A Prince of the Captivity (Unabridged) - John Buchan - ebook

A Prince of the Captivity (Unabridged) ebook

John Buchan



This eBook edition of "A Prince of the Captivity (Unabridged)" has been formatted to the highest digital standards and adjusted for readability on all devices. Adam Melfort marries beautiful but mindless socialite who cannot return his love for her. When she forges her wealthy uncle's signature on a cheque, he takes the blame to save her family's name, and is jailed, losing his army commission in the process. Melfort allows her to divorce him so that she can remarry someone of more similar mind. After being released from gaol during World War One, he is recruited as an undercover agent behind enemy lines in Belgium...

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John Buchan

A Prince of the Captivity


Published by


- Advanced Digital Solutions & High-Quality eBook Formatting -
2018 OK Publishing
ISBN 978-80-272-4757-8

Table of Contents

Book 1
Part 1
Chapter 1
Chapter 2
Chapter 3
Chapter 4
Chapter 5
Part 2
Chapter 6
Chapter 7
Chapter 8
Chapter 9
Part 3
Chapter 10
Chapter 11
Chapter 12
Chapter 13
Part 4
Chapter 14
Book 2
Part 1
Chapter 15
Chapter 16
Chapter 17
Part 2
Chapter 18
Chapter 19
Chapter 20
Part 3
Chapter 21
Chapter 22
Chapter 23
Chapter 24
Part 4
Chapter 25
Book 3
Part 1
Chapter 26
Part 2
Chapter 27
Book 4
Part 1
Chapter 28
Part 2
Chapter 29
Part 3
Chapter 30
Chapter 31
Chapter 32


Table of Contents


“As when a Prince Of dispers’d Israel, chosen in the shade, Rules by no canon save his inward light. And knows no pageant save the pipes and shawms Of his proud spirit.” Thus said Jesus, upon whom be peace. The World is a bridge; pass over it, but build no house upon it.

Book 1

Table of Contents

Part 1

Chapter 1

Table of Contents

On a warm June evening three men were sitting in the smoking-room of a London club. One was an old man, with a face which had once been weather-beaten and was now intricately seamed with veins and wrinkles. His bearing, his shoulders trimly squared even at seventy, spoke of the old style of British regimental officer. The second was in his early thirties, a heavy young man, with nothing of the Guardsman about him except his tie. The third might have been any age between forty and sixty, and had writ plain upon him the profession of the law.

The newsboys were shouting in Pall Mall.

“They can’t have got the verdict yet,” said the last. “Jenks was only beginning to sum up when I left. We shall hear nothing for another hour.”

The old man shivered. “Good God! It is awful to be waiting here to know whether Tom Melfort’s boy is to go to prison for six years or ten. I suppose there’s no chance of an acquittal.”

“None,” said the lawyer. “You see, he pled guilty. Leithen was his counsel, and I believe did his best to get him to change his mind. But the fellow was adamant.”

The young soldier, whose name was Lyson, shook his head.

“That was like Adam. There never was a more obstinate chap in his quiet way. Very easy and good-natured till you presumed just a little too much on his placidity, and then you found yourself hard up against a granite wall.”

“How well did you know him?” the lawyer asked.

“I was at school with him and we passed out of Sandhurst together. He was a friend, but not what you would call an intimate. Too clever, and a little too much of the wise youth… Oh yes, he was popular, for he was a first-class sportsman and a good fellow, but he had a bit too much professional keenness for lazy dogs like me. After that he went straight ahead, as you know, and left us all behind. Somebody told me that old Mullins said he was the most brilliant man they had had at the Staff College for a generation. He had got a European war on the brain, and spent most of his leave tramping about the Ardennes or bicycling in Lorraine.”

“If this thing hadn’t happened, what would you have said about his character?”

“Sound as the Bank of England,” was the answer. “A trifle puritanical, maybe. I used to feel that if I ever did anything mean I should be more ashamed to face Adam Melfort than any other man alive. You remember how he looked, sir,” and he turned to the old man. “Always in training— walked with a light step as if he were on the hill after deer— terribly quick off the mark in an argument—all fine and hard and tightly screwed together. The grip of his small firm hand had a sort of electric energy. Not the kind of man you would think likely to take the wrong turning.”

“I am not very clear… What exactly happened?” asked the old man.

“Common vulgar forgery,” the lawyer replied. “He altered a cheque which was made out to his wife—part of her allowance from a rich great-uncle. The facts were not in doubt, and he made no attempt to dispute them. He confessed what he had done, and explained it by a sudden madness. The funny thing was that he did not seem to be ashamed of it. He stood there quite cool and collected, with a ghost of a smile on his face, making admissions which he must have known were going to wreck him for good. You say he was wrapt up in his career, but I never saw anyone face a crash more coolly… The absence of motive puzzles me. Were the Melforts hard up? They never behaved as if they were.”

“Adam was supposed to be fairly well off. He was an only son, and his father died years ago. But I fancy his lady wife made the money fly.”

“I saw her in the witness-box,” said the lawyer. “Pretty as a picture and nicely dressed for the part. She gave her evidence in a voice like music and wept most becomingly. Even old Jenks was touched… Poor little soul! It isn’t much fun for her… Who was she, by the way? Somebody told me she was Irish.”

“She was Camilla Considine,” said Lyson. “Sort of far-away cousin of my own. Adam first met her hunting with the Meath. I haven’t seen a great deal of them lately, but I shouldn’t have said that the marriage was made in Heaven. Oh yes! She was—she is—angelically pretty, with spun-gold hair and melting blue eyes—the real fairy-tale princess type. But I never considered that she had the mind of a canary. She can’t be still, but hops from twig to twig, and her twigs were not the kind of perch that Adam fancied. They each went pretty much their own way. There was a child that died, you know, and after that there was nothing to hold them together… Adam had his regimental duties, and, when he got leave, as I have said, he was off to some strategic corner of Europe. Camilla hunted most of the winter—she rode superbly, and there were plenty of people ready to mount her—and in London she was always dancing about. You couldn’t open a picture-paper without seeing her photograph.

