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The spring evening was warm and still, and the sound of conversation carried far along the path from the open window of the house. It was enough to make the man walking the gravel surface hesitate, then turn his steps onto the lawn. He walked silently across the well trimmed grass to the bay window, stooped, and peered through a gap in the curtains. A few moments more, and he returned to the path and entered the open door of the house.

Ignoring the servant waiting there, he turned left and went at once into the dining room. He looked steadily around him, while the conversation at the long table gradually died down.

"Dr. Darwin?" His voice was gruff and formal.

The eight men seated at dinner were silent for a moment, assessing the stranger. He was tall and gaunt, with a dark, sallow complexion. Long years of intense sunlight had stamped a permanent frown across his brow, and a slight, continuous trembling of his hands spoke of other legacies of foreign disease. He returned the stares in silence.

After a few seconds one of the seated men pushed his chair back from the table.

"I am Erasmus—Darwin." The slight hesitation as he pronounced his name suggested a stammer more than any kind of contrived pause. "Who are you, and what is your business here?"

The speaker had risen to his feet as he spoke. He stepped forward, and was revealed as grossly overweight, with heavy limbs and a fat, pockmarked face. He stood motionless, calmly awaiting the intruder's reply.

"Jacob Pole, at your service," said the stranger. Despite the warmth of the April evening he was wearing a grey scarf of knitted wool, which he tightened now around his neck. "Colonel Jacob Pole of Lichfield. You and I are far afield tonight, Dr. Darwin, but we are neighbors. My house is no more than two miles from yours. You provided medication once, to my wife and to my young daughter. As for my business, it is not of my choosing and I fear it may be a bad one. I am here to ask your urgent assistance on a medical matter at Bailey's Farm, not half a mile from this house."

There was a chorus of protesting voices from the table. A thin-faced man who wore no wig stood up and stepped closer.

"Colonel Pole, this is my house. I will forgive your entry to it uninvited and unannounced, since we understand that medical urgencies must banish formalities. But you interrupt more than a dinner among friends. I am Matthew Boulton, and tonight the Lunar Society meets here on serious matters. Mr. Priestley is visiting from Calne to tell of his latest researches on the new air. He is well begun, but by no means finished. Can your business wait an hour?"

Jacob Pole stood up straighter than ever. "If disease could be made to wait, I would do the same. As it is . . ." He turned to Darwin again. "I am no more than a messenger here, one who happened to be dining with Will Bailey. I have come at the request of Dr. Monkton, to ask your immediate assistance."

There was another outcry from those still seated at the table. "Monkton! Monkton asking for assistance? Never heard of such a thing."

"Forget it, 'Rasmus! Sit back down and try this rhubarb pie."

"If it's Monkton," said a soberly dressed man on the right hand side of the table, "then the patient is as good as dead. He's no doctor, he's an executioner. Come on, Colonel Pole, take a glass of claret and sit down with us. We meet too infrequently to relish a disturbance."

Erasmus Darwin waved him to silence. "Steady, Josiah, I know your views of Dr. Monkton." He turned full face to Pole, to show a countenance where the front teeth had long been lost from the full mouth. The jaw was jowly and in need of a razor. Only the eyes belied the impression of coarseness and past disease. They were grey and patient, with a look of deep sagacity and profound power of observation.

"Forgive our jests," he said. "This is an old issue here. Dr. Monkton has not been one to ask my advice on disease, no matter what the circumstance. What does he want now?"

The outcry came again. "He's a pompous old windbag."

"Killer Monkton—don't let him lay a finger on you."

"I wouldn't let him touch you, not if you want to live."

Pole had been staring furiously about him while the men at the table mocked Monkton's medical skills. He ignored the glass held out toward him, and a scar across the left side of his forehead was showing a flush of red.

"I might share your opinion of Dr. Monkton," he said curtly. "However, I would extend that view to all doctors. They kill far more than they cure. As for you gentlemen, and Dr. Darwin here, if you all prefer your eating and drinking to the saving of life, I cannot change those priorities."

He turned to glare at Darwin. "My message is simple. I will give it and leave. Dr. Monkton asks me to say three things: that he has a man at Bailey's Farm who is critically ill; that already the facies of death are showing; and that he would like you"—he leaned forward to make it a matter between him and Darwin alone—"to come and see that patient. If you will not do it, I will go back and so inform Dr. Monkton."

"No." Darwin sighed. "Colonel Pole, our rudeness to you was unforgivable, but there was a reason for it. These meetings of the Society are the high point of our month, and animal spirits sometimes drive us to exceed the proprieties. Give me a moment to call for my greatcoat and we will be on our way. My friends have told you their opinions of Dr. Monkton, and I must confess I am eager to see his patient. In my years of practice between here and Lichfield, Dr. Monkton and I have crossed paths many times—but never has he sought my advice on a medical matter. We are of very different schools, for both diagnosis and treatment."

