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John Buchan


It was a cold night and I was very hungry. Turnbull still had my coat, and my watch and Scudder's note-book were in a pocket of it. My money was in my trousers' pocket.
I lay down in some long grass but could not sleep. 
I thought about all the people who had helped me. And I decided that I had been a very lucky man.
Food was my chief problem. I closed my eyes and saw thick pieces of meat on a white plate. I remembered all the meals that I had eaten in London. I used to refuse fruit
after dinner! Now I would give five pounds for an apple.
Towards morning I slept a little but woke again about six o'clock. I sat up and looked down into the valley. I lay back immediately in great surprise.
Men were searching the long grass below and they were only a quarter of a mile away.
I crawled a few yards and hid behind a rock. There I noticed a crack that ran to the top of the hill. I crawled into this crack and began to climb. When I reached the top, I raised my head again. My enemies were still searching the long grass.
I rolled over the hill-top to the other side. No one could see me there, so I ran for half a mile. Then I climbed to the top again and stood up straight. The men saw me at once and moved towards me. I ran back over the hill-top and returned to my first place. My enemies were now going the wrong way, and I felt safer.
My best plan was to go to the north, and I chose my path carefully. Soon a wide valley lay between me and my enemies. But when they discovered their mistake, they turned back quickly. I saw them suddenly above the hill-top, and they began to shout at me. I noticed then that they were not my real enemies. Two of them were policemen.
Jopley has reported me,' I thought, 'and now they're looking for the murderer.'
Two men ran down and began to climb my side of the valley. The policemen ran across the hill-tops to the north. I felt afraid now because these men knew the country. I had strong legs and plenty of breath but did not know the best paths.
I left my hill-top and ran down towards a river. A road ran beside the river, and I noticed a gate at the side of the road. I jumped over the gate and ran across a field. The path led through a group of trees where I stopped and looked back. The police were half a mile behind me.
I crossed a low wall beyond the trees and stood in a farmyard. The farmhouse was about fifty yards away.
There was a glass building at the side of the house, and an old gentleman was sitting at a desk inside. He looked at me as I walked towards the building.
The room was full of books and cases which contained old stone tools and broken pots. I saw several boxes of old coins. Books and papers covered the old gentleman's desk.
He was a, kind old man with a round face and a bald head. And he was wearing a pair of large spectacles. When I went in, he did not move or speak.
I could not say a word either. I looked at him and noticed his eyes. They were small and bright and very clear. His bald head was shining like a glass bottle.
Then he said slowly, 'You are in a hurry, my friend.'
I pointed across the farmyard and the field. Some figures were climbing over the gate beside the road.
'Ah, they're policemen,' he said, 'and you're running away from them. Well, we can talk about it later. I don't want the police to come in here. If you go into the next room, you'll see two doors. Go through the doorway on the left side and shut it behind you. You'll be quite safe in there.'
Then he picked up a pen and went on with his work.
I obeyed him at once. I went into the next room and through the left-hand doorway. It was very dark inside, and there was only one window which was high up in the wall.
I was safe from the police in that room but I was not very happy. Indeed, I felt suspicious. Everything was so easy that I began to wonder. 'Why did that old fellow help me?' I asked myself. 'I've never seen him before, and he didn't ask me any questions.'
While I was waiting, I thought about food again. I made plans for my breakfast., and it was very exciting. I would have bacon and eggs. The old man could not refuse to give me that. I could eat a pound of bacon and a dozen eggs. I was thinking about this meal when the door opened.
A man who was standing outside made a sign to me. And I followed him to the old gentleman's room.
'Have the police gone?' I asked.
'Yes. They asked me if you had come here. But I didn't tell them anything important. This is a lucky morning for you, Mr. Richard Hannay.'
He spoke quietly and seemed very young now. I was watching him all the time. He closed his eyes but they were only half shut, like a bird's eyes. And I suddenly remembered what Scudder had told me. 'If you see his eyes, Hannay,' he had said, 'you'll never forget them.'
Was this man Scudder's worst enemy? And was I now in the enemy's house? I would kill the old man if these thoughts were true.
