In Secret

Robert W. Chambers




Earlier in the evening there had been a young moon on Isla Water. Under it spectres of the mist floated in the pale lustre; a painted moorhen steered through ghostly pools leaving fan-shaped wakes of crinkled silver behind her; heavy fish splashed, swirling again to drown the ephemera. 

But there was no moonlight now; not a star; only fog on Isla Water, smothering ripples and long still reaches, bank and upland, wall and house. 

The last light had gone out in the stable; the windows of Isla were darkened; there was a faint scent of heather in the night; a fainter taint of peat smoke. The world had grown very still by Isla Water. 

Toward midnight a dog-otter, swimming leisurely by the Bridge of Isla, suddenly dived and sped away under water; and a stoat, prowling in the garden, also took fright and scurried through the wicket. Then in the dead of night the iron bell hanging inside the court began to clang. McKay heard it first in his restless sleep. Finally the clangour broke his sombre dream and he awoke and sat up in bed, listening. 

Neither of the two servants answered the alarm. He swung out of bed and into slippers and dressing-gown and picked up a service pistol. As he entered the stone corridor he heard Miss Erith's door creak on its ancient hinges. 

"Did the bell wake you?" he asked in a low voice. 

"Yes. What is it?" 

"I haven't any idea." 

She opened her door a little wider. Her yellow hair covered her shoulders like a mantilla. "Who could it be at this hour?" she repeated uneasily. 

McKay peered at the phosphorescent dial of his wrist-watch: 

"I don't know," he repeated. "I can't imagine who would come here at this hour." 

"Don't strike a light!" she whispered. 

"No, I think I won't." He continued on down the stone stairs, and Miss Erith ran to the rail and looked over. 

"Are you armed?" she called through the darkness. 


He went on toward the rear of the silent house and through the servants' hall, then around by the kitchen garden, then felt his way along a hedge to a hutchlike lodge where a fixed iron bell hung quivering under the slow blows of the clapper. 

"What the devil's the matter?" demanded McKay in a calm voice. 

The bell still hummed with the melancholy vibrations, but the clapper now hung motionless. Through the brooding rumour of metallic sound came a voice out of the mist: 

"The hours of life are numbered. Is it true?" 

"It is," said McKay coolly; "and the hairs of our head are numbered too!" 

"So teach us to number our days," rejoined the voice from the fog, "that we may apply our hearts unto wisdom." 

"The days of our years are three-score years and ten," said McKay. "Have you a name?" 

"A number." 

"And what number will that be?" 

"Sixty-seven. And yours?" 

"You should know that, too." 

"It's the reverse; seventy-six." 

"It is that," said McKay. "Come in." 

He made his way to the foggy gate, drew bolt and chain from the left wicket. A young man stepped through. 

"Losh, mon," he remarked with a Yankee accent, "it's a fearful nicht to be abroad." 

"Come on in," said McKay, re-locking the wicket. "This way; follow me." 

They went by the kitchen garden and servants' hall, and so through to the staircase hall, where McKay struck a match and Sixty-seven instantly blew it out. 

"Better not," he said. "There are vermin about." 

McKay stood silent, probably surprised. Then he called softly in the darkness: 


"Je suis la!" came her voice from the stairs. 

"It's all right," he said, "it's one of our men. No use sittin' up if you're sleepy." He listened but did not hear Miss Erith stir. 

"Better return to bed," he said again, and guided Sixty-seven into the room on the left. 

For a few moments he prowled around; a glass tinkled against a decanter. When he returned to the shadow-shape seated motionless by the casement window he carried only one glass. 

"Don't you?" inquired Sixty-seven. "And you a Scot!" 

"I'm a Yankee; and I'm through." 

"With the stuff?" 


"Oh, very well. But a Yankee laird--tiens c'est assez drole!" He smacked his lips over the smoky draught, set the half-empty glass on the deep sill. Then he began breezily: 

"Well, Seventy-six, what's all this I hear about your misfortunes?" 

"What do you hear?" inquired McKay guilelessly. 

The other man laughed. 

"I hear that you and Seventy-seven have entered the Service; that you are detailed to Switzerland and for a certain object unknown to myself; that your transport was torpedoed a week ago off the Head of Strathlone, that you wired London from this house of yours called Isla, and that you and Seventy-seven went to London last week to replenish the wardrobe you had lost." 

"Is that all you heard?" 

"It is." 

"Well, what more do you wish to hear?" 

"I want to know whether anything has happened to worry you. And I'll tell you why. There was a Hun caught near Banff! Can you beat it? The beggar wore kilts!--and the McKay tartan--and, by jinks, if his gillie wasn't rigged in shepherd's plaid!--and him with his Yankee passport and his gillie with a bag of ready-made rods. Yellow trout, is it? Sea-trout, is it! Ho, me bucko, says I when I lamped what he did with his first trout o' the burn this side the park--by Godfrey! thinks I to myself, you're no white man at all!--you're Boche. And it was so, McKay." 

"Seventy-six," corrected McKay gently. 

"That's better. It should become a habit." 

"Excuse me, Seventy-six; I'm Scotch-Irish way back. You're straight Scotch--somewhere back. We Yankees don't use rods and flies and net and gaff as these Scotch people use 'em. But we're white, Seventy-six, and we use 'em RIGHT in our own fashion." He moistened his throat, shoved aside the glass: 

"But this kilted Boche! Oh, la-la! What he did with his rod and flies and his fish and himself! AND his gillie! Sure YOU'RE not white at all, thinks I. And at that I go after them." 

"You got them?" 

"Certainly--at the inn--gobbling a trout, blaue gesotten--having gone into the kitchen to show a decent Scotch lassie how to concoct the Hunnish dish. I nailed them then and there--took the chance that the swine weren't right. And won out." 

