, old man?"

"Yes; we owe that to you."

"I'm glad," said Dick. "You might help me out; I'm not sure I could
get through the hatch."

Andrew noted that his voice was faint and strained, and he felt
disturbed when he saw how helpless the boy was when with some trouble
they lifted him through the narrow scuttle and put him down on the
floorings.

"Don't talk any more," Andrew said; and turned to the fisherman.
"Scull her off to the yacht as fast as possible!"

They were alongside in a few minutes and soon had Dick on a locker in
the cabin.

"Give me some whisky," he gasped. "I think I'm pretty bad."

"We'll soon run up the Firth and put you in a doctor's hands," Andrew
replied, as he held a glass to his lips.

Dick drained it, and then was silent for a minute or two.

"Andrew," he said finally, "there's something to talk about. You see,
I'm not sure I'll get over this."

"Rot!" Andrew exclaimed gruffly, trying to hide his alarm. "You've
been as bad before."

"No; not quite. But wait--"

Dick closed his eyes, and Andrew saw his fears reflected in Whitney's
look. Dick's face was chalky-white and haggard, and they noted his
labored breathing.

The tide splashed against the yacht's planks, the halyards had begun
to tap against the mast, and there was a sharp rattle of blocks as the
fisherman hoisted sail. They let him go and sat watching Dick from the
opposite locker. Presently he looked up.

"Think I can talk a bit now. You'll have Appleyard, Andrew, if I don't
get well. There's nothing to be said about that, because you'll look
after it much better than I should have done. Still, you'll keep the
old hands until you can pension them; and there's Bob, my old pony--I
shouldn't like him sold."

"You're taking too much for granted, Dick," Andrew replied. "You
knocked yourself out in hurrying down here to warn me, but you'll be
all right again in a few days."

"I know you hope so. It's possible, too; but we'll get things
straightened up. Of course, Appleyard is Mrs. Woodhouse's home--she's
not responsible for her brother, you know. Elsie will keep everything
right unless she marries." Dick paused and looked at Andrew with a
feeble smile. "She may, you know."

Andrew turned his head, and after a minute, Dick went on:

"I'd like my debts paid off, but the estate must not be robbed. If you
open my desk, you'll find an old pocket-book. It will show you what I
actually got. Pin them down to that. Now give me a little more
whisky."

Dick rested for a short while before he continued.

"You see, I did get their money, though not all that the notes called
for--and they'll have some trouble about the insurance."

"Ah!" Andrew interrupted. "How's that? But you'd better not bother
about it now."

"I may not be able to bother later," Dick smiled. "When I got the
doctor's warning I was very hard up, so I went to the insurance people
and asked how much they'd let me have if I surrendered the policy.
Well, though they asked a lot of questions, we didn't come to terms.
It seemed the other fellows were entitled to benefit; but something
wasn't straight and I think the office will dispute their claim. I
felt amused about it now and then; but they mustn't lose what they
really lent."

"I'll see to that," said Andrew, "Now, you lie quiet and Whitney will
look after you while I take her up the Firth. A doctor must see you as
soon as possible. Perhaps it will help things if you can go to sleep."

Andrew went on deck, and after weighing anchor and making sail he sat
at the helm, lost in disturbing thought, while the _Rowan_ stood
up-channel.



CHAPTER XXX

THE NET


It was a calm, dark night and the trawler's engines ran at half speed
as she closed with the land. The badge of a British steam-fishing
company was painted on her funnel, and a correct registration number
appeared in bold, white figures on her bows; but she carried no lights
and her crew were not Englishmen. Ahead, formless black hillsides
faded into the gloom, but the skipper, provided with the latest
Admiralty chart, knew his bearings and the leadsman had found the
depth of water he expected.

A plume of vapor trailed away from her escape-pipe, for, as she moved
slowly shoreward with the flood, the engines could not take all the
steam it was prudent to raise. After a time, a light twinkled upon the
unseen beach, went out, and shone again; and the skipper, ordering
another cast of the lead, made a quick calculation. The tide would
rise for an hour yet and there was already two feet more water than
his vessel drew in the channel he must enter. Then the lookout
reported a buoy ahead, and he rang his telegraph for more speed. He
was in the channel now and another buoy farther on would warn him of
the only dangerous bend. He was anxious to pick up his cargo and get
to sea again.