He guessed my plan and smiled. Then his eyes moved to the door behind me. I turned and saw two men with guns in their hands.
He knew my name but he had never seen me before. And this was my only chance.
'What are you talking about?' I asked. 'My name isn't Richard Hannay. It's Ainslie.'
'Is it? But of course you have other names. We won't quarrel about a name.' He was still smiling at me.
I thought of another plan quickly. I had no coat and my clothes were still very dirty. They were quite a good disguise for me, so I began to tell a story.
'Why did you save me from the police?' I asked. 'I didn't want to steal that money. It has caused me so much trouble that you can have it.' And I took four sovereigns from my pocket and threw them on the old man's desk.
'Take it,' I said, 'and let me go.'
'Oh, no, Mr. Hannay, I won't let you go. You know too much for me to allow that. You're acting very well but you can't deceive me.'
I wondered if he was sure about me. For a moment I saw a little doubt in his eyes.
'I don't want to deceive you,' I said. 'Why don't you believe me? I stole that money because I was hungry. The two men left the car and went away after the accident. I climbed down the bank and found the money on the floor of the car. The police have been hunting me since then, and I'm very tired.'
The old man was clearly in doubt now. He was still suspicious of me, but we had never met before. And that made him careful.
'Tell me your adventures,' he said. 'What happened to you yesterday?'
'I can't. I haven't eaten anything for two days. Give me a meal first, and then I'll tell you everything.'
He made a sign to one of the men who brought me some cold bacon and a glass of milk. Suddenly, while I was eating, the old man spoke to me in German. It was a trick of course, so I did not look up or answer him.
When I had finished, I began my story again. I had come from Leith and was going to visit my brother in Wigtown. I was not travelling by train because I had only a little money. On my way I saw an accident. A car ran off the road and fell into a little valley.
A man had jumped out of the car before it fell. And then another man appeared. They talked for a few moments and then went away together. I went down to the car. It was completely destroyed, but I found the four sovereigns on the floor. I put the money in my pocket and ran away.
I went into a shop in the nearest village and tried to buy some food. I offered a sovereign to the shop-keeper. She was suspicious and called the police. I escaped, but the policeman tore my coat completely off.
'Well,' I cried , 'they can have the money back. A poor man hasn't got a chance.'
'That's a good story, Hannay,' the old man said. 'But I don't believe it.' Then he sat back in his chair and began to rub his right ear.
'It's the truth,' I shouted. 'My name is Ainslie, not Hannay. Those policemen knew me and were shouting my
name from the hill-top.'
I looked at the bright eyes and the bald head in front of me. I knew that his doubts were growing. He had never seen my face. It was different from my photographs. And my clothes were very old and dirty.
'You'll have to stay here,' he said at last. 'If you aren't Richard Hannay, you'll be quite safe. But if you are Hannay, I'll kill you myself. I'll soon discover the truth.'
He rang a bell and another man came in.
'Bring the car,' he said. 'There'll be three for dinner.'
He looked at me carefully again, and there was something quite terrible in his eyes. They were cold and cruel, like the bright eyes of a snake. I could not look away from them. They made me weak, like a child, and I wanted to crawl to him. He was Scudder's worst enemy. But I would have served him if he had asked me!
He was rubbing his right ear again. Then he spoke in German to one of the men. And when I heard his words, my strange thoughts left me.
'Karl, put this fellow in the store-room and don't let him escape. Remember that.,' he said.
The store-room was very dark, but the two men did not come inside with me. They sat down outside where I could hear them talking. I felt around the walls of the room and touched several boxes and barrels. Then I sat down on one of the boxes to think about my difficulties.
The old man and his friends would soon return and recognize me. They would remember the roadman because I was still wearing Turnbull's clothes. I could guess their questions: why were the police looking for a roadman? Why was he found twenty miles away from his job? They would remember Marmaduke Jopley too, I thought, and probably Sir Harry. I could not continue to deceive these foreign enemies and I would be alone with them here. My chances of escape were not very great.
Suddenly I grew angry and hated these German spies in Britain. I would not sit in this dark place and do nothing. I had to attack them or try to escape.