“No,” he continued in reply to a question, “I never heard any suggestion of scandal. Camilla lived with rather a raffish set, but she was not the kind of woman to have lovers. Not human enough. There was something curiously sexless about her. She lived for admiration and excitement, but she gave passion a miss… She and Adam had one thing in common—they were both fine-drawn and rarefied—not much clogged with fleshly appetites. But while Adam had a great brain and the devil of a purpose, Camilla was rather bird-witted—a lovely inconsequent bird. God knows how he ever came to be attracted by her! I thought the marriage absurd at the time, and, now that it has crashed, I see that it was lunacy from the start. I reckoned on disaster, but not from Adam’s side.”

“It’s the motive I can’t get at,” said the lawyer. “If, as you say, Melfort and his wife were more or less estranged, why should he risk his career, not to speak of his soul, to provide her with more money? The cheque was made out to her, remember, so she must have been privy to the business. I can imagine a doting husband playing the fool in that way, but I understand that they scarcely saw each other. He didn’t want money for himself, did he? Had he been speculating, do you suppose?”

“Not a chance of it. He had no interests outside soldiering—except that he used to read a lot… I daresay Camilla may have outrun the constable. Her clothes alone must have cost a pretty penny… No, I can’t explain it except by sudden madness, and that gets us nowhere, for it’s not the kind of madness that I ever connected with Adam Melfort. I can see him killing a man for a principle—he had always a touch of the fanatic—but cheating, never!”

The newsboys’ shouting was loud in Pall Mall. “Let’s send for the last evening paper,” said the lawyer. “It ought to have the verdict… Hullo, here’s Stannix. He may know.”

A fourth man joined the group in the corner. He was tall, with a fine head, which looked the more massive because he wore his hair longer than was the fashion. The newcomer flung himself wearily into a chair. He summoned a waiter and ordered a whisky-and-soda. His face was white and strained, as if he had been undergoing either heavy toil or heavy anxiety.

“What’s the news, Kit?” the younger soldier asked.

“I’ve just come from the court. Two years imprisonment in the second division.”

The lawyer whistled. “That’s a light sentence for forgery,” he said… But the old man, in his high dry voice, quavered, “My God! Tom Melfort’s boy!”

“Leithen handled it very well,” said the newcomer. “Made the most of his spotless record and all that sort of thing, and had a fine peroration about the sudden perversities that might overcome the best of men. You could see that Jenks was impressed. The old chap rather relishes pronouncing sentence, but in this case every word seemed to be squeezed out of him unwillingly, and he did not indulge in a single moral platitude.”

“I suppose we may say that Melfort has got off easily,” said the lawyer.

“On the contrary,” said the man called Stannix, “he has been crushed between the upper and the nether millstone.”

“But on the facts the verdict was just.”

“It was hideously unjust—but then Adam courted the injustice. He asked for it—begged for it.”

Lyson spoke. “You’re his closest friend, Kit. What in God’s name do you make of it all?”

Stannix thirstily gulped down his drink. “I wish you had seen him when he heard the sentence. You remember the quiet dreamy way he had sometimes—listening as if his thoughts were elsewhere—half- smiling—his eyes a little vacant. Well, that was how he took it. Perfectly composed—apparently quite unconscious that he was set up there for all the world to throw stones at. Think what a proud fellow he was, and then ask yourself how he managed to put his pride behind him… Mrs Melfort was sitting below, and when Jenks had finished Adam bowed to him, and looked down at his wife. He smiled at her and waved his hand, and then marched out of the dock with his head high… I caught a glimpse of her face, and—well, I don’t want to see it again. There was a kind of crazed furtive relief in it which made my spine cold.”

“You think… ” the lawyer began.

“I think nothing. Adam Melfort is the best friend I have in the world—the best man I have ever known—and I am bound to back him up whatever line he takes. He has chosen to admit forgery and go to gaol. He drops out of His Majesty’s service and his life is ruined. Very well. That is his choice, and I accept it… But I am going to say something to you fellows which I must say, but which I will never repeat again. I sat through the trial and heard all the evidence. I watched Adam’s face—you see, I know his ways. And I came to one clear conclusion, and I’m pretty certain that Ned Leithen reached it too. He was lying—lying—every word he spoke was a lie.”

‘“I see!” said the lawyer. “Splendide mendax!”

The old man, who had not listened very closely, took up his tale. “Lying!” he moaned. “Great God! Tom Melfort’s boy!”

Chapter 2

Table of Contents

Adam Melfort began his new life in a kind of daze. The stone walls which made his prison did not circumscribe him, for he was living in a far narrower enclosure of the mind. The dismal fare, the monotonous routine were scarcely noticed: he was allowed books, but he never opened them; visitors were permitted on certain days, but he did not welcome them, and the few who came—a cousin, a brother officer or two, Christopher Stannix—found a man who seemed to have lost interest in the outer world and had no need of consolation. His wife was not among these visitors.

The truth was, that ever since the tragedy Adam’s mind had been busied with a problem of conduct. He believed that he had acted rightly, but doubt intervened with maddening iteration, and a thousand times he had to set the facts in order and review his decision.