Moving shoreward faster, the vessel faded into the gloom of the land;
but the beat of engines and the splash of displaced water travel far
on a calm night, and men with keen ears were listening for these
sounds on board a powerful steam-launch two miles away. She traveled
at a moderate speed, towing a big, white gig filled with coastguards,
but her crew were navy men. A smart young lieutenant held the wheel,
trying to remember the soundings, bearings, and courses he had studied
so carefully. They were hard to check, particularly as the flood-tide
swept him along, but he was glad to remember that three feet of water
was enough for him.

Presently he stopped the engine and listened. At first, he could hear
only the ripple of the tide across some hidden shoal and the wash of
the languid swell upon the invisible beach; but after a time a
measured thud came out of the distance, and he knew that it was the
beat of a steamer's screw.

"Between us and the land, I think," he said.

"Yes, sir; about two miles off," agreed the second officer.

"Then she must be going up the gutter, because there's not a fathom on
the banks. We'll go ahead; there's enough water anywhere for us."

The launch swung round on a different course when her engines began to
clank, and a man sounded now and then as they ran for the shoals. The
lieutenant hardly expected to follow the channel; his object was to
keep within hearing of the other vessel, and, if he were lucky, his
work would be finished before the tide ebbed much. Suddenly a sharp,
pulsatory roar came out of the dark.

"It looks as if she were on the ground and carrying plenty steam," he
said, when he had ordered the engines to be stopped. "As they'll no
doubt back her off, we'll wait a while, to give them time to ship
their cargo."

For the next few minutes the crews of launch and gig listened eagerly.
They knew that when the vessel ran aground the steam her stopped
engines could not use had blown off. The roar died away, as was to be
expected, when the machinery was restarted, hard-astern, but now that
the immobility of the stranded craft increased the resistance, the
thud of the screw was louder. Presently, it changed to a steady beat
that drew away from them; and they knew she had got afloat and was
steaming up-channel.

"Easy all, for half an hour!" said the lieutenant, looking at his
watch.

The boats lay close together, rolling gently on the languid swell,
while the men sat in relaxed attitudes and talked in low voices.
Still, there was a feeling of suppressed excitement and it was a
relief when their officer grasped the wheel.

"Let her go at half speed!" he ordered.

The tow-rope tightened as the gig swung into line astern, and they
moved steadily toward the land for some time. Then they heard a roar
of steam again, louder than before and continuous, and the lieutenant
signed to the engineer.

"Full speed! We have her now!"

The water hissed along the planks, the gig lifted her bows on a
surging wave, and the wash of the screw ran far astern. A blurred
object grew out of the darkness in front of them, and then the officer
called to the coastguards:

"Cast off and get to your work! Burn a flare if you want us!"

A rope fell into the water, the engines stopped, and there was a
rattle of oars as the gig drove by. They fell with a simultaneous
splash, and their regular thud receded as she swept up-channel while
the launch's crew waited.

In a few minutes the sound stopped. There were alarmed shouts and
hoarse orders; while the roar of steam continued. Then the beat of
oars began again. The boat came back slowly, with two men pulling, and
ran alongside the launch.

"You don't seem to have had much trouble," the lieutenant remarked.

"We hadn't, sir," answered a coastguard officer. "They were busy and
didn't hear us until we'd got our boat-hook on her rail. Only one of
them drew a pistol and he was knocked down. We'll land them and leave
a guard on board when she's moored.'"

"Very well, if we can't take her to Barrow this tide?"

The coastguard laughed.

"So far as I could see, there's a big piece of flounder-net wrapped
round her propeller and trailing about her aft. It has an unusually
thick head-rope, and some lengths of iron pipe are jambed between the
blades and the rudder. The fellow who set the net made a good job.
We'll have trouble in cutting it loose when she dries."

