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John Buchan


I rested for a time on the top of a hill. The road crossed a flat space in front of me and then ran down into a valley. A cottage stood among the fields below, but there were no other signs of life. I was so tired that I lay down and closed my eyes.
It was seven o'clock when a sound woke me. It was the plane again. I did not move. It flew over the hills in narrow circles. The next minute it turned towards me, and I could see the pilot and another man. Both men were looking at me. And I felt sure that they had recognized me. Then the
machine climbed quickly and flew away to the east.
I had to escape from that place immediately. My enemies would return and search the hills. They had seen my bicycle of course, so I had to throw it away.
I left the road and pushed the bicycle about fifty yards. Then I noticed a hole full of water and threw the bicycle into it.
The day was warm and clear and I could see the road to the east and the west. There was nothing on it. But I was certain that my enemies would soon come down that road. So I turned across the hills to the north.
After a time I looked back across the valleys on both sides. My eyes are very good, and I saw some men walking far apart. They were all coming towards the high ground.
 ran forward but did not get very far. There were more men in front, searching the next valley. 'I can't get away from here,' I thought. 'If I try to escape, they'll see me. So I have to stay on the high ground and hide somewhere.'
I ran along the top of the hill and reached the road again. I turned a corner of the road and there I found the roadman.
His tools lay beside him and he was getting ready for work. But he was moving very slowly.
He looked up as I came near. 'This is a terrible job,' he said, 'and I can't do it today. I'm too ill to work, and that's the truth.'
He was a wild figure and he wore a pair of large spectacles. His eyes looked very red.
'What's the matter?' I asked, but I knew the answer. 'You do this job every day, don't you? Why can't you do it today?'
'I do,' he replied, 'but my daughter doesn't come home from London every day. She came home yesterday, and we had a party last night.' He took off his spectacles and then continued. 'I got very drunk last night and my head feels very bad.'
'I'm sorry,' I said. 'Bed is clearly the best place for you.'
'Ah, but it's not easy. I got a postcard yesterday. The new Road Surveyor is coming to see this work today. If I go home to bed, he won't find me here. And then I'll lose my job.'
Suddenly I had a wonderful idea. 'Listen,' I said. 'I may be able to help you. If you still feel too drunk to work, you'll have to go to bed. Does the new Surveyor know you very well?'
'No. I've never met him before but I've heard about him. He travels about in a little motor-car.'
'Where's your house?' I asked.
He pointed to the cottage down among the fields.
'Good. You go back to bed then and sleep in peace. I'll do your job for today. If the Surveyor doesn't know you, he won't know me either.'
He looked at me and laughed then. 'Well, you're a very nice fellow. It'll be quite easy too and you needn't do a lot of work.'
He pointed to a pile of stones and a hammer. 'I broke up those stones yesterday,' he said, 'and you needn't do any more of that. Take the barrow and go down the road. Keep on until you come to a pile of rocks. Bring them up here in the barrow. My name is Alexander Turnbull but my friends call me Specky. That's because I wear these glasses. When the Surveyor comes, you'll have to talk politely. And call him "Sir". He'll be quite happy then.'
'The Surveyor may know that you wear spectacles,' I said. 'Let me borrow them for today.'
He laughed again. 'Well, well, this is a fine trick.' He gave me his glasses and his dirty old hat.
I took off my coat and gave it to him. 'Take this home with you,' I said, 'and keep it for me.'
Then he left me.
Ten minutes later I was like a roadman myself. I had rubbed dust on my trousers and shoes. Turnbull's trousers were tied below the knee, and I had tied mine in the same way. Those German spies would notice everything, and I was afraid of my hands. They looked clean and rather soft, so I rubbed dirt on them.
Turnbull had left his food and an old newspaper beside the road. It was eight o'clock now, and I was feeling quite hungry. So I stole some of his bread and cheese and had a quick meal.
Then I began my new job and pushed the barrow up and down the road. While I was working, I remembered an old friend in Rhodesia. He was a policeman when I knew him. But he had done many strange things in his life. He had often been in danger and knew the value of a good disguise. He used to say, 'But a disguise alone isn't enough, Hannay. You must try to be another person and you must believe it yourself. If you can't do that, your disguise will soon fail.'
So now I believed that I was the roadman. And I thought about my life and my job. I lived in the little cottage in the valley. My daughter had come home the day before and we had had a party. I had got drunk and was
still feeling sick. But the Surveyor wanted to see me today, and I had to wait for him.
I worked for an hour or more and got quite dirty. It was a very dusty job. Suddenly a voice spoke from the road and I looked up. A small motor-car had stopped and a young man was talking to me.
'Are you Alexander Turnbull?' he asked. 'I'm the new Road Surveyor, and my office is in the town hall at Newton-Stewart. The road looks all right here, Turnbull. There's a soft part about a mile away, and you must clean the edges. I'll be around here again next week. Good morning.'
He drove away, and I felt very glad. My disguise had been quite good enough for him.
About eleven o'clock a farmer drove some sheep down the road. When he saw me, he stopped.
'What's happened to Specky?' he asked.
'He's ill,' I replied. 'I'm doing his job for a few days.'
About noon a big car came down the road. It went past me and stopped a hundred yards away. Three men got out of the car and walked slowly back towards me.
I had seen two of them before. They were the men who had visited the Galloway inn. One of them was thin and dark and the other was rather fat. But I did not know the third man who was older than the others.
'Good morning,' the third man said. 'You have a fine easy job here.'
I did not answer at once. I put down the handles of the barrow and stood up slowly. They were looking at me carefully, and their eyes missed nothing.
'There are worse jobs than this,' I said, 'but there may be better ones too. I'd rather have yours and sit all day in that big car.'
The man who had spoken was looking at Turnbull's newspaper.
'Do you get the papers every day?' he asked.
'Yes, I get them but they're three or four days late.'