It was a long story which he had to recount to himself and it involved a stern inquisition into his past. Much he could pass lightly over— fortunately, for the recollection was like opening graves… His boyhood, for example, the intricate, exciting world of school, the shining months of holiday on Eilean Bàn—the pictures which crowded on him were almost too hard a trial for his fortitude… Sandhurst was easier, for there he had entered manhood and begun the life which had now shipwrecked. There the vague dreams of boyhood had hardened into a very clear purpose which absorbed all his interests, and for which he believed that he had a special talent. Military problems fascinated him, and he had the kind of brain, half-mathematical, half-imaginative, which they demand. There is no higher pleasure in life than to discover in youth a clear aptitude and to look forward to a lifetime to be spent in its development. He had been very serious about the business, and had prided himself on keeping mind and body in perfect discipline, for at the back of his head he had a vision of a time coming when every atom of his power would be requisitioned. He felt himself dedicated to a cause far higher than personal success. But this success had come to him—at Sandhurst, in his regiment, at the Staff College. Adam had little vanity, but he could not be insensitive to the opinion of his colleagues, and that opinion had, beyond doubt, marked him out for high achievement.

Then into his absorbed Spartan life Camilla had come like a disquieting west wind. She was the kind of woman with whom men like Adam have fallen in love since the beginning of time—that Rosalind-youth, which to the mystery of sex adds the mystery of spring, the germinal magic of a re-created earth. He had marvellously idealised her, and had never sought to penetrate the secret of her glancing, bewildering charm. His carefully planned scheme of life went to pieces, and for three tempestuous months he was the devout, unconsidering lover.

Disillusion came in the first year of marriage. The woman he lived with could no longer be set on a pedestal for worship; he had perforce to explore the qualities of head and heart behind the airy graces. His exploration yielded nothing. Camilla was almost illiterate, having been brought up in a ramshackle country-house among dogs and horses and hard-riding squireens. That he had known, but he had not realised the incurable lightness of her mind. During their courtship her eyes had often been abstracted when he talked to her, and he had fancied that this betokened a world of private thought. He learned now that it meant only vacuity. Her brain was featherweight, though she had many small ingenuities in achieving her own purposes. Into his interests and pursuits she stubbornly refused to enter. At first she would turn the edge of graver topics with a laugh and a kiss, but presently she yawned in his face.

He discovered, too, that her tenderness was only skin-deep. Her soft melting eyes were not an index to a sensitive heart. Her nature had a hard glossy enamel of selfishness, and her capacity for emotion seemed to be limited to occasional outbursts of self-pity. Her light laughter could be cruel indeed, and often cut him deep, but he hid his wounds when he saw that she could never understand in what she had offended. She lived for admiration and gaiety, blind to anything but the surface of things. She was curiously obtuse to human values, and made intimates of all who flattered her; but she was safe enough, for she had no passion, and her bird-like flutterings carried her through dangerous places… A child was born after a year of marriage, in whom she took little interest, except now and then to pose with him, as the young mother, to a fashionable photographer. The boy died when he was five years old, and, after an hour’s sobbing Camilla tripped again into the limelight. The broken-hearted Adam sat down to face the finality of his blunder. He realised that he had been a romantic fool, who had sought a goddess and found a dancing-girl. His wife was untamable, since there was nothing to tame.

He did not blame her; his reproaches were all for himself. He understood that if she gave him no affection, his affection for her was also long ago dead. He had been in love with a dream, and had awakened to detest the reality. Not detest perhaps; his feelings were rather disillusion, pity, and self-reproach. Especially self-reproach. He blamed himself bitterly for his folly and blindness. He had married this woman on false pretences, loving something which she was not; so from the first the marriage had been stained with infidelity. Adam was one of those people who keep so much space around their souls that they are always lonely, and this leads often to quixotic codes of conduct. The hard good sense which he showed in his profession was absent in his inner world. He tortured himself with remorse; he had domesticated a being without mind or heart, but the blame was wholly his.

So he schooled himself to make reparation. He let Camilla go her own way, and stinted himself that she might have money to spend. His Continental wandering was done in third-class carriages and on a bicycle, while she had the car on the Riviera. Occasionally they dined out together, but for the most part they went their own roads. Some of her doings and many of her companions gravely hurt his pride, but he made no complaint. His manner towards her was always courteous and friendly, and if now and then his face showed involuntary disapproval she did not observe it. She set him down as a part of the conventional background of her life, like the butler or the chauffeur—a pleasant piece of background which was never out of temper.

After seven years of marriage the crash came. Camilla had always been extravagant, and for the past year she had been rapidly amassing debts. Twice she had appealed to Adam, who had paid off all the liabilities she confessed to, liabilities which were far short of the true figure. Then had come a final recklessness, so wild that she was afraid to approach her husband again. For a certain fancy-dress ball she bought a jewel for which she had no means of paying, and, when a little later she was in need of immediate money for a trip to Nice, she sold it at a heavy loss. The jewellers became pressing, her bank refused to allow her a further overdraft and clamoured for a reduction, and in a panic she had recourse to the money-lenders. That settled the jewellers, but it left her the prey to periodical demands which she had no means of meeting. Somewhere at the back of her mind she had a real dread of the fraternity; a tradesman’s pertinacity could be overcome, but the soft-spoken people with Scotch names and curved noses would take no denial. For all her light-headedness, she had a certain sense of social decorum, and she shrank from a public scandal like a child from the dark.

For a week or two she was a harassed woman, and then her great-uncle’s quarterly cheque seemed to offer a way of escape. He was a rich man and would never notice a few hundreds less to his credit. If she asked him for the money he would be certain to give it to her; but she was afraid to plague an old man in bad health with her affairs. She presumed on his generosity, for he had always been indulgent to her. She was behaving well, she told herself, since she was saving him trouble… She was neat-handed and took pains with the forgery, and when it was done she breathed freely. She paid in the cheque and had once again an easy mind.