"Did you find much oil?"

"About a boat-load of heavy drums, which had just been thrown on deck.
We got the boat and I guess our fellows ashore have seized another
lot. However, here are your two men. I don't think you'll do much
with the skipper, but the other seems less obstinate."

Two handcuffed men were put on board and the boat dropped back as the
launch leaped ahead. The water rose about her bows in a white, curling
wave, her stern sank down in a hollow ridged with foam, and she shook
with the fierce throb of hard-driven machinery. Dark hills slid past
to starboard, bold cliffs that stood out from their dim background
rolled by, and after a time a flash from a lantern was answered by a
gleam of light ahead. Then the blurred outline of a steamer grew into
distinct form. In another minute the launch was alongside and the
winches strained and clanked as she was hoisted in.

"Everything went as we expected, and I've brought you the two
prisoners," the lieutenant reported to Rankine, who sat in his room
before a big chart.

"Send them in, one at a time. And clear the guns and get under way.
The course is west by south."

Rankine spent some time examining his prisoners. One preserved an
obstinate silence, but when he had been taken away, the other seemed
to see the force of Rankine's arguments. When the second prisoner had
been dismissed, Rankine went up to the bridge and changed the course a
few points.

"The fellow bears out what we have been told," he said to the young
officer on watch. "I rather think he'll deal straight with us in order
to save his skin. Anyhow, he has given me their supply-boat signal.
The craft we're after is the latest and biggest thing of her kind."

"We ought to bag her," the officer replied thoughtfully. "I've got the
searchlight rigged, and Wilson's the best shot we had on the
battleship. Still, the little guns are awkwardly mounted and we
haven't a clear field of fire."

"It won't need more than one shot. A perforated submarine isn't much
use under water, and the game's ours if she stays on top. I'll give
you the call-up signal and you can get things ready."

An hour later, Rankine pressed a button and the engines stopped. The
clang of a steamer's bridge-telegraph can be heard some distance off,
but Rankine had substituted an electric signal. Having undertaken a
dangerous piece of work, he had carefully made his plans so that he
need not announce his movements to the enemy. Two guns had been put on
board the vessel, but as it was thought advisable to conceal them, and
the deckhouse and the masts were in the way, their fire commanded only
a limited strip of horizon.

Rankine searched the water with his night-glasses.

The coast was out of sight, mist drifted across the sea, and the night
was dark. On the whole, this was an advantage, for his antagonist was
expecting a trawler, and the darkness would prevent him from noticing
the vessel's size and rig until they were close together. There was
some swell, though the surface of the water was smooth, and the vessel
rolled languidly. A feather of steam eddied about her funnel, and
there was a soft splashing as her slanted side sank into the sea. No
gleam of light pierced the darkness; everything was still; and Rankine
stood waiting eagerly.

Presently he gave an order and one of the prisoners was brought to the
bridge; then the steamer slowly moved ahead while a petty officer,
standing behind a canvas wind-screen, alternately held up and lowered
red and green pyrotechnic flares. The streams of colored light showed
shadowy figures waiting motionless at their stations and drove a
radiant track across the water. Then they died away and men whose eyes
had been held by the glitter felt relief. Now they could see about the
ship, and they knew watchfulness was needed.

For five minutes nothing happened, and Rankine, conscious of keen
tension, began to wonder whether he should signal again. It was
possible that he had overshot or fallen short of his distance. Then a
sharp hail came from a lookout and he saw the sea break not far ahead.
A confused white ripple spread away from something that moved amidst
it, and drew out in a long, wavering line. A lantern flashed between
regular intervals of darkness, and presently a low, black object grew
out of the advancing foam. Rankine pressed the button and the throb of
engines slackened; then he gave an order to his prisoner.

The man hailed in German; the submarine swerved and slowed; and the
two vessels drew abreast, perhaps fifty yards apart, while Rankine's
quarter boat swung out from the davits.

"Tell them to jump into the water and I'll pick them up!" he ordered
the prisoner.