"Good! But what has it to do with me?" asked McKay. 

"Well, I'll be telling you. I took the Boche to London and I've come all the way back to tell you this, Seventy-six; the Huns are on to you and what you're up to. That Boche laird called himself Stanley Brown, but his name is--or was--Schwartz. His gillie proved to be a Swede." 

"Have they been executed?" 

"You bet. Tower style! We got another chum of theirs, too, who set up a holler like he saw a pan of hogwash. We're holding him. And what we've learned is this: The Huns made a special set at your transport in order to get YOU and Seventy-seven! 

"Now they know you are here and their orders are to get you before you reach France. The hog that hollered put us next. He's a Milwaukee Boche; name Zimmerman. He's so scared that he tells all he knows and a lot that he doesn't. That's the trouble with a Milwaukee Boche. Anyway, London sent me back to find you and warn you. Keep your eye skinned. And when you're ready for France wire Edinburgh. You know where. There'll be a car and an escort for you and Seventy-seven." 

McKay laughed: "You know," he said, "there's no chance of trouble here. Glenark is too small a village--" 

"Didn't I land a brace of Boches at Banff?" 

"That's true. Well, anyway, I'll be off, I expect, in a day or so." He rose; "and now I'll show you a bed--" 

"No; I've a dog-cart tied out yonder and a chaser lying at Glenark. By Godfrey, I'm not finished with these Boche-jocks yet!" 

"You're going?" 

"You bet. I've a date to keep with a suspicious character--on a trawler. Can you beat it? These vermin creep in everywhere. Yes, by Godfrey! They crawl aboard ship in sight of Strathlone Head! Here's hoping it may be a yard-arm jig he'll dance!" 

He emptied his glass, refused more. McKay took him to the wicket and let him loose. 

"Well, over the top, old scout!" said Sixty-seven cheerily, exchanging a quick handclasp with McKay. And so the fog took him. 

A week later they found his dead horse and wrecked dog-cart five miles this side of Glenark Burn, lying in a gully entirely concealed by whinn and broom. It was the noise the flies made that attracted attention. As for the man himself, he floated casually into the Firth one sunny day with five bullets in him and his throat cut very horridly. 

But, before that, other things happened on Isla Water--long before anybody missed No. 67. Besides, the horse and dog-cart had been hired for a week; and nobody was anxious except the captain of the trawler, held under mysterious orders to await the coming of a man who never came. 

So McKay went back through the fog to his quaint, whitewashed inheritance--this legacy from a Scotch grandfather to a Yankee grandson--and when he came into the dark waist of the house he called up very gently: "Are you awake, Miss Yellow-hair?" 

"Yes. Is all well?" 

"All's well," he said, mounting the stairs. 

"Then--good night to you Kay of Isla!" she said. 

"Don't you want to hear--" 

"To-morrow, please." 


"As long as you say that all is well I refuse to lose any more sleep!" 

"Are you sleepy, Yellow-hair?" 

"I am." 

"Aren't you going to sit up and chat for a few--" 

"I am not!" 

"Have you no curiosity?" he demanded, laughingly. 

"Not a bit. You say everything is all right. Then it is all right--when Kay of Isla says so! Good night!" 

What she had said seemed to thrill him with a novel and delicious sense of responsibility. He heard her door close; he stood there in the stone corridor a moment before entering his room, experiencing an odd, indefinite pleasure in the words this girl had uttered--words which seemed to reinstate him among his kind, words which no woman would utter except to a man in whom she believed. 

And yet this girl knew him--knew what he had been--had seen him in the depths--had looked upon the wreck of him. 

Out of those depths she had dragged what remained of him--not for his own sake perhaps--not for his beaux-yeux--but to save him for the service which his country demanded of him. 

She had fought for him--endured, struggled spiritually, mentally, bodily to wrench him out of the coma where drink had left him with a stunned brain and crippled will. 

And now, believing in her work, trusting, confident, she had just said to him that what he told her was sufficient security for her. And on his word that all was well she had calmly composed herself for sleep as though all the dead chieftains of Isla stood on guard with naked claymores! Nothing in all his life had ever so thrilled him as this girl's confidence. 

And, as he entered his room, he knew that within him the accursed thing that had been, lay dead forever. 

He was standing in the walled garden switching a limber trout-rod when Miss Erith came upon him next morning,--a tall straight young man in his kilts, supple and elegant as the lancewood rod he was testing. 

Conscious of a presence behind him he turned, came toward her in the sunlight, the sun crisping his short hair. And in his pleasant level eyes the girl saw what had happened--what she had wrought--that this young man had come into his own again--into his right mind and his manhood--and that he had resumed his place among his fellow men and peers. 

He greeted her seriously, almost formally; and the girl, excited and a little upset by the sudden realisation of his victory and hers, laughed when he called her "Miss Erith." 

"You called me Yellow-hair last night," she said. "I called you Kay. Don't you want it so?" 

"Yes," he said reddening, understanding that it was her final recognition of a man who had definitely "come back." 

Miss Erith was very lovely as she stood there in the garden whither breakfast was fetched immediately and laid out on a sturdy green garden-table--porridge, coffee, scones, jam, and an egg. 

Chipping the latter she let her golden-hazel eyes rest at moments upon the young fellow seated opposite. At other moments, sipping her coffee or buttering a scone, she glanced about her at the new grass starred with daisies, at the daffodils, the slim young fruit-trees,--and up at the old white facade of the ancient abode of the Lairds of Isla. 

"Why the white flag up there, Kay?" she inquired, glancing aloft. 

He laughed, but flushed a little. "Yankee that I am," he admitted, "I seem to be Scot enough to observe the prejudices and folk-ways of my forebears." 

"Is it your clan flag?" 

"Bratach Bhan Chlaun Aoidh," he said smilingly. "The White Banner of the McKays." 