I got up and walked around the room again. The boxes and barrels were too strong for me to open, but then I reached a cupboard in the wall. It was probably locked because I could not open it. But there was a crack in the door. I pushed my fingers through the crack and then pulled hard. The door of the cupboard broke open.
There were some strange things inside. The first things I found were half a dozen electric lamps. They were in good condition too, and I shone a light around the cupboard.
There were bottles and small boxes and some dusty yellow bags. I found a box of detonators which were complete with long fuses. I took out the detonators and fuses and laid them carefully on the floor. At the back of the cupboard I found a strong box. At first I thought that it was locked. But it opened quite easily, and it was full of sticks of dynamite.
I could destroy the house with this dynamite. I had often used it in Rhodesia and I knew its power. It could very easily destroy me too! This was clearly a chance of escape, and it would probably be my only chance. So I decided to take it.
I found a crack in the floor near the doorway. I pushed a stick of dynamite into the crack and fixed a detonator and fuse to it. Then I moved one of the boxes until it stood over the crack.
I sat down near the cupboard and lit the fuse. I watched the fire as it moved along the fuse. The two men were still talking quietly outside the door ...
Suddenly there was a terrible noise, and great heat and light rushed up from the floor. They hung for a moment in the air, and then clouds of dust took their place. Thick yellow smoke filled the room, and at first I could not see anything. But there was light in the room now. A great hole had appeared in the wall, and I ran towards it. The air outside was also full of smoke and dust, and I could hear the sound of voices.
I climbed through the hole and ran forward. I was in the farmyard at the back of the house. About thirty yards away there was a high stone bird-house. The building had no doors or windows but there were many little holes for the birds. And the roof seemed flat.
If I could reach that roof, I should be safe. They would not look for me up there, I thought.
I ran through the smoke to the back of the bird-house. Then I began to climb. It was hard work, and I went up very slowly. But at last I reached the top and lay down behind a low wall.
The dust and smoke had made me sick, and I felt very tired. But I was safe up there and soon I fell asleep.
I probably slept for several hours. When I woke up, the afternoon sun was very strong. I could hear men's voices again and the sound of a motor-car. I raised myself a little and looked over the wall.
Four or five men were walking across the farmyard to the house. The old man was with them and he was clearly very angry. He pointed across the fields and said something in German to the servants. The thin dark fellow was there and the fat one too.
I lay on the roof of the bird-house all the afternoon. I was very thirsty. There was a little river beside the farm and I could hear the sound of water. I felt the money in my pocket. I would have given forty pounds for a glass of water if I had had the chance!
Two men drove away in the car. A little later another man rode to the east on a horse. The search was beginning, but they were all going the wrong way!
I sat up on the roof and looked around. At first I saw nothing specially inter esting but then I noticed a large circle of trees. These trees were half a mile from the house, and there was a flat green field inside the circle.
'That must be an airfield,' I thought. 'It's a wonderful place for a secret airfield.'
It would deceive anyone who did not know the place. A small plane could land there and no one would see it. The field was completely hidden from the ground. Anybody would think that the plane had flown over the hill. No one would guess that it had landed among the trees.

Then I noticed a thin blue line far away to the south. It was the sea. So our enemies had this secret airfield in Scotland, and they could watch our ships every day. The thought made me very angry.
It made me nervous too. If the plane came back, the pilot would easily see me. But I could do nothing until it was dark.
I lay and waited on the roof of the bird-house. About six o'clock a man came out through the hole in the store-room. He walked slowly towards the bird-house, and I felt quite afraid for a moment. But then we both heard the plane at the same time. The fellow turned immediately and went back into the store-room.
The plane did not fly over the house, and I was glad about that it flew around the trees once and then landed. Some lights shone for a moment or two, and ten minutes later I heard voices. After that everything was quiet, and it began to grow dark.
I waited until nine o'clock perhaps. Then I climbed down from the roof and reached the ground safely. I crawled away from the bird-house on my hands and knees.
I went first to the little river where I lay and drank the cool water. Then I began to run. I wanted to get as far away as possible from that terrible house.

Adapted by Roland John for Intermediate Level


Click here to read CHAPTER 7: The Fisherman