As the man called out, a dazzling beam from the searchlight played
upon the submarine's hull and her wet steel skin glittered like
silver. The next moment there was another flash, streaked with a vein
of red; and a cloud of thin, acrid smoke whirled up. The steamer
quivered with the heavy concussion; the submarine reeled and listed
over. Indistinct figures plunged into the foam that lapped about her
side; and then the bright beam showed an empty stretch of seething
water: Rankine was watching his boat, which moved into the lighted
track on her work of rescue, when a lookout shouted a hoarse warning.

Swinging round, Rankine saw a feathery streak of foam on the opposite
side of the vessel. It was heading toward her at tremendous speed, and
he knew the wash of a torpedo.

"Starboard, hard!" he called to the helmsman; and set his lips as he
pressed the button for full speed.

Two submarines had answered his signal, instead of one, and the last
had crept up to attack him while he was sinking her consort.

The steamer, however, answered her helm, slowly, but enough. The swift
white streak drove past her stern with a few feet to spare, and she
began to shake as her engines quickened.

"Port!" Rankine shouted in a harsh voice. "Steady that!"

A flash blazed out of the darkness, a panel of the wheelhouse was
shattered, and the canvas bridge-screen fell apart in rags; but
Rankine had seen a long, dark shape on the water close ahead. It might
vanish in a moment, before his guns could be swung and trained.
Indeed, he doubted if the submarine were within their field of fire,
and he meant to use a surer means. One end of the black hull tilted up
and the other began to sink. His enemy was going under. But would she
be quick enough? The steamer's sharp steel stem was only a dozen yards
away now.

Shouting an order to the crew, Rankine gripped the bridge-rails hard.

The water ahead boiled and rose in a tumbling ridge; there was a heavy
shock, and the steamer trembled violently. One could feel her forge
through something that crumpled up beneath her bows; but the jarring
and grinding passed aft, and she leaped forward when she was once over
the obstacle. Rankine saw a curious disturbance down the screw-torn
wake, but it subsided and he stopped the engines.

"Sound the forward well! Swing your light aft and lower the gig!" he
ordered.

The stream of radiance flashed astern and spread about the vessel; but
there was nothing on the water except their own boat, which made
toward them. Then a man came up to report that the well was nearly
dry.

"She's a strong old ship," Rankine remarked, and turned to another
man: "Where's that prisoner, Evans?"

"I haven't seen him, sir, since the torpedo missed us."

"Ask on deck," said Rankine. "Why isn't the gig away?"

As the man went down the ladder, a splash of oars began, and the
searchlight's moving beam swept the sea. It picked out the larger boat
and then passed on, leaving black darkness, and followed the gig. Ten
minutes later, the boats returned and Rankine received the young
lieutenant in his cabin.

"We have six men; all from the first craft, so far as we can make
out," the lieutenant reported, with rather strained quietness.

"Then the rest have gone," Rankine said. "We have lost one prisoner,
too. It's pretty obvious that he jumped over. He must have known there
were two submarines and expected the last to sink us."

"He was not in the boats. Do you want to see the men we picked up?"

"Not just yet. Let them have dry clothes and anything else they need.
I wish we'd got some of the others; I don't know that one ought to
think they deserved their fate. But, after all, when one remembers the
torpedoed merchant ships-- However, we'll land them in Loch Ryan. Let
her go west by north until you make the Mull of Galloway light."

The lieutenant went out, and Rankine, lying back on the locker,
lighted his pipe. It was his first battle, and he wanted to recover
his normal calm. He had won, but he did not quite feel the
exhilarating flush of victory he had expected. Instead, he rather
shrank from dwelling upon the fight.



CHAPTER XXXI

UNEXPECTED HAPPINESS


Elsie, lying half awake, raised herself on her pillow as she heard a
clock strike. The anxiety she had half forgotten returned to her with
double force. Although she had not been quite asleep, she had lost
count of the time, and it was now nearly three hours after low-water.
The danger that had threatened Andrew must be past, but she did not
know how long she must wait for news of him. Besides, some mischance
might have befallen Dick. He had looked ill when she sent him on an
errand that would severely try his strength.