"Good! And what may that be--that bunch of weed you wear in your button-hole?" Again the young fellow laughed: "Seasgan or Cuilc--in Gaelic--just reed-grass, Miss Yellow-hair." 

"Your clan badge?" 

"I believe so." 

"You're a good Yankee, Kay. You couldn't be a good Yankee if you treated Scotch custom with contempt.... This jam is delicious. And oh, such scones!" 

"When we go to Edinburgh we'll tea on Princess Street," he remarked. "It's there you'll fall for the Scotch cakes, Yellow-hair." 

"I've already fallen for everything Scotch," she remarked demurely. 

"Ah, wait! This Scotland is no strange land to good Americans. It's a bonnie, sweet, clean bit of earth made by God out of the same batch he used for our own world of the West. Oh, Yellow-hair, I mind the first day I ever saw Scotland. 'Twas across Princess Street--across acres of Madonna lilies in that lovely foreland behind which the Rock lifted skyward with Edinburgh Castle atop made out of grey silver slag! It was a brave sight, Yellow-hair. I never loved America more than at that moment when, in my heart, I married her to Scotland." 

"Kay, you're a poet!" she exclaimed. 

"We all are here, Yellow-hair. There's naught else in Scotland," he said laughing. 

The man was absolutely transformed, utterly different. She had never imagined that a "cure" meant the revelation of this unsuspected personality--this alternation of pleasant gravity and boyish charm. 

Something of what preoccupied her he perhaps suspected, for the colour came into his handsome lean features again and he picked up his rod, rising as she rose. 

"Are there no instructions yet?" she inquired. 

As he stood there threading the silk line through the guides he told her about the visit of No. 67. 

"I fancy instructions will come before long," he remarked, casting a leaderless line out across the grass. After a moment he glanced rather gravely at her where she stood with hands linked behind her, watching the graceful loops which his line was making in the air. 

"You're not worried, are you, Yellow-hair?" 

"About the Boche?" 

"I meant that." 

"No, Kay, I'm not uneasy." 

And when the girl had said it she knew that she had meant a little more; she had meant that she felt secure with this particular man beside her. 

It was a strange sort of peace that was invading her--an odd courage quite unfamiliar--an effortless pluck that had suddenly become the most natural thing in the world to this girl, who, until then, had clutched her courage desperately in both hands, commended her soul to God, her body to her country's service. 

Frightened, she had set out to do this service, knowing perfectly what sort of fate awaited her if she fell among the Boche. 

Frightened but resolute she faced the consequences with this companion about whom she knew nothing; in whom she had divined a trace of that true metal which had been so dreadfully tarnished and transmuted. 

And now, here in this ancient garden--here in the sun of earliest summer, she had beheld a transfiguration. And still under the spell of it, still thrilled by wonder, she had so utterly believed in it, so ardently accepted it, that she scarcely understood what this transfiguration had also wrought in her. She only felt that she was no longer captain of their fate; that he was now; and she resigned her invisible insignia of rank with an unconscious little sigh that left her pretty lips softly parted. 

At that instant he chanced to look up at her. She was the most beautiful thing he had ever seen in the world. And she had looked at him out of those golden eyes when he had been less than a mere brute beast.... That was very hard to know and remember .... But it was the price he had to pay--that this fresh, sweet, clean young thing had seen him as he once had been, and that he never could forget what she had looked upon. 


"Yes, Lady Yellow-hair." 

"What are you going to do with that rod?" 

"Whip Isla for a yellow trout for you." 


"Not our Loch, but the quick water yonder." 

"You know," she said, "to a Yankee girl those moors appear rather--rather lonely." 


"No; beautiful in their way. But I am in awe of Glenark moors." 

He smiled, lingering still to loop on a gossamer leader and a cast of tiny flies. 

"Have you--" she began, and smiled nervously. 

"A gun?" he inquired coolly. "Yes, I have two strapped up under both arms. But you must come too, Yellow-hair." 

"You don't think it best to leave me alone even in your own house?" 

"No, I don't think it best." 

"I wanted to go with you anyway," she said, picking up a soft hat and pulling it over her golden head. 

On the way across Isla bridge and out along the sheep-path they chatted unconcernedly. A faint aromatic odour made the girl aware of broom and whinn and heath. 

As they sauntered on along the edge of Isla Water the lapwings rose into flight ahead. Once or twice the feathery whirr of brown grouse startled her. And once, on the edge of cultivated land, a partridge burst from the heather at her very feet--a "Frenchman" with his red legs and gay feathers brilliant in the sun. 

Sun and shadow and white cloud, heath and moor and hedge and broad-tilled field alternated as they passed together along the edge of Isla Water and over the road to Isla--the enchanting river--interested in each other's conversation and in the loveliness of the sunny world about them. 

High in the blue sky plover called en passant; larks too were on the wing, and throstles and charming feathered things that hid in hedgerows and permitted glimpses of piquant heads and twitching painted tails. 

"It is adorable, this country!" Miss Erith confessed. "It steals into your very bones; doesn't it?" 

"And the bones still remain Yankee bones," he rejoined. "There's the miracle, Yellow-hair." 

"Entirely. You know what I think? The more we love the more loyal we become to our own. I'm really quite serious. Take yourself for example, Kay. You are most ornamental in your kilts and heather-spats, and you are a better Yankee for it. Aren't you?" 

"Oh yes, a hopeless Yankee. But that drop of Scotch blood is singing tunes to-day, Yellow-hair." 

"Let it sing--God bless it!" 

He turned, his youthful face reflecting the slight emotion in her gay voice. Then with a grave smile he set his face straight in front of him and walked on beside her, the dark green pleats of the McKay tartan whipping his bared knees. Clan Morhguinn had no handsomer son; America no son more loyal. 