But suddenly dreadful things began to happen. It was like a volcanic eruption in ground where no volcano had ever been dreamed of. There were enquiries from the bank, urgent enquiries. Then came a visit of solemn, smooth-faced men who, she realised with terror, were detectives. After that there was a wild fluttering panic, a breakdown in tears, an incoherent confession like that of a bewildered child…

Adam, she thought, behaved well, for he invented a very clever story. She had changed the figure—that could not be denied and she had admitted it—but Adam with a very white face had declared that she had done it by his command, that he had forced her to it… After that no one seemed to trouble about her, only to look at her sympathetically, but they troubled a great deal about Adam. It appeared that he had done something very wrong—or said he had—Camilla was rather confused about the whole affair. Of course he had not touched the cheque, but perhaps he was right, and she had altered it under his influence—she had heard of such things happening—anyhow, Adam always spoke the truth. She was sorry for him, but immensely relieved that she was out of the scrape, and soon she was far more sorry for herself. For Adam had to leave the house and be tried in a court and perhaps go to prison, and that would be a terrible business for her…

For a moment Camilla had felt a glow of gratitude towards him, but that was soon swamped in self-pity. If only she had not meddled with the wretched cheque! But Adam said he was responsible for that and she would not let herself think further about it… After all, she did not care much for him, though he seemed to care for her. Their marriage had been comfortable but nothing more. And now the comfort was gone, and she foresaw endless worries. Camilla took refuge in tears.

Adam’s action had surprised himself, but he realised that it was the consequence of a long process of thought. For years he had been convincing himself that he had wronged Camilla, and that it was his duty to make restitution, and his sudden resolve on that tragic morning in Eaton Place was the result of this premeditation… For a little the necessity of playing a part and brazening it out kept him from thinking, but during the trial he had been beset with doubts.

He had smashed his career. Well, that was inevitable, for in making reparation something must be broken… He had cut himself off from serving his country. That was more serious, but private honour must come first with a man… But this private honour! That was what most concerned him. He had lied deliberately, and never in his life had he lied before. Adam felt himself smirched and grubby, fallen suddenly out of a clean world into the mire. He was no casuist, and this tormenting doubt pursued him to the dock, and from the dock to his prison cell. A man was entitled to sacrifice much in the way of duty, but was he entitled to sacrifice his soul?

Peace came to him at last because of one reflection. The alternative was that Camilla should be sitting in this place of bare walls and rude furniture. Such a wheel would have broken the butterfly. God would forgive, thought Adam, a man’s sin if it was designed to shield the weak.

Chapter 3

Table of Contents

The peace did not last long. He had settled a scruple, but he had still to face the litter of a broken life. He had been desperately in love with his work, and had developed a loyalty to his service and to his regiment the stronger because it had no rival in his home. The task of a modern soldier is a curious compound of those of the mathematician and the imaginative creator, for he has to work meticulously at intricate combinations of detail, and at the same time allow for the human factor’s innumerable permutations. Adam’s mind had wrought happily among the undergrowth, but he had also an eye for the trees, and in his moments of insight for the shape of the wood. It was these last flashes of pre-vision which had been the high moments in his career, and had impressed his colleagues. He had always been an assiduous student of military history, and that had led him into other history, and he had learned the major part played by economics and civil statesmanship in the art of war. As he studied Europe he seemed to see forces everywhere straining towards the point of clash, and he had set himself to work out the problems which that clashing involved. Along with one or two other young men he had established a new school of military thought, to which one distinguished statesman had been converted. There was a cognate school in the French Army, and the two exchanged memoranda. Academic for the moment, but soon, he believed, to be an urgent reality… And now this happy activity, this happier companionship, was gone for ever.

For days Adam lived in blank, unrelieved misery. This was not a problem to be solved, but a judgment to be endured, and he could only meet it with a leaden stoicism… He had settled a large part of his income on Camilla, but he had enough left to support existence. Existence it would be, not life. He was a disgraced man to whom all honourable careers were closed. His interest had been so concentrated on his profession that outside it the world was blank. He struggled to attain fortitude by reminding himself of others who had built up broken lives—disgraced men who had fought their way back, blind men who had won new energy from their handicap… But what could he do? He had but the one calling, and he could not force the gate that had clanged behind him. There was the Foreign Legion, of course. But could he face the blind monotony of the rabble at the foot of the tower when he had once been the watchman on the battlements?

He slept badly, and would lie and torture himself with a retrospect like a chess-board. He saw everything in cold black and white, so that what he looked at seemed scarcely human life, but a kind of cosmic puzzle for which there was no solution.

One morning he woke with an odd feeling that something pleasant had happened. He had been dreaming of Eilean Bàn.

It was different from the island which he remembered. There were the white sands that he knew, and the white quartz boulders tumbled amid the heather. There were the low hills, shaped into gracious folds, with the little sea-trout river running through green pastures to the sea. There was the forest of wild-wood on Sgurr Bàn, where the first woodcock came in October, and Sgurr Bàn, with its queer stony fingers that used to flush blood-red in the sunset. There was the whitewashed lodge among the dwarfish oaks and birches, the mossy lawn, and the pond where the wildfowl thronged in winter.

But the place seemed to have grown larger. Beyond Sgurr Bàn should have been the cliffs where the choughs bred, and the long slopes of thyme and bent stretching to that western sea which in the stillest summer weather did not cease its murmur. But now the sea had fled from Sgurr Bàn. In his dream he had been walking westward, for he wanted to visit again the sandy cove where he used to bathe and look out to the skerries where the great grey seals lived. But it seemed to him that the thymy downs now extended for ever. He had stridden over them for hours and had found delectable things—a new lochan with trout rising among yellow water-lilies, a glen full of alders and singing waters, a hollow with old gnarled firs in it and the ruins of a cottage pink with foxgloves. But he had never come within sight of the sea, though it seemed to him that the rumour of its tides was always in his ear.

