XI. Angus Niel and the Canny Clan
 

The days that followed were days of stirring adventure to the Rob Roy Clan, and days of continuous and surprising misery to Angus Niel. Never in his history as gamekeeper. of Glen Cairn had he had such experiences. The very trees in the woods seemed to be bewitched. Wherever he went he was followed by some mysterious power that seemed to know his every movement. If he killed any game, the fact was advertised and the place marked by signs in blue chalk. Not only that, but the very path of his approach to the spot was marked by pointing arrows and some such legend as "This way to the glen where Angus Niel killed a deer" would decorate a neighboring rock. On other rocks appeared pertinent questions addressed to him. "How much did you get for the stag?" was one of them, and there were also queries as to where he found the best market for game. He was kept so busy searching the forest for these incriminating signs and rubbing them out, that he could not follow his regular rounds. Even this did not avail, for if he erased them on one day, it was but a matter of time before the letters appeared again as fresh and blue as ever. Nor was this all. He was haunted by a wailing voice which reached him even in the remote fastnesses of the forest. He was sure to hear it if he ventured into the neighborhood of the waterfall, and he usually avoided that region as if it harbored a pestilence.

Once late in the afternoon he shot two hares and hid them under some rocks, intending to carry them across the lake in the morning, but when he went for them, they had disappeared altogether, and above the place where they had been was written in blue chalk, "Sacred to the memory of two hares, killed and hidden here by Angus Niel on June 12th."

When he saw this epitaph, Angus's hair really stood on end with fright, and on the day he found that the boat was gone, leaving no trace, he became absolutely terror-stricken. He sought for it behind every rock and in every likely nook about the lake, consuming days in the quest, and was appalled on his next trip thither to find all the incidents of his search faithfully recorded on the rocks, each one signed with the mystic initials R. R. C.

It took ingenuity, persistence, and some degree of danger on the part of the clan to accomplish these things, but one could depend upon finding these qualities in any Campbell or McGregor, and Sandy, having been made a blood brother, faithfully lived up to the duties it entailed. He became an expert detective and sleuth- hound, discovering and reporting Angus's movements each day to the enterprising Clan and its resourceful Chief.

At Alan's suggestion, the Clan took for its motto "We must be canny," and canny they certainly were. They even changed their programme from day to day, and in this way just when Angus felt he was about to discover his tormentors and know if they were human and not witches, they found some new method of annoyance and he was all at sea again.

Once they gave him a respite of nearly a week and Angus, having erased many signs and finding no new ones, was beginning to think his troubles were over, when suddenly arrows bearing bits of paper inviting him to visit the fall would suddenly drop at his feet. It had taken the Clan nearly all their spare time for the week to make the bows and arrows, by which this wonder was accomplished. Meanwhile they had lived like lords, feasting upon trout and the generous store of provisions with which Alan continued to supply the cave. They even began to see how it was possible for Rob Roy and his men to live upon forest fare, for the pool below the fall was a wonderful fishing-hole, and small game was plentiful if they had cared to become poachers themselves.

On one red-letter day, they roasted the two hares which Angus had killed, and cooked potatoes in the ashes. Each day was filled with fresh adventures, and the wild out-door life agreed with Alan so well that his thin cheeks began to fill out and glow with healthy color and it was not long before he looked as sturdy and strong as Jock himself.

It was curious that what Alan gained in flesh and spirits, Angus Niel at the same time seemed to lose. He was so worried by these strange visitations that his round eyes took on a haunted expression, and Sandy observed that he kept looking over his shoulder as if he thought some one were following him, even when he walked the village streets.

He dared not stay away from the forest lest others should discover the dreadful blue signs before he did, and at the same time he was afraid to go in. He swung like a pendulum between these two difficulties and grew daily more nervous and unhappy. By the end of June he had lost ten pounds of flesh as well as the money he might have made out of poaching and selling the game. By the middle of July he was so haggard that people began to remark on his appearance. There seemed no way out of his troubles but to lie about them, and soon wild stories were circulated through the village about the haunted forest and its dangers.

Women were warned not to let the children stray into the woods lest they be carried away by witches or water cows, and it was also reported that a gang of poachers of a particularly blood- thirsty character infested the region, carrying off game and property and leaving no trace. Angus had been watching this band of desperadoes for some time, he said, and knew there were at least twenty of them who would stop at nothing.

With Angus's tale of the mysterious loss of his boat, the excitement reached a climax, and there was talk of organizing an armed band of men from the village to protect the woods and rid the neighborhood of the bandits. The people were surprised that Angus himself should oppose this plan, but as he was gamekeeper and in authority, the matter was dropped. To Angus's horror, however, these rumors and events were all faithfully recorded on rocks not far from his own home soon after, and he realized that to the very doors of his own house he was pursued by the same mysterious and vigilant power. It was then that he lost his appetite, and if the Clan could have followed him into his home and seen him look under his bed before he got into it at night, their joy would have been full.

The wild stories he told had the effect of keeping every one else out of the forest and made the Clan more than ever free to stalk their prey without fear of discovery. In this occupation several exciting weeks passed by, and then there came an unhappy surprise to the Clan, and it was not Angus Niel who sprang it upon them either.