After a long time she heard a sharp throbbing coming up the valley. It
sounded like a motorcycle and she jumped out of bed and began to
dress, wondering whether Dick had borrowed the machine at Annan and
was returning. The sound grew louder; the motorcycle had passed the
lodge and was nearing the house when Elsie quietly entered Madge's
room.

"I heard it," Madge said. "I haven't been asleep. Shall I get up?"

"No." Elsie touched her in warning as a door opened.

There were steps in the passage, and they waited until the sound died
away.

"Are you going down?" Madge asked.

"Yes; I feel that I must. But it might be better if you didn't come."

She heard the hall door open as she descended the stairs, but she kept
on and waited at the bottom. The machine had stopped and she thought
it significant that its driver had boldly ridden up to the house. If
Dick had done so, he would have come in; but nobody had entered and
Staffer had gone out. After a few minutes, she heard the sliding door
of the garage run back. Elsie knew the sound of the small wheels as
they grated upon the iron carrier.

The motorcycle sped away noisily down the drive, and soon afterward
Staffer came in carrying a lantern. He did not see Elsie as he put the
light on a table and locked a traveling bag. She thought it curious
that the bag was ready packed; and since he had taken no precautions
against being heard, it looked as if speed were more important than
secrecy. The message that had been brought him must deal with some
urgent matter. Still, Dick had not returned and she was horribly
anxious. She could not wait to learn what had happened at the wreck.

As she moved forward to speak to Staffer, he looked up. His expression
was tense, but she thought he was calm.

"So you have spied on me again!" he said.

"Where's Dick?"

"Dick?" repeated Staffer. "Ah! Now I begin to understand! You sent him
down the Firth!"

"Yes; I did. And where is he?"

"On board Andrew's yacht, I imagine."

Elsie was sensible of keen satisfaction; but only part of her fears
were set at rest.

"And Andrew? Is he on the yacht?"

Staffer looked hard at her. She was trembling with excitement and
cold, but she did not flinch, and he surprised her by a curious,
bitter laugh. It carried a hint of understanding that brought the
blood to her face.

"I don't know where he is, but there's reason to think he has come to
no harm. That ought to satisfy you."

Elsie was silent. Her relief was great, but now that Andrew was safe,
her mind could fix itself on other matters. Staffer had guessed her
secret and knew that she had spoiled his plans; but his manner was
more ironical than revengeful. For all that, it disturbed and
frightened her. She thought something that had hit him hard had
happened, and his cold-blooded calm was daunting.

"Well," he said, "there's a touch of grim humor in the situation. I
found you a home and gave you the advantages you enjoy; and now you
have baffled me and ruined the work of cleverer brains than mine. It's
humiliating to see one's schemes brought to nothing by a raw girl's
devotion to her stupid lover."

"I'm sorry the course of things made us enemies. It was unavoidable,"
she said quietly.

Staffer made an impatient sign.

"I'm going away and it's very doubtful if I'll ever return; but I'd
rather you didn't mention the matter until breakfast to-morrow. Then
you can say I've gone to Edinburgh. Perhaps you can promise me that?"

"Yes. Don't you want to see Mother before you go?"

"No," Staffer answered thoughtfully; "it might be better if I didn't."

He broke off as the car came throbbing to the door; and Elsie followed
him across the hall.

"If things had only been different," she said, "we might have been
friends--"

Staffer did not seem to hear, for he jumped into the car and it rolled
away. Elsie stood looking out into the darkness for a long time; then
she shut the door and went slowly upstairs. She felt limp and
bewildered now that the strain had gone; the one thing she realized
clearly was that Andrew was safe.

Madge turned to her eagerly as she entered her room; but Elsie did not
stop.

"They are all right, but I can't talk about it now," she said and
passed on into her room, closing the door.