He turned back to the group, silent now that their high spirits were damped. "Gentlemen, I am sorry to miss both the discussion and the companionship, but work calls." He moved to Pole's side. "Let us go. The last of the light is gone but the moon should be up. We will manage well without a lantern. If Death will not wait, then nor must we."

* * *

The road that led to Bailey's Farm was flanked by twin lines of hedgerow. It had been an early spring, and the moonlit white of flowering hawthorn set parallel lines to mark the road ahead. The two men walked side by side, Darwin glancing across from time to time at the other's gloomy profile.

"You appear to have no great regard for the medical profession," he said at last. "Though you bear marks of illness yourself."

Jacob Pole shrugged his shoulders and did not speak.

"But yet you are a friend of Dr. Monkton?" continued Darwin.

Pole turned a frowning face toward him. "I most certainly am not. As I told you, I am no more than a messenger for him, one who happened to be at the farm." He hesitated. "If you press the point—as you seem determined to do—I will admit that I am no friend to any doctor. Men put more blind faith in witless surgeons than they do in the Lord Himself."

"And with more reason," said Darwin softly.

Pole did not seem to hear. "Blind faith," he went on. "And against all logic. When you pay a man money to cut off your arm, it's no surprise that he tells you an arm must come off to save your life. In twenty years of service to the country, I am appalled when I think how many limbs have come off for no reason more than a doctor's whim."

"And on that score, Colonel Pole," said Darwin tartly, "your twenty years of service must also have told you that it would take a thousand of the worst doctors to match the limb-lopping effects of even the least energetic of generals. Look to the ills of your own profession."

There was an angry silence and both men paced faster along the moonlit road.

The farm stood well back, a hundred yards from the main highway to Lichfield. The path to it was a gloomy avenue of tall elms and by the time they were halfway along it they could see a tall figure standing in the doorway and peering out toward them. As they came closer he leaned back inside to pick up a lantern and strode to meet them.

"Dr. Darwin, I fear you are none too soon." The speaker's voice was full and resonant, like that of a singer or a practiced clergyman, but there was no warmth or welcome in it.

Darwin nodded. "Colonel Pole tells me that the situation looks grave. I have my medical chest with me back at Matthew Boulton's house. If there are drugs or dressings needed, Dr. Monkton, they can be brought here in a few minutes."

"I think it may already be too late for that." They had reached the door, and Monkton paused there. He was broad shouldered, with a long neck and a red, bony face. His expression was dignified and severe. "By the time Colonel Pole left here, the man was already sunk to unconsciousness. Earlier this evening there was delirium, and utterances that were peculiar indeed. I have no great hopes for him."

"He is one of Bailey's farmworkers?"

"He is not. He is a stranger, taken ill on the road near here. The woman with him came for help to the farm. Fortunately I was already here, attending to Father Bailey's rheumatics." He shrugged. "That is a hopeless case, of course, in a man of his age."

"Mm. Perhaps." Darwin sounded unconvinced, but he did not press it. "It was curiously opportune that you were here. So tell me, Dr. Monkton, just what is this stranger's condition?"

"Desperate. You will see it for yourself," he went on at Darwin's audible grunt of dissatisfaction. "He lies on a cot at the back of the scullery."

"Alone? Surely not?"

"No. His companion is with him. I explained to her that his condition is grave, and she seemed to comprehend well enough for one of her station." He set the lantern on a side table in the entrance and took a great pinch of snuff from a decorated ivory box. "Neither one of them showed much sign of learning. They are poor workers from the North, on their way to London to seek employment. She seemed more afraid of me than worried about her man's condition."

"So I ask again, what is that condition?" Darwin's voice showed his exasperation. "It would be better for you to give me your assessment out of their hearing—though I gather that he is hearing little enough."

"He hears nothing, not if lightning were to strike this house. His condition, in summary: the eyes deep-set in the head, closed, the whites only showing in the ball; the countenance, dull and grey; skin, rough and dry to the touch; before he became delirious he complained that he was feeling bilious."

"There was vomiting?"

"No, but he spoke of the feeling. And of pain in the chest. His muscle tone was poor and I detected weakened irritability."

Darwin grunted skeptically, causing Monkton to look at him in a condescending way.

"Perhaps you are unfamiliar with von Haller's work on this, Dr. Darwin? I personally find it to be most convincing. At any rate, soon after I came to him the delirium began."

"And what of his pulse?" Darwin's face showed his concentration. "And was there fever?"

Monkton hesitated for a moment, as though unsure what to answer. "There was no fever," he said at last. "And I do not think that the pulse was elevated in rate."