A dragon-fly glittered before them for an instant. Far across the rolling country they caught the faint, silvery flash of Isla hurrying to the sea. 

Evelyn Erith stood in the sunny breeze of Isla, her yellow hair dishevelled by the wind, her skirt's edge wet with the spray of waterfalls. The wild rose colour was in her cheeks and the tint of crimson roses on her lips and the glory of the Soleil d'or glimmered on her loosened hair. A confused sense that the passing hour was the happiest in her life possessed her: she looked down at the brace of wet yellow trout on the bog-moss at her feet; she gazed out across the crinkled pool where the Yankee Laird of Isla waded, casting a big tinselled fly for the accidental but inevitable sea-trout always encountered in Isla during the season--always surprising and exciting the angler with emotion forever new. 

Over his shoulder he was saying to her: "Sea-trout and grilse don't belong to Isla, but they come occasionally, Lady Yellow-hair." 

"Like you and I, Kay--we don't belong here but we come." 

"Where the McKay is, the Key of the World lies hidden in his sporran," he laughed back at her over his shoulder where the clan plaid fluttered above the cairngorm. 

"Oh, the modesty of this young man! Wherever he takes off his cap he is at home!" she cried. 

He only laughed, and she saw the slim line curl, glisten, loop and unroll in the long back cast, re-loop, and straighten out over Isla like a silver spider's floating strand. Then silver leaped to meet silver as the "Doctor" touched water; one keen scream of the reel cut the sunny silence; the rod bent like a bow, staggered in his hand, swept to the surface in a deeper bow, quivered under the tremendous rush of the great fish. 

Miss Erith watched the battle from an angle not that of an angler. Her hazel eyes followed McKay where he manoeuvred in midstream with rod and gaff--happily aware of the grace in every unconscious movement of his handsome lean body--the steady, keen poise of head and shoulders, the deft and powerful
play of his clean-cut, brown hands. 

It came into her mind that he'd look like that on the firing-line some day when his Government was ready to release him from his obscure and terrible mission--the Government that was sending him where such men as he usually perish unobserved, unhonoured, repudiated even by those who send them to accomplish what only the most brave and unselfish dare undertake. 

A little cloud cast a momentary shadow across Isla. The sea-trout died then, a quivering limber, metallic shape glittering on the ripples. 

In the intense stillness from far across the noon-day world she heard the bells of Banff--a far, sweet reiteration stealing inland on the wind. She had never been so happy in her life. 

Swinging back across the moor together, he with slanting rod and weighted creel, she with her wind-blown yellow hair and a bunch of reed at her belt in his honour, both seemed to understand that they had had their hour, and that the hour was ending--almost ended now. 

They had remained rather silent. Perhaps grave thoughts of what lay before them beyond the bright moor's edge--beyond the far blue horizon--preoccupied their minds. And each seemed to feel that their play-day was finished--seemed already to feel physically the approach of that increasing darkness shrouding the East--that hellish mist toward which they both were headed--the twilight of the Hun. 

Nothing stained the sky above them; a snowy cloud or two drifted up there,--a flight of lapwings now and then--a lone curlew. The long, squat white-washed house with its walled garden reflected in Isla Water glimmered before them in the hollow of the rolling hills. 

McKay was softly and thoughtfully whistling the "Lament for Donald"--the lament of CLAN AOIDH--his clan. 

"That's rather depressing, Kay--what you're whistling," said Evelyn Erith. 

He glanced up from his abstraction, nodded, and strode on humming the "Over There" of that good bard George of Broadway. 

After a moment the girl said: "There seem to be some people by Isla Water." 

His quick glance appraised the distant group, their summer tourist automobile drawn up on the bank of Isla Water near the Bridge, the hampers on the grass. 

"Trespassers," he said with a shrug. "But it's a pretty spot by Isla Bridge and we never drive them away." 

She looked at them again as they crossed the very old bridge of stone. Down by the water's edge stood their machine. Beside it on the grass were picnicking three people--a very good-looking girl, a very common-looking stout young man in flashy outing clothes, and a thin man of forty, well-dressed and of better appearance. 

The short, stout, flashy young man was eating sandwiches with one hand while with the other he held a fishing-rod out over the water. 

McKay noticed this bit of impudence with a shrug. "That won't do," he murmured; and pausing at the parapet of the bridge he said pleasantly: "I'm sorry to disturb you, but fishing isn't permitted in Isla Water." 

At that the flashy young man jumped up with unexpected nimbleness--a powerful frame on two very vulgar but powerful legs. 

"Say, sport," he called out, "if this is your fish-pond we're ready to pay what's right. What's the damage for a dozen fish?" 

"Americans--awful ones," whispered Miss Erith. 

McKay rested his folded arms on the parapet and regarded the advance of the flashy man up the grassy slope below. 

"I don't rent fishing privileges," he said amiably. 

"That's all right. Name your price. No millionaire guy I ever heard of ever had enough money," returned the flashy man jocosely. 

McKay, amused, shook his head. "Sorry," he said, "but I couldn't permit you to fish." 

"Aw, come on, old scout! We heard you was American same as us. That's my sister down there and her feller. My name's Jim Macniff--some Scotch somewhere. That there feller is Harry Skelton. Horses is our business--Spitalfields Mews--here's my card--" pulling it out--"I'll come up on the bridge--" 

"Never mind. What are you in Scotland for anyway?" inquired McKay. 

"The Angus Dhu stables at Inverness--auction next Wednesday. Horses is our line, so we made it a holiday--" 

"A holiday in the Banff country?" 

"Sure, I ain't never seen it before. Is that your house?" 

McKay nodded and turned away, weary of the man and his vulgarity. "Very well, picnic and fish if you like," he said; and fell into step beside Miss Erith. 