While Staffer was leaving Appleyard, Andrew was picking his way toward
the burnfoot, across a boggy heath. He had landed about an hour
earlier and gone to a farm to ask for a horse and trap and had sent a
man to Annan for a doctor. Now he was returning as fast as possible,
because he felt anxious about Dick; but caution was needed, for many
deep drains crossed the heath. The mist had closed in again, and, as
he stopped at the last drain to look for a narrow spot, he heard the
languid splash of the surf and the wild cry of a black-backed gull.
For some reason, the harsh sound disturbed him; and, jumping the drain
where he stood, he went on as fast as he could. The splash of the sea
grew louder, and at last he saw an indistinct figure waiting near the
water's edge. Andrew was used to the sands at night, but the
motionless dark form seemed to strike a deeper note of desolation.
His steps slackened as he approached it.

"Is that you, Jim?" he called.

Whitney waited until he came up, and then put his hand on his arm.

"I'm afraid you must brace yourself against a shock," he said gently.

"Ah! You mean Dick's worse?"

Whitney pressed his arm sympathetically.

"He's dead."

There was silence for the next minute, except for the mournful murmur
of the sea.

"It wasn't long after you went ashore," Whitney added. "He looked up
and beckoned me to sit on the locker by his cot. 'Tell Andrew I'm glad
he'll have Appleyard,' he said."

Whitney paused for a moment.

"He lay still afterward, and I thought he'd gone to sleep. Then the
cabin seemed to grow strangely quiet, and when I got up to look at him
I saw that he was dead."

"The hurried trip down-channel killed him, and he made it for my
sake!" Andrew said, in a tense, hoarse voice.

"You mustn't take that for granted; but, if true, he certainly
wouldn't grudge the risk. He might have died at any time from some
trifling exertion."

Andrew indicated the dinghy, in which he had rowed off from the yacht
alone.

"How did you get ashore?"

"The bank's steep and I sheered her in until I could jump from the
bowsprit end. I didn't want you to come on board without knowing."

"Thanks," said Andrew. "I'm going off to her now. Try to get into
Marshall's hut and make a fire. We'll have to wait some time for the
doctor."

He launched the dinghy, and when he returned Whitney had lighted a few
sticks and peats in the fisherman's sod hut. Andrew's face was grave
as he sat down on an empty box.

"If you don't mind, I'd rather not talk," he said.

He let Whitney row the doctor off when he arrived; and day was
breaking when they reached Annan. An hour later, Andrew, feeling limp
and cold, got down from a trap at Appleyard and walked stiffly into
the hall. Elsie came to meet him with a glow in her eyes; but she
stopped abruptly when she saw his face.

"What's the matter?" she asked.

He looked at her compassionately and she gasped.

"Oh! Is Dick--?"

He put his arm around her and led her to an oak bench near the big
fireplace.

"Dick's dead," he said quietly. "On board the _Rowan_. Heart failure,
the doctor thinks."

"I sent him, when I knew he was ill!" she cried in distress.

"You didn't know it would do him much harm, dear."

"But I did!" Elsie moaned with a shiver, turning her head.

Andrew was puzzled, but he answered soothingly:

"I know what you feel, because I felt it too--Dick might have got
better and lived a long time if he hadn't gone down-channel to warn
me. In fact, I spoke to the doctor about it, but he didn't altogether
take this view."

"He didn't want you to blame yourself."

"No; I don't think that was it. But it's a blow to us both, and the
worst is I can do nothing to soften it for you."

"You loved him," she said with a look of pain. "You came home from
Canada and fought Williamson for his sake. I was often impatient with
him, and he always bore it well. He was generous and forgiving--and we
know he was brave. He must have known the risk he ran--but he didn't
hesitate. I knew it--and I sent him--"

Her voice trailed off and she broke into stormy sobbing, while Andrew,
with his arm around her, awkwardly tried to comfort her. His touch
seemed to have a soothing influence, for Elsie got calmer.

"You were always a help, Andrew; one turns to you in trouble," she
said. "But I mustn't give way like this."

She rose as she spoke, and when she left him Andrew went up to
Whitney's room.

"I expect Miss Woodhouse feels the thing keenly," Whitney said.