One morning in late July, Alan came up the road toward the little gray house, where he was now so much at home, looking very glum indeed. Sandy was with him, wearing a face as solemn as a funeral procession. Jock and Jean saw them coming and hailed them with a shout, and Tam, who had not quite recovered from his injury, came dashing down the brae on three legs to greet them. Even Tam's joyful bark did not lift the shadow from their faces.

Jean cried out from the top of the brae, "Whatever can be the matter with you? You're looking as miserable as two hens in a rainstorm!"

"Trouble enough," answered Sandy, and Jean and Jock at once came hurrying down the slope to hear the bad news. They met at the river-side, and Sandy, who was bursting to tell it, cried out, "What do you think? Alan's got to go home! His mother's sent for him!" One look at Alan's melancholy face confirmed this dreadful statement and the gloom instantly became general.

The Clan sat down on the ground in a depressed circle to discuss the matter and its bearing on their plans.

"Don't you think your mother would let you stay if you should ask her?" suggested Jock.

"No," said Alan, with sad conviction. "She said I was to come at once, and I'll have to start this very afternoon. I'm to drive down to the boat and get to Glasgow by water; I'll spend the night there and go on to London in the morning."

"Sal, but you'll be seeing a lot of the world," said Jock. "I wish I were going with you."

"I wish you all were," said Alan.

"We'll likely be having more traveling than we want," said Jean, "when we have to give up the wee bit hoosie and go out and walk the world." She looked up at the little gray house as she spoke, and her eyes filled with tears.

"It's the end of the Clan; that's what it is," said Sandy with deepening despondency.

"Oh, come now!" said Alan. "It's not so bad as all that, and I'm surely coming back next summer. I know my mother'll let me, for she'll see how much good it's done me to be here. Just look at that," he added, baring his arm and knotting his biceps. "Climbing around the cave and chasing after Angus Niel have made me as tough as a knot. She won't know me when she sees me."

"I wonder if we shall know you the next time we see you, if we ever do," said Jean.

"Ho!" said Alan, trying to smile gayly, "of course you will! I'll have a sprig of the evergreen pine and give the pewit call, and then you'll be sure."

"What good will your coming back next summer do us?" said Jock. "We shan't be here to see you! Our leases run out in October, and nobody knows where we'll go after that! We've got to move out, so the Auld Laird can have more space to raise game for Angus Niel to kill," he finished bitterly.

There seemed no way of brightening this sad prospect, and the Clan sat for a few moments in mournful silence. Alan tried hard to think of something comforting to say.

"I'll tell you what," he exclaimed at length. "We can still be a Clan, whether we see each other or not. We'll remember we're all blood brothers just the same."

"And that you are our Chief," added Jean, trying to look cheerful.

"Can't we go back to the cave just once more?" said Sandy.

"I've got to be at the bridge at one o'clock," said Alan. "I've said good-bye to Eppie, and she is packing my things, and putting up a lunch, so I don't have to do anything but step into the carriage when I get there. What time is it now?"

Jean flew up the slope to the house and called back from the door, "It's ten o'clock."

"Come on, then, my merry men!" cried Alan, and the four started off at a brisk trot, looking anything but merry as they went.

"We shan't want to come here any more," said Jock, when they reached the cave. "So we may as well take everything away."

"Oh," said Alan, "something might happen to keep you in the Glen Easig. You never can tell. You'd better take back the pots and pans, but leave the wood, and then if we are here next summer, it will be all ready for cooking a jolly old mess of trout."

"Whatever shall we do with the boat?" asked Jean. This was a conundrum, but the Chief, as usual, was equal to the occasion.

"There's only one thing we can do," he said. "It will just dry up and fall to pieces up here; we'll let it down over the rock by the ropes and. leave it in the pool. Then when Angus finds it, he'll be perfectly sure he was bewitched and be more afraid of the falls than ever!"

They worked hurriedly, for the time was short, and in another hour the boat was floating in the fishing-pool, securely tied to a pine tree on the bank. They packed pots and pans in the basket and lowered it over the rock by the rope, and when everything was done, Alan took the blue chalk and drew a sprig of pine on the wall of the cave with the initials R. R. C. beside it. The four children then scrambled down the secret stairway, feeling as if they had said good-bye forever to a dear friend. When they reached the little gray house, they left the basket in the kitchen, and the entire Clan walked with Alan back to the bridge, where they found the carriage waiting.

Alan made short work of his good-byes. He shook hands all round and sprang quickly into the carriage, and as it rattled away with him down the road, he stood up, waving his bonnet with the spray of evergreen pine in it and whistling the pewit call.

"Dagon't," said Sandy, when the carriage passed out of sight around a bend in the road. "Dagon't, we'll never find another like the Chief." If Jean and Jock had felt able to say anything, they would have echoed the statement. As it was, Sandy drew his kilmarnock bonnet over his eyes, thrust his hands into his pockets, and started dejectedly toward his own house, leaving Jean and Jock, equally miserable, to return alone to the wee bit hoosie on the brae.