They entered the house through the door in the garden. Later, when Miss Erith came back from her toilet, but still wearing her outing skirt, McKay turned from the long window where he had been standing and watching the picnickers across Isla Bridge. The flashy man had a banjo now and was strumming it and leering at the girl. 

"What people to encounter in this corner of Paradise," she said laughingly. And, as he did not smile: "You don't suppose there's anything queer about them, do you, Kay?" At that he smiled: "Oh, no, nothing of that sort, Yellow-hair. Only--it's rather odd. But bagmen and their kind do come into the northland--why, Heaven knows--but one sees them playing about." 

"Of course those people are merely very ordinary Americans--nothing worse," she said, seating herself at the table. 

"What could be worse?" he returned lightly. 


They were seated sideways to the window and opposite each other, commanding a clear view of Isla Water and the shore where the picnickers sprawled apparently enjoying the semi-comatose pleasure of repletion. 

"That other man--the thin one--has not exactly a prepossessing countenance," she remarked. 

"They can't travel without papers," he said. 

For a little while luncheon progressed in silence. Presently Miss Erith reverted to the picnickers: "The young woman has a foreign face. Have you noticed?" 

"She's rather dark. Rather handsome, too. And she appears rather nice." 

"Women of that class always appear superior to men of the same class," observed Miss Erith. "I suppose really they are not superior to the male of the species." 

"I've always thought they were," he said. 

"Men might think so." 

He smiled: "Quite right, Yellow-hair; woman only is competent to size up woman. The trouble is that no man really believes this." 

"Don't you?" 

"I don't know. Tell me, what shall we do after luncheon?" 

"Oh, the moors--please, Kay!" 

"What!" he exclaimed laughingly; "you're already a victim to Glenark moors!" 

"Kay, I adore them! ... Are you tired? ... Our time is short-our day of sunshine. I want to drink in all of it I can ... before we--" 

"Certainly. Shall we walk to Strathnaver, Lady Yellow-hair?" 

"If it please my lord." 


"In the cool of the afternoon. Don't you want to be lazy with me in your quaint old garden for an hour or two?" 

"I'll send out two steamer-chairs, Yellow-hair." 

When they lay there in the shadow of a lawn umbrella, chair beside chair, the view across Isla Water was unpolluted by the picnickers, their hamper, and their car. 

"Stole away, the beggars," drawled McKay lighting a cigarette. "Where the devil they got a permit for petrol is beyond me." 

The girl lay with deep golden eyes dreaming under her long dark lashes. Sunlight crinkled Isla Water; a merle came and sang to her in a pear-tree until, in its bubbling melody, she seemed to hear the liquid laughter of Isla rippling to the sea. 


"Yes, Yellow-hair." Their voices were vague and dreamy. 

"Tell me something." 

"I'll tell you something. When a McKay of Isla is near his end he is always warned." 


"A cold hand touches his hand in the dark." 


"It's so. It's called'the Cold Hand of Isla.' We are all doomed to feel it." 


"Not at all. That's a pretty story; isn't it? Now what more shall I tell you?" 

"Anything you like, Kay. I'm in paradise--or would be if only somebody would tell me stories till I fall asleep." 

"Stories about what?" 

"About YOU, Kay." 

"I'll not talk about myself." 


But he shook his head without smiling: "You know all there is," he said--"and much that is--unspeakable." 



"Never, never speak that way again!" 

He remained silent. 

"Because," she continued in her low, pretty voice, "it is not true. I know about you only what I somehow seemed to divine the very moment I first laid eyes on you. Something within me seemed to say to me, 'This is a boy who also is a real man!' ... And it was true, Kay." 

"You thought that when you knelt in the snow and looked down at that beastly drunken--" 

"Yes! Don't use such words! You looked like a big schoolboy, asleep-that is what you resembled. But I knew you to be a real man." 

"You are merciful, but I know what you went through," he said morosely. 

She paid no attention: "I liked you instantly. I thought to myself, 'Now when he wakes he'll be what he looks like.' And you are!" 

He stirred in his chair, sideways, and glanced at her. 

"You know what I think about you, don't you?" 

"No." She shouldn't have let their words drift thus far and she knew it. Also at this point she should have diverted the conversation. But she remained silent, aware of an indefinite pleasure in the vague excitement which had quickened her pulse a little. 

"Well, I shan't tell you," he said quietly. 

"Why not?" And at that her heart added a beat or two. 

"Because, even if I were different, you wouldn't wish me to." 


"Because you and I are doomed to a rather intimate comradeship--a companionship far beyond conventions, Yellow-hair. That is what is ahead of us. And you will have enough to weary you without having another item to add to it." 

"What item?" At that she became very silent and badly scared. What demon was prompting her to such provocation? Her own effrontery amazed and frightened her, but her words seemed to speak themselves independently of her own volition. 

"Yellow-hair," he said, "I think you have guessed all I might have dared say to you were I not on eternal probation." 


"Before a bitterly strict judge." 


"Myself, Yellow-hair." 

"Oh, Kay! You ARE a boy--nothing more than a boy--" 

"Are you in love with me?" 

"No," she said, astonished. "I don't think so. What an amazing thing to say to a girl!" 

"I thought I'd scare you," he remarked grimly. 

"You didn't. I--I was scarcely prepared--such a nonsensical thing to say! Why--why I might as well ask you if you are in--in--" 

"In love with you? You wish to know, Yellow-hair?" 

"No, I don't," she replied hastily. "This is--stupid. I don't understand how we came to discuss such--such--" But she did know and she bit her lip and gazed across Isla Water in silent exasperation. 

What mischief was this that hid in the Scottish sunshine, whispering in every heather-scented breeze--laughing at her from every little wave on Isla Water?--counselling her to this new and delicate audacity, imbuing her with a secret gaiety of heart, and her very soul fluttering with a delicious laughter--an odd, perverse, illogical laughter, alternately tremulous and triumphant! 