"Yes; in fact, she feels much as I do, in spite of what the doctor
said. If Dick hadn't gone to our rescue, he'd have been with us yet.
Still, I don't quite understand--"

"You don't see why she let him go, when she thought it might be
dangerous?"

"Yes; that's what bothers me," Andrew said with some hesitation.

Whitney gave him a keen glance. He saw that Andrew had no suspicion of
the truth; but it was not his business to enlighten him.

"Well, she may have thought there were two lives that could be saved
against one that must be risked. It would be desperately hard for a
young girl to face the responsibility of deciding right. Miss
Woodhouse probably feels the strain--and, no doubt she's rather
overcome by the consequences of the line she took. But when she gets
calmer she'll see that she can't blame herself. But you had better
change your clothes and get some breakfast."

It was a relief to Andrew to find his time occupied. At noon he was
surprised by a request for an interview with a man he did not know.
The stranger was shown into the library and gave Andrew a letter.

"My card may convey nothing to you, but here are my credentials."

The letter was from the Home Secretary's office and was countersigned
by an eminent military authority.

"I'm at your command," Andrew said. "What is it you want to know?"

"Perhaps I'd better state that my visit is made in a friendly spirit.
We recognize the patriotic line you and your cousin have taken. I met
him once, and, it's rather curious, he invited me to Appleyard."

"Ah!" exclaimed Andrew. "I never thought that Dick--"

"Shared your suspicions? I can't tell you how far his went, but he may
have known more than you imagine. He certainly once did us an
important service. But we'll let that go. Did Mr. Staffer offer any
explanation for leaving here early this morning?"

"He said he was going to Edinburgh; that was all."

"Well, he got to Hawick, where we lost trace of him, but I think it's
impossible that he went farther north. Have you any ground for
suspecting who brought him the warning?"

"None," said Andrew shortly.

"I'm glad I can take your word, Mr. Johnstone. Now I must ask you to
tell me about your recent adventures on the sands. You see, I'm in
touch with Lieutenant Rankine and the coastguards."

Andrew related what had happened, and his companion looked satisfied.

"You don't seem to know that Williamson's body was washed up on the
Colvend shore, a few hours ago."

"Oh!"

"The man who could have told us most has gone. Our hope now is to
catch Staffer."

"You'd better make Appleyard your headquarters while you're looking
into things," Andrew said. "We have nothing to hide."

"Thanks; I'll be glad to do so. It may be some satisfaction for you to
learn that no unnecessary publicity will be allowed to attend this
matter."

The next day, the officer told Andrew that Staffer's car had been
found on the roadside, near a small fishing village on the
Northumberland coast.

"He doubled back into England by Norham," he added. "When our men got
upon his track they found he'd covered the distances between the
points at which they heard of him extraordinarily fast. In
consequence, he had a number of hours' start when he left the car, and
as a fishing boat sailed soon afterward, I'm afraid he got away across
the North Sea."

"I can't say that I am sorry he escaped," Andrew replied; "but I won't
complain if his friends on the other side keep him there for good."

Dick was buried two days later, in a lonely kirkyard where many of his
race had been laid to rest. The kirk had long crumbled down except for
one tottering arch, but, as usual in the country, the funeral service
was held at Appleyard, and Andrew's heart stirred as he saw the long
stream of mourners coming up the drive. Dick had not died unlamented,
but even those who knew him best were astonished at the number of his
friends. None of his tenantry was missing, his neighbors had come from
far and near; but there were others--fishermen, shepherds, men who
lived by horse-couping and other devious means, and innkeepers from
Dumfries and Lockerbie. The respectability of some was doubtful, but
their grief was obvious, so far as the Scottish character allowed it
to be seen, and Andrew gave them all his thanks and hand. This was an
ancient custom and he was now the head of the family; but as he looked
at the rows of solemn faces, he wondered whether he could win the love
his predecessor had won.

That night, when the others had gone to bed, Andrew sat talking to
Rankine by the fire in the hall.