"Huh." Darwin pursed his full lips. "No fever, no rapid pulse—and yet delirium." He turned to the other man. "Colonel Pole, did you also see this?"

"I did indeed." Pole nodded vigorously. "Look here, I know it may be the custom of the medical profession to talk about symptoms until the patient is past saving—but don't you think you should see the man for yourself, while he's alive?"

"I do." Darwin smiled, unperturbed by the other's gruff manner. "But first I wanted all the facts I can get. Facts are important, Colonel, the fulcrum of diagnosis. Would you prefer me to rush in and operate, another arm or leg gone? Or discuss the man's impending death in the presence of his wife or daughter? That is not a physician's role, the addition of new misery beyond disease itself. But lead the way, Dr. Monkton, I am ready now to see your patient."

Jacob Pole frowned as he followed the other two men back through the interior of the old farmhouse. His expression showed mingled irritation and respect. "You sawbones are all the same," he muttered. "You have an answer for everything except a man's illness."

The inside of the farmhouse was dimly lit. A single oil lamp stood in the middle of the long and chilly corridor that led to the scullery and kitchen. The floor was uneven stone flags and the high shelves carried preserved and wrinkled apples, their acid smell pleasant and surprising.

Monkton opened the door to the scullery, stepped inside, and grunted at the darkness there. "This is a nuisance. I told her to stay here with him, but she has gone off somewhere and allowed the lamp to go out. Colonel Pole, would you bring the lantern from the corridor?"

While Pole went back for it Darwin stood motionless in the doorway, sniffing the air in the dark room. When there was light Monkton looked around and gave a cry of astonishment.

"Why, he's not here. He was lying on that cot in the corner."

"Maybe he died, and they moved him?" suggested Pole.

"No, they wouldn't do that," said Monkton, but for the first time his voice was uncertain. "Surely they would not move him without my permission?"

"Looks as though they did, though," said Pole. "We can settle that easily enough."

He threw back his head. "Willy, where are you?"

The shout echoed through the whole house. After a few seconds there was an answering cry from upstairs.

"What's wrong, Jacob? Do you need help there?"

"No. Has anybody been down here from upstairs, Willy? While I was gone, I mean."

"No. I didn't want to risk the sickness."

"That sounds right," grunted Pole. "Brave old Willy, hiding upstairs with his pipe and flagon."

"Has anyone downstairs been using tobacco?" asked Darwin quietly.

"What?" Pole stared at him. "Tobacco?"

"Use your nose, man. Sniff the air in here." Darwin was prowling forward. "There's been a pipe alight here in the past quarter of an hour. Do you smell it now? I somehow doubt that it was the man's wife that was smoking it."

He walked forward to the cot itself and laid a plump hand flat upon it. "Quite cold. So here we are, but we find no dead man, and no dying man. Dr. Monkton, in your opinion how long did the stranger have to live?"

"Not long." Monkton cleared his throat uncomfortably. "Not more than an hour or two, I would judge."

"Within an hour of final sacrament, and then gone," grunted Darwin. He shook his head and sat on the edge of the cot. "So now what? I don't think we'll find him easily, and we have all three sacrificed an evening to this already. If you are willing to waste a few more minutes, I'd much like to hear what the patient said when he became delirious. What do you say, gentlemen? May we discuss it?"

Pole and Monkton looked at each other.

"If you wish, although I am very doubtful that it—" began the physician, his rich voice raised a good half octave.

"All right," interrupted Pole. "Let's do it. But I don't propose to debate this here, in the scullery. Let's go upstairs. I'm sure Will Bailey can find us a comfortable place, and a glass as well if you want it—perhaps he can even find you an acceptable substitute for that rhubarb pie." He turned to the other physician. "As you know, Dr. Monkton, when you were tending to the man I did little more than watch. With your leave, maybe I should say what I saw, and you can correct me as you see fit. Agreed?"

"Well, now, I don't know. I'm not at all sure that I am willing to—"

"Splendid." Jacob Pole picked up the lamp and started back along the corridor, leaving the others the choice of following or being left behind in darkness.

"Colonel Pole!" Monkton lost his dignity and scuttled after him, leaving Darwin, smiling to himself, to bring up the rear. "Slower there, Colonel. D'you want to see a broken leg in the dark here?"

"No. With two doctors to attend it, a broken leg would more than likely prove fatal." But Pole slowed his steps and turned so that the lamp threw its beam back along the corridor. "What an evening. Will Bailey and I had just nicely settled in for a pipe of Virginia and a talk about old times—we were together at Pondicherry, and at the capture of Manila—when word came up from downstairs that Dr. Monkton needed another pair of hands to help."

"Why not Will Bailey?" asked Darwin from behind him. "It is his house."