Was she in love, then, with this man? She remembered his unconscious head on her knees in the limousine, and the snow clinging to his bright hair-- 

She remembered the telephone, and the call to the hospital--and the message. ... And the white night and bitter dawn. ... Love? No, not as she supposed it to be; merely the solicitude and friendship of a woman who once found something hurt by the war and who fought to protect what was hers by right of discovery. That was not love. ... Perhaps there may have been a touch of the maternal passion about her feeling for this man. ... Nothing else--nothing more than that, and the eternal indefinable charity for all boys which is inherent in all womanhood--the consciousness of the enchantment that a boy has for all women. ... Nothing more. ... Except that--perhaps she had wondered whether he liked her--as much as she liked him.... Or if, possibly, in his regard for her there were some slight depths between shallows--a gratitude that is a trifle warmer than the conventional virtue-- 

When at length she ventured to turn her head and look at him he seemed to be asleep, lying there in the transformed shadow of the lawn umbrella. 

Something about the motionless relaxation of this man annoyed her. "Kay?" 

He turned his head squarely toward her, and 'o her exasperation she blushed. 

"Did I wake you? I'm sorry," she said coldly. 

"You didn't. I was awake." 

"Oh! I meant to say that I think I'll stroll out. Don't come if you feel lazy." 

He swung himself up to a sitting posture. 

"I'm quite ready," he said. ... "You'll always find me ready, Yellow-hair--always waiting." 

"Waiting? For what?" 

"For your commands." 

"You very nice boy!" she said gaily, springing to her feet. Then, the subtle demon of the sunlight prompting her: "You know, Kay, you don't ever have to wait. Because I'm always ready to listen to any pro--any suggestions--from you." 

The man looked into the girl's eyes: 

"You would care to hear what I might have to tell you?" 

"I always care to hear what you say. Whatever you say interests me." 

"Would it interest you to know I am--in love?" 

"Yes. ... With wh--whom are--" But her breath failed her. 

"With you. ... You knew it, Yellow-hair. ... Does it interest you to know it?" 

"Yes." But the exhilaration of the moment was interfering with her breath again and she only stood there with the flushed and audacious little smile stamped on her lips forcing her eyes to meet his curious, troubled, intent gaze. 

"You did know it?" he repeated. 


"You suspected it." 

"I wanted to know what you--thought about me, Kay." 

"You know now." 

"Yes ... but it doesn't seem real. ... And I haven't anything to say to you. I'm sorry--" 

"I understand, Yellow-hair." 

"--Except-thank you. And-and I am interested. ... You're such a boy.... I like you so much, Kay.... And I AM interested in what you said to me." 

"That means a lot for you to say, doesn't it?" 

"I don't know. ... It's partly what we have been through together, I suppose; partly this lovely country, and the sun. Something is enchanting me. ... And you are very nice to look at, Kay." His smile was grave, a little detached and weary. 

"I did not suppose you could ever really care for such a man as I am," he remarked without the slightest bitterness or appeal in his voice. "But I'm glad you let me tell you how it is with me. ... It always was that way, Yellow-hair, from the first moment you came into the hospital. I fell in love

"Oh, you couldn't have--" 

"Nevertheless, and after all I said and did to the contrary. ... I don't think any woman remains entirely displeased when a man tells her he is in love with her. If he does love her he ought to tell her, I think. It always means that much tribute to her power. ... And none is indifferent to power, Yellow-hair." 

"No. ... I am not indifferent. I like what you said to me. It seems unreal, though--but enchanting--part of this day's enchantment. ... Shall we start, Kay?" 


They went out together through the garden door into the open moor, swinging along in rhythmic stride, side by side, smiling faintly as dreamers smile when something imperceptible to the waking world invades their vision. 

Again the brown grouse whirred from the whinns; again the subtle fragrance of the moor sweetened her throat with its clean aroma; again the haunting complaint of the lapwings came across acres of bog and furze; and, high in the afternoon sky, an invisible curlew sadly and monotonously repeated its name through the vast blue vault of space. 

On the edge of evening with all the west ablaze they came out once more on Isla Water and looked across the glimmering flood at the old house in the hollow, every distant window-pane a-glitter. 

Like that immemorial and dragon-guarded jewel of the East the sun, cradled in flaky gold, hung a hand's breadth above the horizon, and all the world had turned to a hazy plum-bloom tint threaded with pale fire. 

On Isla Water the yellow trout had not yet begun to jump; evening still lingered beyond the world's curved ruin; but the wild duck were coming in from the sea in twos and threes and sheering down into distant reaches of Isla Water. 

Then, into the divine stillness of the universe came the unspeakable twang of a banjo; and a fat voice, slightly hoarse: 

   "Rocks on the mountain,     Fishes in the sea,     A red-headed girl     Raised hell with me.     She come from Chicago, R.F.D.     An' she ain't done a thing to a guy like me!" 

The business was so grotesquely outrageous, so utterly and disgustingly hopeless in its surprise and untimelines, that McKay's sharp laugh rang out under the sky. 

There they were, the same trespassers of the morning, squatted on the heather at the base of Isla Craig--a vast heap of rocks--their machine drawn up in the tall green brakes beside the road. 

The flashy, fat man, Macniff, had the banjo. The girl sat between him and the thin man, Skelton. 

"Ah, there, old scout!" called out Macniff, flourishing one hand toward McKay. "Lovely evening, ain't it? Won't you and the wife join us?" 

There was absolutely nothing to reply to such an invitation. Miss Erith continued to gaze out steadily across Isla Water; McKay, deeply sensitive to the ludicrous, smiled under the grotesque provocation, his eyes mischievously fixed on Miss Erith. After a long while: "They've spoiled it," she said lightly. "Shall we go on, Kay? I can't endure that banjo." 