That dream opened a new stage in Adam’s life. His mind ceased to move in a terrible wheel of abstractions, and he saw concrete pictures again. Two especially, on which he would dwell with an emotion that had in it more of comfort than pain.

The first was a small child slowly ascending the steep stairs in a London house that led from the day-nursery to the night-nursery. Nigel, named after Adam’s grandfather, was a solemn, square boy with a Roman head set finely upon stalwart little shoulders. Adam led a busy life in those days, but he usually contrived to return home just as the child, his hair still damp from his bath, was moving bedwards. Nigel would never permit himself to be carried by the nurse up those stairs. Very slowly he made his progress, delaying on each step, impeded by bedroom slippers slightly too large for him. He carried in both hands his supper, a glass of milk, and a plate containing two biscuits, an orange or a banana. It was part of the ritual that he should be his own food-bearer, and it was his pride that he never spilled a drop of milk, except on one disastrous day when over-lengthy new pyjamas had tripped him up, and he and his supper had cascaded back to the landing. Adam generally found him on the second lowest step, and used to applaud his grave ascent. Then he would tuck him up in bed, when the supper was eaten, and listen to his prayers repeated slowly and dogmatically to his Scotch nurse. Sometimes, when there was no dinner engagement, Adam would tell Nigel a story, most often a recollection from his own childhood and always about Eilean Bàn.

Camilla rarely appeared on these occasions, except to hurry Adam’s dressing when they were dining out. She had not much to say to Nigel, or he to her. But the father and the son had an immense deal to confide to each other. The child was fanciful, and had invented a batch of familiar spirits out of his sponge, his tooth-brush, his dressing-gown, and an old three-pronged poker which stood by the nursery fireplace. He would recount the sayings of these familiars, who held strong and damnatory views on unpleasant duties like nail-cutting and hair-washing and visits to the dentist. But especially he would question his father about Eilean Bàn. Adam drew many maps of the island in a realistic Elizabethan manner, and Nigel would make up stories about sundry appetising creeks and provocative skerries. He never visited Eilean Bàn, for Camilla was bored by it when she was taken there at the end of her honeymoon, so it had been let for a term of years to a Glasgow manufacturer. But any seaside place to which Nigel journeyed was contrasted by him unfavourably with that isle of dreams. There were too many houses at Bournemouth, and too many people at Broadstairs, and a horrible band in green jackets at Eastbourne, and a man who made ugly faces at Littlehampton, but at Eilean Bàn there would be only his father and the sea and the grey seals and the curlews and a kindly genie called “Peteross.”

When Nigel died of meningitis after two days’ delirium the bottom dropped out of Adam’s world. Fortunately at the time he was desperately busy, and his duties took him on a two months’ mission to a foreign capital. He drugged himself with work, and when the strain slackened and his mind could again make timid excursions, he found that he could patch up his world with stoicism. Stoicism had always been Nigel’s strong suit, for the little boy had been wonderfully brave, and had taken pride in never whimpering. Adam told himself that he must do likewise to be worthy of the child who had so brightened his house of life. One regret tormented him—that he had never taken Nigel to Eilean Bàn. He put the thought of the place from him in distaste, for it awoke an unavailing bitterness.

But now he found that by some happy magic the two memories had intertwined themselves. Nigel had taken possession of Eilean Bàn. He was to be met with not only on the nursery stairs in Eaton Place, but on the white island sands and on the slopes of the hills, a tiny figure in shorts and a light blue jersey, with hair the palest gold against a sunburnt skin.

Adam had found a companion for his dream revisitings. He would let himself fall into a waking trance, and spend happy hours recaptured from childhood… Nigel was a delight to behold. It had been a hot summer when he died, and the child had been ailing a little before his last illness. Adam remembered meeting him one sultry evening as he returned with his nurse from the Park, and a pang had gone through his heart at the sight of the small pale face and clammy forehead. He had then and there resolved to send him to the country; indeed, the very day when the child sickened he had been negotiating for rooms in a Cotswold farm… But now Nigel was as firm and sweet as a nut, and nearly as brown. It was a joy to see his hard little legs twinkle as he ran shouting in the ripples of the tide.

In Nigel’s company Adam seemed to live over again his very early childhood, when the place was as big as a continent, and as little explored as central Arabia. Peter Ross, the keeper, was the tutelary deity of those days. Peter was a very old man who did not belong to the islands, but had come centuries before from the mainland in the time of Adam’s grandfather. The Melforts had been a mainland family, until Kinloch Melfort was sold by the grandfather in the time when Highland deer-forests fetched fancy prices. That grandfather had been a famous diplomat, whose life had been mostly spent out of England, and he had longed for an island in which to spend his old age. Consequently the lodge at Eilean Bàn was filled with strange foreign things, rugs on which were pictured funny little men and horses, great jars of china and many-coloured metals, and heads of grim wild beasts among which the island deer-horns looked shy and feeble. To the boy’s eye the house had been full of enchantments, but Peter Ross made the out-of-doors more magical still.

