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How A Middle-Aged Crusader Accepted A Challenge
The first cocks had just begun to crow and clocks had not yet struck five when Dickson
presented himself at Mrs. Morran's back door. That active woman had already been half
an hour out of bed, and was drinking her morning cup of tea in the kitchen. She received
him with cordiality, nay, with relief.
"Eh, sir, but I'm glad to see ye back. Guid kens what's gaun on at the Hoose thae days.
Mr. Heritage left here yestreen, creepin' round by dyke-sides and berry-busses like a
wheasel. It's a mercy to get a responsible man in the place. I aye had a notion ye wad
come back, for, thinks I, nevoy Dickson is no the yin to desert folk in trouble.... Whaur's
my wee kist?....Lost, ye say. That's a peety, for it's been my cheesebox thae thirty year."
Dickson ascended to the loft, having announced his need of at least three hours' sleep. As
he rolled into bed his mind was curiously at ease. He felt equipped for any call that might
be made on him. That Mrs. Morran should welcome him back as a resource in need gave
him a new assurance of manhood.
He woke between nine and ten to the sound of rain lashing against the garret window. As
he picked his way out of the mazes of sleep and recovered the skein of his immediate
past, he found to his disgust that he had lost his composure. All the flock of fears, that
had left him when on the top of the Glasgow tram-car he had made the great decision,
had flown back again and settled like black crows on his spirit. He was running a horrible
risk and all for a whim. What business had he to be mixing himself up in things he did
not understand? It might be a huge mistake, and then he would be a laughing stock; for a
moment he repented his telegram to Mr. Caw. Then he recanted that suspicion; there
could be no mistake, except the fatal one that he had taken on a job too big for him. He
sat on the edge of the bed and shivered with his eyes on the grey drift of rain. He would
have felt more stout-hearted had the sun been shining.
He shuffled to the window and looked out. There in the village street was Dobson, and
Dobson saw him. That was a bad blunder, for his reason told him that he should have
kept his presence in Dalquharter hid as long as possible. There was a knock at the cottage
door, and presently Mrs. Morran appeared.
"It's the man frae the inn," she announced. "He's wantin' a word wi' ye. Speakin' verra
ceevil, too."
"Tell him to come up," said Dickson. He might as well get the interview over. Dobson
had seen Loudon and must know of their conversation. The sight of himself back again
when he had pretended to be off to Glasgow would remove him effectually from the class
of the unsuspected. He wondered just what line Dobson would take.
The innkeeper obtruded his bulk through the low door. His face was wrinkled into a
smile, which nevertheless left the small eyes ungenial. His voice had a loud vulgar
cordiality. Suddenly Dickson was conscious of a resemblance, a resemblance to
somebody whom he had recently seen. It was Loudon. There was the same thrusting of
the chin forward, the same odd cheek-bones, the same unctuous heartiness of speech. The