He picked up the paper and looked at the date on it. Then he put it down again. The thin fellow was looking at my shoes and spoke a few words in German.
Then the older man said, 'You have a fine pair of shoes. Did you buy them here?'
'I did not,' I said. 'These shoes came from London. I got them from the gentleman who was hunting here last year. Now what was his name?' And I rubbed my ear so as to remember the name.
The fat man now spoke in German. 'Let's go,' he said. 'This fellow is all right.'
They asked me one more question. 'Did anyone go past here early this morning? Perhaps he was riding a bicycle.'
I thought about this question for a moment. Then I said, 'Well, I was a bit late this morning. My daughter came home from London yesterday and we had a party last night. I opened the door about seven o'clock, and there was nobody on the road then.'
The three men said good-bye to me and went back to their car. Three minutes later they drove away.
I felt very glad that they had gone. But I continued to work. This was wise too because the car soon returned. The three men looked at me again as they went past.
I finished Turnbull's bread and cheese and by five o'clock I had finished the work. But I was'not sure about the next step. I felt certain that my enemies were still around the place. If I walked away, they would stop me. But I had to get away from them.
I decided to go down to Turnbull's cottage. I would take his things back to him and get my coat. I would stay there until it was dark. And then I hoped to escape across the hills.
But suddenly another car came down the road and stopped. There was one man in it and he called to me.
'Have you got any matches?'

I looked at him and recognized him at once. This was a very lucky chance. His name was Marmaduke Jopley, and I had met him once or twice in London. I hated the fellow. He was a friend of rich young men and old ladies who often invited him to their homes. Well, Jopley was such a weak fellow that he could not hurt me. And I decided to act quickly.
'Hullo, Jopley,' I said. 'I'm surprised to see you here.'
His face grew pale. 'Who are you?' he asked in a nervous voice.
'Hannay,' I said. 'From Rhodesia. Don't you remember me?'
'Hannay the murderer!' he cried.
'That's right. Now listen to me. If you don't obey me quickly, I'll be Jopley's murderer too. Give me your coat and cap.'
He was so afraid that he obeyed immediately. I put on his new coat over my dusty clothes and put his cap on my head. Then I gave him Turnbull's spectacles and dirty old hat.

'Wear them for a few minutes,' I said. 'They're a very good disguise.'
I was wondering which way to go. Jopley had come from the east, and I decided to go back that way. If my enemies were watching the road, they would recognize the car. But I did not think that they would stop it. So I turned the car and drove away.
'Now, Jopley,' I said, 'if you're a good fellow, I won't hurt you. But don't try any tricks and don't talk. Remember that I'm a murderer. If you cause any trouble, I'll kill you.'
We drove eight miles along the valley. Several men were standing on the corners as we drove past. They looked carefully at the car but did not try to stop us. About seven o'clock I turned into a narrow road and drove up into the hills.
The villages and cottages were soon behind us. At last I stopped the car at a quiet place and turned it for Jopley. I gave him his coat and cap and took back Turnbull's spectacles and the old hat.
'Thank you,' I said. 'Now you can go and find the police.'
He drove away. I watched the red light of his car as it disappeared in the distance.

Adapted by Roland John for Intermediate Level


Click here to read CHAPTER 6: The Strange House On The Moor