Peter was full of stories in all of which he had himself played a part. He had been down among the whales like Jonah, and he had heard the silkies singing at dawn on farther islets than St Kilda, and he had seen in the gloaming the white hind, which means to the spectator death or fortune according as he behaves in face of the portent. Peter could tell tales far more exciting than those in the big Grimm in the nursery, since most of them were laid in Eilean Bàn. There was a mermaid who once lived on Craiglussa, and her songs used to wile ships on to cruel reefs; at low tide you could see some of the timbers of the lost merchantmen. Up in a cave on Sgurr Bàn a holy man had dwelt, so holy that his prayers could bring the fish into Ardmore bay, and immobilise pirates so that they remained stuck fast a mile from shore, where they danced in fury on their decks. The tumbled grey stones in the heather as you went south to Silver Strand had once been the house of a witch who flew daily to France to dine in the French king’s kitchen. The old folk knew the sound of her flight, which was like the whistle of gigantic wild geese before a frost. And Peter had other stories into which the great ones out of history entered. The good King Robert had sat on the topmost rock of Sgurr Bàn watching for the spire of smoke from the far mainland which would tell him that he might safely go back to Scotland and take up his quest for the crown; and only the other day, so Peter reckoned it, a young prince with yellow hair had hidden for a week in the caves beyond the Strand, while English ships, his enemies, quartered the seas. Peter had sung many songs about this prince, and he called him the Prionnsa Bàn, which made Adam fancy that Eilean Bàn must have been his peculiar kingdom.

So the whole island had been a haunted place, and every day an adventure. Adam went over in minutest detail each step of the ritual. There was the waking to the sound of clucking hens, and corncrakes in the meadow, and very far off the tinkle of anvil and hammer in John Roy’s smithy. Through the open window drifted the scent of climbing white roses and new-cut hay. That was part of the morning smell of the house, and the rest was a far-off odour of cooking, a faint flavour of paraffin lamps, and the delicious mustiness of an old dwelling. When he went to school there was a corner in one of the passages where you could get the same kind of smell, and Adam used to hang about and sniff it hungrily till his eyes filled… Then came breakfast—porridge and milk, with the stern eye of a lady called Missmass watching to see that the bowl was tidily emptied. Miss Mathieson was part housekeeper and part governess, a kindly dragon who could be cajoled into providing a snack of scones and jelly, and permitting a meal to be eaten on the hills or by the sea instead of in the nursery. But she was iron on one point—that all expeditions beyond the garden and the home meadow should be accompanied by Peter Ross…

Then with beating heart Adam would set out with Peter—Peter with his old gun in the crook of his arm, and at his heels a wall-eyed retriever called Toss. Sometimes they fished, with worm when the Lussa was red and swollen, but more often with black hackles of Peter’s dressing. Sometimes Adam was permitted to fire a shot, the gun resting on a dyke, at a ruffian hoodie crow. Usually Adam would go into camp, on his honour not to stray beyond certain limits, while Peter departed on his own errands. These were the happiest times, for the boy could make a castle for himself and defend it against the world; or play the explorer in deep dells of the burn where the water-crows flashed and sometimes an otter would slide into a pool; or climb the little rocks at the tide’s edge and discover green darting crabs and curious star-fish. When they returned home Adam felt that he had been roaming the wide earth and had been in touch with immense mysteries. There were certain specific smells which belonged to those wonderful days—thyme hot in the sun, bog-myrtle crushed in grubby hands, rotting seaweed, and the salty wind which blew up the Sound from the open seas of the south. Freshness above all, freshness which stung the senses like icy water.

For a time Adam in his memories stuck to his childhood, for he wanted Nigel’s company. But gradually he seemed to be growing up in the dream world, while the little boy remained the same. Almost before he knew he had become a youth, and was no longer at Eilean Bàn in June, that month which is the high tide of the northern spring. He was at school now, in his last year there, and his holiday was at Easter, when the shadow of winter had scarcely lifted… Nigel was still at his ageless play in the glen below the house and on the nearest beach under Peter Ross’s eye, but Adam himself went farther afield. He remembered the first time he climbed Sgurr Bàn and saw the mysterious waters on the far side, and the first sea-trout caught by himself in the Lussa’s sea-pool, which filled and emptied with the tides. Once in a long day he had walked the whole twenty-three miles of the island’s circumference. The place, before so limitless, had now shrunk to a domain which could be mastered. Soon he knew every cranny as well as Peter Ross himself.

But if the terrestrial horizon had narrowed the spiritual was enlarged. Adam was back in the delirious mood when youth is first conscious of its temporal heritage. In those April days he would stride about Eilean Bàn with his thoughts half in the recesses of his own soul and half in the undiscovered world which lay beyond the restless seas. The landscape suited his mood, for it was still blanched with the winter storms, and the hills would look almost transparent under the pale April skies, the more since a delicate haze of moorburn brooded over them. The hawthorns, which in June were heavy with blossom, were scarcely budding, and this bareness discovered the primrose clumps at their roots. The burns were blue and cold, and there was a perpetual calling of migrant birds. To Adam it seemed the appropriate landscape and weather for his now-conscious youth, for it was tonic and austere, a spur to enterprise, a call to adventure… He had discovered poetry, too, and his head was a delectable confusion of rhymes. As he sat in his narrow cell he had only to shut his eyes, and croon to himself the airs which he had then sung, to recover the exquisite delirium of those April days. Shakespeare especially, it was Shakespeare’s songs that had haunted him then. Blow, blow, thou winter wind—that had been his accompaniment on tempestuous mornings, when from the south-west came the scurries of chill rain. Sigh no more, ladies, had been for him the last word in philosophy. O mistress mine! where are you roaming?—was there not in that all the magic of youth and spring? He hummed it to himself now without a thought of Camilla, for the mistress he had sung of was not of flesh and blood. And then there was Fear no more the heat o’ the sun, which made a noble conclusion to the whole matter. The race must have a goal, or it would be no race; some day man must take his wages and go bravely home.

