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Undry Doings In The Mirk
From Kirkmichael on the train stopped at every station, but no passenger seemed to leave
or arrive at the little platforms white in the moon. At Dalquharter the case of provisions
was safely transferred to the porter with instructions to take charge of it till it was sent
for. During the next few minutes Dickson's mind began to work upon his problem with a
certain briskness. It was all nonsense that the law of Scotland could not be summoned to
the defence. The jewels had been safely got rid of, and who was to dispute their
possession? Not Dobson and his crew, who had no sort of title, and were out for naked
robbery. The girl had spoken of greater dangers from new enemies--kidnapping, perhaps.
Well, that was felony, and the police must be brought in. Probably if all were known the
three watchers had criminal records, pages long, filed at Scotland Yard. The man to deal
with that side of the business was Loudon the factor, and to him he was bound in the first
place. He had made a clear picture in his head of this Loudon--a derelict old country
writer, formal, pedantic, lazy, anxious only to get an unprofitable business off his hands
with the least possible trouble, never going near the place himself, and ably supported in
his lethargy by conceited Edinburgh Writers to the Signet. "Sich notions of business!" he
murmured. "I wonder that there's a single county family in Scotland no' in the bankruptcy
court!" It was his mission to wake up Mr. James Loudon.
Arrived at Auchenlochan he went first to the Salutation Hotel, a pretentious place sacred
to golfers. There he engaged a bedroom for the night and, having certain scruples, paid
for it in advance. He also had some sandwiches prepared which he stowed in his pack,
and filled his flask with whisky. "I'm going home to Glasgow by the first train in the to-
morrow," he told the landlady, "and now I've got to see a friend. I'll not be back till late."
He was assured that there would be no difficulty about his admittance at any hour, and
directed how to find Mr. Loudon's dwelling.
It was an old house fronting direct on the street, with a fanlight above the door and a neat
brass plate bearing the legend "Mr. James Loudon, Writer." A lane ran up one side
leading apparently to a garden, for the moonlight showed the dusk of trees. In front was
the main street of Auchenlochan, now deserted save for a single roysterer, and opposite
stood the ancient town house, with arches where the country folk came at the spring and
autumn hiring fairs. Dickson rang the antiquated bell, and was presently admitted to a
dark hall floored with oilcloth, where a single gas-jet showed that on one side was the
business office and on the other the living-rooms. Mr. Loudon was at supper, he was told,
and he sent in his card. Almost at once the door at the end on the left side was flung open
and a large figure appeared flourishing a napkin. "Come in, sir, come in," it cried. "I've
just finished a bite of meat. Very glad to see you. Here, Maggie, what d'you mean by
keeping the gentleman standing in that outer darkness?"
The room into which Dickson was ushered was small and bright, with a red paper on the
walls, a fire burning, and a big oil lamp in the centre of a table. Clearly Mr. Loudon had
no wife, for it was a bachelor's den in every line of it. A cloth was laid on a corner of the
table, in which stood the remnants of a meal. Mr. Loudon seemed to have been about to
make a brew of punch, for a kettle simmered by the fire, and lemons and sugar flanked a
pot-bellied whisky decanter of the type that used to be known as a "mason's mell."