They walked on, McKay grinning. The picnickers were getting up from the crushed heather; Macniff with his banjo came toward them on his incredibly thick legs, blocking their path. 

"Say, sport," he began, "won't you and the lady join us?" But McKay cut him short: 

"Do you know you are impudent?" he said very quietly. "Step out of the way there." 

"The hell you say!" and McKay's patience ended at the same instant. And something happened very quickly, for the man only staggered under the smashing blow and the other man's arm flew up and his pistol blazed in the gathering dusk, shattering the cairngorm on McKay's shoulder. The young woman fired from where she sat on the grass and the soft hat was jerked from Miss Erith's head. At the same moment McKay clutched her arm and jerked her violently behind a jutting elbow of Isla Rock. When she recovered her balance she saw he held two pistols. 

"Boche?" she gasped incredulously. 

"Yes. Keep your head down. Crouch among the ferns behind me!" 

There was a ruddy streak of fire from the pistol in his right hand; shots answered, the bullets smacking the rock or whining above it. 


"Yes, Kay." 

"You are not scared, are you?" 

"Yes; but I'm all right." 

He said with quiet bitterness: "It's too late to say what a fool I am. Their camouflage took me in; that's all--" 

He fired again; a rattling volley came storming among the rocks. 

"We're all right here," he said tersely. But in his heart he was terrified, for he had only the cartridges in his clips. 

Presently he motioned her to bend over very low. Then, taking her hand, he guided her along an ascending gulley, knee-deep in fern and brake and brier, to a sort of little rocky pulpit. 

The lake lay behind them, lapping the pulpit's base. There was a man in a boat out there. McKay fired at him and he plied both oars and fled out of range. 

"Lie down," he whispered to Miss Erith. The girl mutely obeyed. 

Now, crouched up there in the deepening dusk, his pistol extended, resting on the rock in front of him, his keen eyes searched restlessly; his ears were strained for the minutest stirring on the moor in front of him; and his embittered mind was at work alternately cursing his own stupidity and searching for some chance for this young girl whom his own incredible carelessness had probably done to death. 

Presently, between him and Isla Water, a shadow moved. He fired; and around them the darkness spat flame from a dozen different angles. 

"Damnation!" he whispered to himself, realising now what the sunlit moors had hidden--a dozen men all bent on murder. 

Once a voice hailed him from the thick darkness promising immunity if he surrendered. He hesitated. Who but he should know the Boche? Still he answered back: "If you let this woman go you can do what you like to me!" And knew while he was saying it that it was useless--that there was no truth, no honour in the Boche, only infamy and murder. A hoarse voice promised what he asked; but Miss Erith caught McKay's arm. 


"If I dared believe them--" 

"No, Kay!" 

He shrugged: "I'd be very glad to pay the price--only they can't be trusted. They can't be trusted, Yellow-hair." 

Somebody shouted from the impenetrable shadows: 

"Come out of that now, McKay! If you don't we'll go in and cut her throat before we do for you!" 

He remained silent, quite motionless, watching the darkness. 

Suddenly his pistol flashed redly, rapidly; a heavy, soft bulk went tumbling down the rocks; another reeled there, silhouetted against Isla Water, then lurched forward, striking the earth with his face. And now from every angle slanting lines of blood-red fire streaked the night; Isla Craig rang and echoed with pelting lead. 

"Next!" called out McKay with his ugly careless laugh. "Two down. No use to set 'em up again! Let dead wood lie. It's the law!" 

"Can they hear the shooting at the house?" whispered Miss Erith. 

"Too far. A shot on the moors carries only a little way." 

"Could they see the pistol flashes, Kay?" 

"They'd take them for fireflies or witch lights dancing on the bogs." 

After a long and immobile silence he dropped to his knees, remained so listening, then crept across the Pulpit's ferny floor. Of a sudden he sprang up and fired full into a man's face; and struck the distorted visage with doubled fist, hurling it below, crashing down through the bracken. 

After a stunned interval Miss Erith saw him wiping that hand on the herbage. 


"Yes, Yellow-hair." 

"Can you see your wrist-watch?" 

"Yes. It's after midnight." 

The girl prayed silently for dawn. The man, grim, alert, awaited events, clutching his partly emptied pistols. He had not yet told her that they were partly empty. He did not know whether to tell her. After a while he made up his mind. 


"Yes, dear Kay." 

His lips went dry; he found difficulty in speaking: "I've--I've undone you. I've bitten the hand that saved me, your slim white hand, I'm afraid. I'm afraid I've destroyed you, Yellow-hair." 

"How, Kay?" 

"My pistols are half empty. ... Unless dawn comes quick--" 

Again one of his pistols flashed its crimson streak across the blackness and a man began scrambling and thrashing and screaming down there in the whinns. For a little while Miss Erith crouched beside McKay in silence. Then he felt her light touch on his arm: 

"I've been thinking.", 

"Aye. So have I." 

"Is there a chance to drop into the lake?" 

He had not thought so. He had figured it out in every possible way. But there seemed little chance to swim that icy water--none at all--with that man in the boat yonder, and detection always imminent if they left the Pulpit. McKay shook his head slightly: 

"He'd row us down and gralloch us like swimming deer." 

"But if one goes alone?" 

"Oh, Yellow-hair! Yellow-hair! If you only could!" 

"I can." 

"Swim it?" 


"It's cold water. Few can swim Isla Water. It's a long swim from Isla Craig to the house." 

"I can do it, I think." 

After a terrible silence he said: "Yes, best try it, Yellow-hair.... I had meant to keep the last cartridge for you..." 

"Dear Kay," she breathed close to his cheek. 