A scent is the best reviver of memories, but there were no scents in his cell except those of scrubbed wood, yellow soap, and new linoleum. But a tune is the next best, and, as Adam soothed to himself the airs which had entranced the boy, he seemed to slip happily into his old world.

Gradually the feeling grew upon him that everything was not lost. He had still Eilean Bàn, and only now he understood that it was the dearest thing to him in life. It was still his—the lease to the Glasgow manufacturer would be up in a year’s time. It was there waiting for Nigel and himself. The thought of it obliterated all the misery of the last years. To return there would be like the sick Naaman bathing in the waters of Jordan.

For a little while Adam was happy in this resolution. He would go back to the home of his fathers, and live as they had lived in simpler days. The world had broken him, so he would flee from the world. People had gone into monasteries after disasters to re-make their souls, and why not he? The very thought of the green island gave him a sense of coolness and space and peace. Youth was waiting there to be recaptured, youth and happiness. And Nigel too—Nigel would be lonely without him. He had dreamed himself into a mood in which the little figure in shorts and blue jersey was as much a part of his home as Sgurr Bàn itself.

And then one morning he had a dismal awakening. All the rosy veils of fancy seemed to be ripped from the picture as if by a sharp east wind, and he saw the baselessness of his dreams.

For what had been the magic of Eilean Bàn to the heart of youth? A call to enterprise, nothing less. A summons to go out and do great things in the world. Once, long ago, when he had realised his passion for the place, he had toyed with the notion of making his life in it, and had instantly rejected the thought. Eilean Bàn would scorn such a weakling. Its ancient peace was not for the shirker. It was a paradise from which a man might set out, and to which he might return when he had fought his battles, but in which he dared not pitch his camp till he had won a right to rest.

Miserably he understood that the peace for which he had longed had to be fought for… But now he was tragically out of the fighting-line for ever.

Chapter 4

Table of Contents

There followed a week of more bitter emptiness than he had ever known before. He had let his dreams run away with him, and had suddenly awoke to their baselessness. Eilean Bàn seemed to slip out of the world into some eternal ocean where Nigel, for ever out of his reach, played on its sands. He felt himself naked, stripped to the buff, without a rag to call his own.

Those were days of dull misery and nights of dreamless sleep and unrefreshed awakening… And then one morning he arose with a verse in his head. He had always been a voracious reader of poetry, and had remembered the things which caught his fancy. This verse was about the soul and body being ploughed under by God. He had forgotten the author, but bit by bit he managed to build up one quatrain, and it seemed to run something like this:

“Come ill, come well, the cross, the crown, The rainbow or the thunder— I fling my soul and body down For God to plough them under.”

There was a strange fascination in the idea. Adam had the underlying fatalism which is the bequest of ancestral Calvinism, even though its specific tenets may have been long ago forgotten. He had always drawn comfort from the thought that, while it was a man’s duty to strive to the uttermos, the result was determined by mightier things than man’s will. He had believed most devoutly in God, though he would have been puzzled to define his creed. Suddenly there came over him a sense of the microscopic littleness and the gossamer fragility of human life. Everything lay in the hands of God, though men fussed and struggled and made a parade of freedom. Might not there be a more potent strength in utter surrender?

His mind became acid-clear. He had nothing—nothing. His chances in life, so zealously cherished, had departed like smoke. His reputation was shattered for ever. He had sunk into the underworld of those who are eternally discounted… But if he was stripped to the bone, that meant also that he had nothing to lose—nothing but Eilean Bàn, which was not really of this world… But had he nothing left? He had health and an exercised body—brains—much knowledge. Was there no use to be made of these even in the underworld of the disconsidered? Might there not be a tremendous power in complete submission? If soul and body were offered to God to plough under, might not there be a harvest from the sacrifice?

The thought came upon him with the force of a revelation. His feebleness had suddenly become strength. He asked nothing of life, neither length of days, nor wealth, nor fame, nor comfort. He was out of the daylight and honour of the firing-line, but there must be work to do in dark places for one who was prepared to keep nothing back. Desperate men he had been told were always formidable, but desperation was commonly a wild neurotic thing, incalculable and undirected, based on ignoble passions like jealousy and fear. What of a desperation which had in it no taint of self, which was passionless and reasoned, not a wayward lightning but a steady flame? He might win the right to Eilean Bàn by other means than the glittering career he had once mapped out for himself.

A new kind of peace fell upon him. It was not the peace of the fakir who has renounced everything for the high road and the begging-bowl, but something more absolute still, for Adam did not ask for a hope of Heaven. Even Eilean Bàn dropped out of his picture. He was content to lay himself under the eternal plough… He took to prayer, which was a kind of communing with his own soul… And finally there came a night when he dedicated himself humbly yet exultingly to whatever uttermost service might be asked, and rose from his knees with the certainty that his vow had been accepted.

Christopher Stannix, who was his most regular visitor, noticed a change in Adam. The muddy prison colour in his face had given place to the hue of health, which was inevitable, for he was now striving consciously to keep his body fit. His old alertness had returned, and, instead of the dull apathy of the first days, he showed a lively curiosity about events in the outer world. He asked for books, and an odd collection they made. Milton was the only poet—naturally, Stannix thought, for Adam seemed to have pulled himself together and to be making a stand against fortune, and Milton in his blindness had done the same. There were various books of philosophy, including a newly published volume of Bergson, and various works on the higher mathematics. Also there was a mass of travel literature, and many grammars. There was no request for any military books.