"Aye, but Willy had shipped a few pints of porter, and I'd been running reasonable dry. I left him there to nod, and I came down." Pole sniffed. "I'm no physician—you may have guessed that already—but when I saw our man back there in the scullery I could tell he was halfway to the hereafter. He was mumbling to himself, mumbling and muttering. It took me a few minutes to get the hang of his accent—Scots, and thick enough to cut. And he was all the time shivering and shaking, and muttering, muttering . . ."

* * *

The woman had been standing by the side of the cot, holding the man's right hand in both of hers. As the hoarse voice grew louder and more distinct she leaned toward him.

"John, no. Don't talk that way." Her voice was frightened, and for a brief moment the man's eyes seemed to flicker in their sunk pits, as though about to open. She looked nervously at Jacob Pole and at Dr. Monkton, who was preparing a poultice of kaolin and pressed herbs.

"His mind's not there. He—he doesna' know whut he's sayin'. Hush, Johnnie, an' lie quiet."

"Inland from Handa Island, there by the Minch," said the man suddenly, as though answering some unspoken question. "Aye, inside the loch. That's where ye'll find it."

"Sh. Johnnie, now quiet ye." She squeezed his hand gently, an attractive dark-haired woman bowed down with worry and work. "Try and sleep, John, ye need rest."

The unshaven jaw was moving again, its dark bristles emphasizing the pale lips and waxen cheeks. Again the eyelids fluttered.

"Two hundred years," he said in a creaking voice. "Two hundred years it lay there, an' niver a mon suspected whut was in it. One o' auld King Philip's ships, an' crammed. Aye, an' not one to ken it 'til a month back, wi' all the guid gold."

Jacob Pole started forward, his thin face startled. The woman saw him move and shook her head.

"Sir, pay him no mind. He's not wi' us, he's ramblin' in the head."

"Move back, then, and give me room," said Monkton. His manner was brisk. "And if you, sir"—he nodded at Pole—"will hold his shoulders while I apply this to his chest. And you, my good woman, go off to the kitchen and bring more hot water. Perhaps this will give him ease."

"I canna' leave him noo." The woman's voice was anguished. "There's no sayin' whut he'll come out with. He might—" Her voice trailed off under the doctor's glare and she picked up the big brass bowl and reluctantly crept out. Jacob Pole took the man firmly by the shoulders, leaning forward to assure his grip.

"Inland from Handa Island," said the man after a few seconds. His breath caught and rattled in his throat, but there seemed to be a tone of a confidence shared. "Aye, ye have it to rights, a wee bit north of Malkirk, at the entrance there of Loch Malkirk. A rare find. But we'll need equipment to take it, 'tis twenty feet down, an' bullion weighs heavy. An' there's the Devil to worrit about. Need help . . ."

His voice faded and he groaned as the hot poultice was applied to his bare chest. His hands twitched, flew feebly upwards toward his throat, and then flopped back to his sides.

"Hold him," said Monkton. "There's a new fit coming."

"I have him." Pole's voice was quiet and he was leaning close to the man, watching the pallid lips. "Easy, Johnnie."

The dark head was turning to and fro on the folded blanket, grunting with some inner turmoil. The thin hands began to clench and unclench.

"Go south for it." The words were little more than a whisper. "That's it, have to go south. Ye know the position here in the Highlands, but we'll have to have weapons. Ye canna' fight the Devil wi' just dirks and muskets, ye need a regular bombard. I've seen it—bigger than leviathan, taller than Foinaven, an' strong as Fingal. Five men killed, an' three more crippled, an' nothin' to show for it."

"It's coming," said Monkton suddenly. "He's stiffening in the limbs."

The breath was coming harder in the taut throat. "Go get the weapons . . . wi'out that we'll lose more o' the clansmen. Weapons, put by Loch Malkirk, an' raise the bullion . . . canna' fight the Devil . . . wi' just dirks. Aye, I'll do it . . . south, then. Need weapons . . . bigger than leviathan . . ."

As the voice faded, his thin hands moved up to clasp Pole's restraining hands and Pole winced as black fingernails dug deep into his wrists.

"Hold tight," said Monkton. "It's the final spasm."

But even as he spoke, the stranger's muscles began to lose their tension. The thin hands slid down to the chest and the harsh breathing eased. Jacob Pole stood looking down at the still face.

"Has he—gone?"

"No." Monkton looked puzzled. "He still breathes, and it somehow seems to have eased. I—I thought . . . Well, he's quiet now. Would you go and find the woman, and see where that hot water has got to? I would also like to cup him."

Pole was peering at the man's face. "He seems a lot better. He's not shaking the way he was. What will you do next?''

"Well, the cupping, he certainly needs to be bled." Monkton coughed. "Then I think another plaster, of mustard, