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The House of the Four Winds

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Set in the fictional Central European country of Evallonia the novel follows Scottish visitors in the overthrow of a corrupt republic and the restoration of the monarchy. It is a sequel to Castle Gay, in which some Evallonians visited Scotland on a secret mission two years before the start of this novel.

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PROLOGUE-1
PROLOGUE Great events, says the philosophic historian, spring only from great causes, though the immediate occasion may be small; but I think his law must have exceptions. Of the not inconsiderable events which I am about to chronicle, the occasion was trivial, and I find it hard to detect the majestic agency behind them. What world-force, for example, ordained that Mr Dickson McCunn should slip into the Tod’s Hole in his little salmon-river on a bleak night in April; and, without changing his clothes, should thereafter make a tour of inspection of his young lambs? His action was the proximate cause of this tale, but I can see no profounder explanation of it than the inherent perversity of man. The performance had immediate consequences for Mr McCunn. He awoke next morning with a stiff neck, an aching left shoulder, and a pain in the small of his back—he who never in his life before had had a touch of rheumatism. A vigorous rubbing with embrocation failed to relieve him, and, since he was accustomed to robust health, he found it intolerable to hobble about with a thing like a toothache in several parts of his body. Dr Murdoch was sent for from Auchenlochan, and for a fortnight Mr McCunn had to endure mustard plasters and mustard baths, to swallow various medicines, and to submit to a rigorous diet. The pains declined, but he found himself to his disgust in a low state of general health, easily tired, liable to sudden cramps, and with a poor appetite for his meals. After three weeks of this condition he lost his temper. Summer was beginning, and he reflected that, being now sixty-three years of age, he had only a limited number of summers left to him. His gorge rose at the thought of dragging his wing through the coming delectable months—long-lighted June, the hot July noons with the corncrakes busy in the hay, the days on August hills, red with heather and musical with bees. He curbed his distaste for medical science, and departed to Edinburgh to consult a specialist. That specialist gave him a purifying time. He tested his blood and his blood pressure, kneaded every part of his frame, and for the better part of a week kept him under observation. At the end he professed himself clear in the general but perplexed in the particular. “You’ve never been ill in your life?” he said. “Well, that is just your trouble. You’re an uncommonly strong man—heart, lungs, circulation, digestion, all in first-class order. But it stands to reason that you must have secreted poisons in your body, and you have never got them out. The best prescription for a fit old age is a bad illness in middle life, or, better still, a major operation. It drains off some of the middle-age humours. Well, you haven’t had that luck, so you’ve been a powder magazine with some nasty explosives waiting for the spark. Your tom-fool escapade in the Stinchar provided the spark, and here you are—a healthy man mysteriously gone sick. You’ve got to be pretty careful, Mr McCunn. It depends on how you behave in the next few months whether you will be able to fish for salmon on your eightieth birthday, or be doddering round with two sticks and a shawl on your seventieth.” Mr McCunn was scared, penitent and utterly docile. He professed himself ready for the extremest measures, including the drawing of every tooth in his head. The specialist smiled. “I don’t recommend anything so drastic. What you want first of all is an exact diagnosis. I can assess your general condition, but I can’t put my finger on the precise mischief. That needs a technique which we haven’t developed sufficiently in this country. Next, you must have treatment, but treatment is a comparatively simple affair if you first get the right diagnosis. So I am going to send you to Germany.” Mr McCunn wailed. Banishment from his beloved Blaweary was a bitter pill. “Yes, to Germany. To quite a pretty place called Rosensee, in Saxon Switzerland. There’s a kurhaus there run by a man called Christoph. You never heard his name, of course—few people have—but he is a therapeutic genius of the first order. You can take my word for that. I’ve known him again and again pull people out of their graves. His main subject is nerves, but he is good for everything that is difficult and mysterious, for in my opinion he is the greatest diagnoser in the world. . . . By the way, you live in Carrick? Well, I sent one of your neighbours to Rosensee last year—Sir Archibald Roylance—he was having trouble with a damaged leg—and now he walks nearly as well as you and me. It seems there was a misplaced sinew which everybody else had overlooked. . . . Dr Christoph will see you three times a day, stare at you like an owl, ask you a thousand questions and make no comment for at least a fortnight. Then he will deliver judgment, and you may take it that it will be right. After that the treatment is a simple matter. In a week or two you will be got up in green shorts and a Tyrolese hat and an alpenstock and a rope round your middle, climbing the little rocks of those parts. . . . Yes, I think I can promise you that you’ll be fit and ready for the autumn salmon.” Mr McCunn, trained to know a competent man when he saw him, accepted the consultant’s prescription, and rooms were taken for him at the Rosensee kurhaus. His wife did not accompany him for three reasons: first, she had a profound distaste for foreign countries and regarded Germany as still a hostile State; second, she could not believe that rheumatism, which was an hereditary ailment in her own family, need be taken seriously, so she felt no real anxiety about his health; third, he forbade her. She proposed to stay at Blaweary till the end of June, and then to await her husband’s return at a Rothesay hydropathic. So early in the month Mr McCunn a little disconsolately left these shores. He took with him as body-servant and companion one