Adam had resolved to equip himself for his task in this enforced leisure which had been granted him. The first thing was to keep his mind bright and clear, so he toiled at the stiffest mental gymnastics which he could find. The second was to enlarge his knowledge, for one who worked in the shadows must know more than those in the daylight. He had decided that soldiering, the scientific side of it at any rate, was no more for him, so he put his old interests aside. Since he did not know where his future service might lie, he set about informing himself on those parts of the globe which were strange to him. He had always had a passion for geography, and now, by much reading and poring over maps, he acquired an extensive book-knowledge of many countries. Languages, too, for which he had a turn. He already spoke French and German well—German almost like a native, and he had a fair knowledge of Italian and Spanish. To these he now added Russian and Turkish, and, having in his youth learned enough Icelandic to read the Sagas, he made himself a master of the Scandinavian tongues. He found his days pass pleasantly, for he had an ordered programme to get through, and he had the consciousness that he was steadily advancing in competence. Every scrap of knowledge which he acquired might some day, under God’s hand, be of vital import.

But there were two tasks which he could not yet touch—the most urgent tasks of all. He must school his body to endure the last extremes of fatigue and pain and prison gave him no chance for such a training. Also he must acquire a courage like tempered steel. It was not enough to hold one’s life cheap: that was merely a reasoned purpose; what was needed was to make fortitude a settled habit, so that no tremor of nerves should ever mar his purpose. On that point alone he had qualms. He had still to lift his body, with all its frailties, to the close-knit resolution of his mind.

Chapter 5

Table of Contents

Adam came out of prison in March 1914. His lawyer had seen to the preliminaries, and Camilla intended to divorce him for desertion under Scots law. He had settled upon her most of his income, leaving himself one thousand pounds a year, apart from Eilean Bàn. She ultimately married a hunting baronet in Yorkshire, and passed out of his life. The island he let for a further term of seven years to its former tenant. If he was ever to return there, he had a heavy road to travel first.

Most of the summer was spent in getting back his body to its former vigour, for the effects of a long spell of confinement do not disappear in a day. He took rooms at a farmhouse in Northumberland and set himself to recruit his muscles and nerves as steadily as if he had been preparing for an Olympic race. He spent hours daily on the moors in all weathers, and the shepherds were puzzled by the man with the lean face and friendly eyes who quartered the countryside like a sheep-dog. At one of the upland fairs he entered for a hill race, and beat the longest-legged keeper by half a mile. His mind needed no recruitment, for it had been long in training. He spent the evenings with his books, and once a week walked to the nearest town to get the London newspapers. He was waiting for a sign.

That sign came in the first days of August with the outbreak of war.

Part 2

Chapter 6

Table of Contents

In Whitehall on an August morning Adam met Stannix.

The latter had just left the War Office, which had changed suddenly from a mausoleum to a hive. He was in uniform, with scarlet gorget-patches, and was respectfully saluted by whatever wore khaki. At sight of Adam he cried out.

“The man in all the world I most want to see! Where have you come from?”

“From Northumberland, where I have been getting fit. It looks as if I had finished the job just in time.”

“And where are you bound for?”

“To join up.”

“As a private?”

“Of course. I’m no longer a soldier.”

“Nonsense, man. That can’t be allowed. We’re running this business like a pack of crazy amateurs, but there’s a limit to the things we can waste. Brains is one.”

“I must fight,” said Adam. “You’re doing the same.”

“Not I. I’m stuck at home in this damned department store. I want to go out to-morrow, for I’ve been in the Yeomanry for years and know something about the job, but they won’t let me—yet. They told me I must do the thing I’m best fitted for. I pass that on to you.”

Adam shook his head.

“I’m fit for nothing but cannon-fodder. You know that well enough, Kit. And I’m quite content. I’ll find some way of making myself useful, never fear.”

“I daresay you will, but not the best way. This wants perpending. Promise me on your honour that you’ll do nothing to-day, and lunch with me tomorrow. By that time I may have a plan.”

Adam protested, but the other was so urgent that at last he agreed.

Next day they lunched together and Stannix wore an anxious face.

“I’ve seen Ritson and Marlake,” he said, “and they think as I do. If you join up as a private, you’ll presently get your stripes, and pretty soon you’ll be offered a commission. But in a battalion you’ll be no better than a hundred thousand others. I want you to have a show. Well, it can’t be in the open, so it must be in the half-light or the dark. That means risks, far bigger risks than the ordinary fellow is now facing in Flanders, but it also means an opportunity for big service. How do you feel about it?”

Adam’s face brightened.

“I haven’t much capital left, and I want to spend it. I don’t mind risks—I covet them. And I don’t mind working in the dark, for that is where I must live now.”

Stannix wrinkled his brows.

“I was certain you’d take that view, and I told Ritson so. But Adam, old man, I feel pretty miserable about it. For a chance of work for you means a certainty of danger—the most colossal danger.”

“I know, I know,” said Adam cheerfully. “That’s what I’m looking for. Hang it, Kit, I must squeeze some advantage out of my troubles, and one is that my chiefs should not concern themselves about what happens to me. I’m a volunteer for any lost hope.”

“I may be helping to send my best friend to his death,” said Stannix gloomily.

“Everybody is doing that for everybody. You’ll be doing the kindest thing in the world if you give me a run for my money. I’ve counted the cost.”

The result of this talk was that during the following week Adam had various interviews. The first was with Ritson at the War Office, a man who had been one of his instructors at the Staff College. Ritson, grey with overwork, looked shyly at his former pupil. “This is a queer business, Melfort,” he said. “I think you are right. You’re the man I would have picked above all others—only of course I couldn’t have got you if certain things hadn’t happened… You know what’s expected of you and what you’re up against. Good-bye and God bless you! I’ll be like a man looking down into deep water and now and then getting a glimpse of you moving at the bottom.”