The light grew stronger, and as I rounded the last turning a third came bounding down, stumbling from wall to wall like a drunk man. I saw his face clearly, and if ever mortal eyes held baffled murder it was that fellow’s. There was a dark mark on his shoulder.
Above me as I blinked stood my red-haired friend on the top landing. He had his sword drawn, and was whistling softly through his teeth, while on the right hand was an open door and an old man holding a lamp.
“Ho!” he cried. “Here comes a fourth. God’s help, it’s my friend the marksman!”
I did not like that naked bit of steel, but there was nothing for it but to see the thing through. When he saw that I was unarmed he returned his weapon to its sheath, and smiled broadly down on me.
“What brings my proud gentleman up these long stairs?” he asked.
“I saw you entering the close and three men following you. It looked bad, so I came up to see fair play.”
“Did ye so? And a very pretty intention, Mr. What’s-your-name. But ye needna have fashed yourself. Did ye see any of our friends on the stairs?”
“I met a big man rolling down like a football,” I said.
“Ay, that would be Angus. He’s a clumsy stot, and never had much sense.”
“And I met another with his hand on his side,” I said.
“That would be little James. He’s a fine lad with a skean-dhu on a dark night, but there was maybe too much light here for his trade.”
“And I met a third who reeled like a drunk man,” I said.
“Ay,” said he meditatively, “that was Long Colin. He’s the flower o’ the flock, and I had to pink him. At another time and in a better place I would have liked a bout with him, for he has some notion of sword-play.”
“Who were the men?” I asked, in much confusion, for this laughing warrior perplexed me.
“Who but just my cousins from Glengyle. There has long been a sort of bicker between us, and they thought they had got a fine chance of ending it.”
“And who, in Heaven’s name, are you,” I said, “that treats murder so lightly?”
“Me?” he repeated. “Well, I might give ye the answer you gave me this very day when I speired the same question. But I am frank by nature, and I see you wish me well. Come in bye, and we’ll discuss the matter.”
He led me into a room where a cheerful fire crackled, and got out from a press a bottle and glasses. He produced tobacco from a brass box and filled a long pipe.
“Now,” said he, “we’ll understand each other better. Ye see before you a poor gentleman of fortune, whom poverty and a roving spirit have driven to outland bits o’ the earth to ply his lawful trade of sea-captain. They call me by different names. I have passed for a Dutch skipper, and a Maryland planter, and a French trader, and, in spite of my colour, I have been a Spanish don in the Main. At Tortuga you will hear one name, and another at Port o’ Spain, and a third at Cartagena. But, seeing we are in the city o’ Glasgow in the kindly kingdom o’ Scotland, I’ll be honest with you. My father called me Ninian Campbell, and there’s no better blood in Breadalbane.”