Presently he was obliged to fire again, but remained uncertain as to his luck in the raging storm of lead that followed. 

"I guess you better go, Yellow-hair," he whispered. "My guns are about all in." 

"Try to hold them off. I'll come back. Of course you understand I'm not going for myself, Kay, I'm going for ammunition." 


"What did you suppose?" she asked curtly. 

At that he blazed up: "If you can win through Isla Water you stay on the other side and telephone Glenark! Do you hear? I'm all right. It's--it's none of your business how I end this--" 



"Turn your back. I'm undressing." 

He heard her stripping, kneeling in the ferns behind him,--heard the rip of delicate fabric and the rustle of silk-lined garments falling. 

Presently she said: "Can I be noticed if I slip down through the bushes to the water?" 

"O God," he whispered, "be careful, Yellow-hair. ... No, the man in the boat is keeping his distance. He'll never see you. Don't splash when you take the water. Swim like an otter, under, until you're well out. ... You're young and sturdy, slim as you are. You'll get through if the chill of Isla doesn't paralyse you. But you've got to do it, Yellow-hair; you've GOT to do it." 

"Yes. Hold them off, Kay. I'll be back. Hold them off, dear Kay. Will you?" 

"I'll try, Yellow-hair.... Good luck! Don't try to come back!" 

"Good luck," she whispered close to his ear; and, for a second he felt her slim young hands on his shoulders--lightly--the very ghost of contact. That was all. He waited a hundred years. Then another. Then, his weapons levelled, listening, he cast a quick glance backward. At the foot of the Pulpit a dark ripple lapped the rock. Nothing there now; nothing in Isla Water save far in the stars' lustre the shadowy boat lying motionless. 

Toward dawn they tried to rush the Pulpit. He used a heavy fragment of rock on the first man up, and as his quarry went smashing earthward, a fierce whine burst from the others: "Shot out! All together now!" But his pistol spoke again and they recoiled, growling, disheartened, cursing the false hope that had re-nerved them. 

It was his last shot, however. He had a heavy clasp-knife such as salmon-anglers carry. He laid his empty pistols on the rocky ledge. Very patiently he felt for frost-loosened masses of rock, detached them one by one and noiselessly piled them along the ledge. 

"It's odd," he thought to himself: "I'm going to be killed and I don't care. If Isla got HER, then I'll see her very soon now, God willing. But if she wins out--why it is going to be longer waiting.... And I've put my mark on the Boche--not as often as I wished--but I've marked some of them for what they've done to me--and to the world--" 

A sound caught his ear. He waited, listening. Had it been a fighting chance in Isla Water he'd have taken it. But the man in the boat!--and to have one's throat cut--like a deer! No! He'd kill all he could first; he'd die fighting, not fleeing. 

He looked at his wrist-watch. Miss Erith had been gone two hours. That meant that her slender body lay deep, deep in icy Isla. 

Now, listening intently, he heard the bracken stirring and something scraping the gorse below. They were coming; they were among the rocks! He straightened up and hurled a great slab of rock down through darkness; heard them scrambling upward still; seized slab after slab and smashed them downward at the flashes as the red flare of their pistols lit up his figure against the sky. 

Then, as he hurled the last slab and clutched his short, broad knife, a gasping breath fell on his cheek and a wet and icy little hand thrust a box of clips into his. And there and then The McKay almost died, for it was as if the "Cold Hand of Isla" had touched him. And he stared ahead to see his own wraith. 

"Quick!" she panted. "We can hold them, Kay!" 

"Yellow-hair! By God! You bet we can!" he cried with a terrible burst of laughter; and ripped the clips from the box and snapped them in with lightning speed. 

Then his pistols vomited vermilion, clearing the rock of vermin; and when two fresh clips were snapped in, the man stood on the Pulpit's edge, mad for blood, his fierce young eyes searching the blackness about him. 

"You dirty rats!" he cried, "come back! Are you leaving your dead in the bracken then?" 

There were distant sounds on the moor; nothing stirred nearer. 

"Are you coming back?" he shouted, "or must I go after you?" 

Suddenly in the night their motor roared. At the same moment, far across the lake, he saw the headlights of other motors glide over Isla Bridge like low-flying stars. 


There was no sound behind him. He turned. 

The fainting girl lay amid her drenched yellow hair in the ferns, partly covered by the clothing which she had drawn over her with her last conscious effort. 

It is a long way across Isla Water. And twice across is longer. And "The Cold Hand of Isla" summons the chief of Clan Morhguinn when his time has come to look upon his own wraith face to face. But The Cold Hand of Isla had touched this girl in vain--MOLADH MAIRI!! 

"Yellow-hair! Yellow-hair!" he whispered. The roar of rushing motors from Glenark filled his ears. He picked up one of her little hands and chafed it. Then she opened her golden eyes, looked up at him, and a flood of rose dyed her body from brow to ankle. 

"It--it is a long way across Isla Water," she stammered. "I'm very tired--Kay!" 

"You below there!" shouted McKay. "Are there constables among you?" 

"Aye, sir!" came the loud response amid the roar of running engines. 

"Then there'll be whiskey and blankets, I'm thinkin'!" cried McKay. 

"Aye, blankets for the dead if there be any!" 

"Kick 'em into the whinns and bring what ye bring for the living!" said McKay in a loud, joyous voice. "And if you've petrol and speed take the Banff road and be on your way, for the Boche are crawling to cover, and it's fine running the night! Get on there, ye Glenark beagles! And leave a car behind for me and mine!" 

A constable, shining his lantern, came clumping up the Pulpit. McKay snatched the heavy blankets and with one mighty movement swept the girl into them. 

Half-conscious she coughed and gasped at the whiskey, then lay very still as McKay lifted her in his arms and strode out under the paling stars of Isla.  


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