"Has the fellow we caught on the sands made any admissions?" he asked.
"I understand you have seen him."

"None so far. He declined to talk, and, if I'm a judge of character,
it's the line he'll stick to until the end. He sees that he has no
defense. I'm rather curious about his rank; but he's obviously a navy
man."

"He'll be court-martialed?"

"Yes. It will be kept quiet, for one or two reasons, and I don't think
you'll be wanted."

"That's a relief. What's your private opinion about the matter? Was
the plot confined to supplying the submarines?"

Rankine lighted a cigarette before he answered.

"On the whole, I don't think so. In fact, it's possible there was some
foundation for your theory about the Eskdale road."

"Then you know something?"

"Something," Rankine agreed with a smile. "Now that my business on the
coast is finished and I'm going to join a battleship, I may perhaps
tell you that my rank is not lieutenant."

"Well, now that you are here, I hope you can spare us a few days."

"Thanks; I'll be glad to. My new ship needs some refitting and they
don't want me at Portsmouth yet."

The next few months passed uneventfully at Appleyard. For the most
part, Andrew was kept occupied, investigating Dick's affairs and
making new arrangements for the improvement of the estate. It was a
relief to be busy; for his loss still weighed on him; and he had
another trouble. Every day he grew deeper in love with Elsie; and she
seemed to try purposely to avoid him. When they met she was friendly,
but he noticed a hint of reserve in her manner. At last he began to
think he would better go to Canada for a while when he had put
everything straight.

Then, one cold spring evening, when he came back from a visit to a
moorland farm, he found her sitting by the fire in the hall. The light
was getting dim but the glow from the logs fell on her, and he noted
her quick, nervous movement as she saw him.

"I'm afraid I startled you," he said, stopping beside her. "I've been
walking about a wet bog all afternoon, examining drains, and it looks
very cozy here. I won't disturb you if I sit down?"

"Of course not."

Andrew took a chair near her, and stretched his hands to the fire.
Neither spoke for a few minutes; and their silence seemed the deeper
because of the loud ticking of the grandfather clock in the corner.

"I've always loved Appleyard," Andrew said slowly, looking about the
big hall; "but somehow it doesn't seem homey to me now. There's
something wanting; it's too big, or I'm better used to a boat."

"You miss Dick," Elsie answered softly, with a touch of color in her
face. "Though he was often ill, it's wonderful how bright he was."

"Yes; I miss him all the time--but perhaps not as you do."

Andrew's voice was full of sympathy, and Elsie gave him a quick
glance.

"You must know the truth, Andrew," she said impulsively. "At first I
did feel miserably guilty for having sent Dick on a dangerous errand
when I knew he was ill--"

"Dick went because he wanted to go," Andrew interrupted. "He never
shirked a risk, and least of all when he could help his friends."

"But if I had loved Dick in the way you seem to think I loved
him--perhaps I would not have been brave enough to let him go--I can't
be sure."

"You didn't love him in that way?"

Elsie looked down at the book which lay in her lap. Her face was
flooded with color, but a smile played about her lips.

"I would never have married Dick," she said, in a voice so low that
Andrew had to lean toward her to catch her words.

"There was some one else?" he asked tensely.

She looked up at him then, and he gasped at the deepening glow in her
eyes.

"What a stupid thing you are, Andrew! You ought to--"

He waited.

"Elsie--"

His voice was a mingling of incredulity and joy; and she answered his
unspoken question with a shy smile.

"Of course--dear!"


THE END



Transcriber's Note: The following typographical errors present in the
original edition have been corrected.

In Chapter II, a missing quotation mark was added before "Attendez,
mais attendez".

In Chapter III, "expensive yatching cap" was changed to "expensive
yachting cap", and "the Isle of Man, rose" was changed to "the Isle of
Man rose".

In Chapter VII, "is if the man had meant to jump across" was changed
to "as if the man had meant to jump across".

In Chapter XVI, "single-cyclinder engine" was changed to
"single-cylinder engine".

In Chapter XXVI, "his heavy boots sanks" was changed to "his heavy
boots sank".





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