Peter Wappit, who at Blaweary was game-keeper, forester and general handy-man. Peter, having fought in France with the Scots Fusiliers, and having been two years a prisoner in Germany, was believed by his master to be an adept at foreign tongues. Nor was there any profound reason in the nature of things why Lord Rhynns, a well-preserved gentleman of sixty-seven, should have tumbled into a ditch that spring at Vallescure and broken his left leg. He was an active man and a careful, but his mind had been busy with the Newmarket entries, so that he missed a step, rolled some yards down a steep slope of rock and bracken, and came to rest with a leg doubled unpleasantly under him. The limb was well set, but neuritis followed, with disastrous consequences to the Rhynns ménage. For his wife, whose profession was a gentle invalidism, found herself compelled to see to household affairs, and as a result was on the verge of a nervous breakdown. The family moved from watering-place to watering-place, seeking a cure for his lordship’s affliction, till at the mountain village of Unnutz Lady Rhynns could bear it no longer. A telegram was despatched to their only child requiring her instant attendance upon distressed parents. This was a serious blow to Miss Alison Westwater, who had been making very different plans for the summer. She was then in London, living with her Aunt Harriet, who two years before had espoused Mr Thomas Carlyle Craw, the newspaper magnate. It was the Craws’ purpose to go north after Ascot to the Westwater house, Castle Gay, in the Canonry, of which Mr Craw had a long lease, and Alison, for whom a very little of London sufficed, had exulted in the prospect. Now she saw before her some dismal weeks—or months—in an alien land, in the company of a valetudinarian mother and a presumably irascible father. Her dreams of Scotland, to which she was passionately attached, of salmon in the Callowa and trout in the hill lochs and bright days among the heather, had to be replaced by a dreary vista of baking foreign roads, garish foreign hotels, tarnished pine-woods, tidy clothes and all the things which her soul abominated. There was perhaps more of a cosmic motive in the determination that summer of the doings of Mr Dougal Crombie and Sir Archibald Roylance, for in their cases we touch the fringe of high politics. Dougal was now a force, almost the force, in the Craw Press. The general manager, Mr Archibald Bamff, was growing old, he had taken to himself a wife, and his fancy toyed pleasantly with retirement to some country hermitage. So in the past year Dougal had been gradually taking over his work, and, since he had the complete confidence of Mr Craw, and the esteem of Mr Craw’s masterful wife, he found himself in his early twenties charged with much weighty and troublesome business. He was a power behind the throne, and the more potent because few suspected his presence. Only one or two people—a Cabinet minister, an occasional financial magnate, a few highly placed Government officials—realised the authority that was wielded by this sombre and downright young man. Early in June he set out on an extensive Continental trip, the avowed purpose of which was to look into certain paper-making concerns which Mr Craw had acquired after the war. But his main object was not disclosed, for it was deeply secret. Mr Craw had long interested himself in the republic of Evallonia, his sympathies being with those who sought to restore the ancient monarchy. Now it appeared that the affairs of that country were approaching a crisis, and it was Dougal’s mission to spy out the land. As for Sir Archibald Roylance, he had been saddled with an honourable but distasteful duty. He had been the better part of two years in the House of Commons, and had already made a modest mark. He spoke infrequently and always on matters which he knew something about—the air, agriculture, foreign affairs—and his concise and well-informed speeches were welcomed amid the common verbiage of debate. He had become parliamentary private secretary to the Under-Secretary for Foreign Affairs, who had been at school with him. That summer the usual Disarmament Conference was dragging its slow length along; it became necessary for Mr Despenser, the Under-Secretary, to go to Geneva, and Sir Archie was ordered to accompany him. He received the mandate with little pleasure. The session that summer would end early, and he wanted to get to Crask, for he had been defrauded of his Easter holiday in the Highlands. Geneva he believed might last for months and he detested the place, which, as Lord Lamancha had once said, was full of the ghosts of mouldy old jurisconsults, and the living presence of cosmopolitan bores. But his spirits had improved when he discovered that he might take Janet with him. “We’ll find a chance of slipping away,” he told his wife. “One merit of these beastly conferences is that they are always adjourning. We’ll hop it into eastern Europe or some other fruity place. Hang it all, now that I’ve got the use of both legs, I don’t see why we shouldn’t climb a mountain or two. d**k Hannay’s yarns have made me rather keen to try that game.” Certain of these transmigrations played havoc with the plans of Mr John Galt, of St. Mark’s College, Cambridge, who, having just attained a second class in his Tripos and having so concluded his university career, felt himself entitled to an adequate holiday. He had intended to make his headquarters at Blaweary, which was the only home he had ever known, and thence to invade the Canonry, fishing its lochs and sleeping in its heather. But Blaweary would presently be shut up in Mr McCunn’s absence, and if Alison Westwater was not at Castle Gay, the Canonry lost all its charm. Still, he must have some air and exercise. The summer term had been busy and stuffy, and to a Rugby player there were few attractions in punts among lilied backwaters. He would probably have to go alone to the Canonry, but his fancy had begun to toy with another scheme—a walking-tour in southeastern France or among the Jura foothills, where new sights and smells and sounds would relieve his loneliness. It was characteristic of him that he never thought of finding a male companion; for the last two years Alison had been for him the only companion in the world.

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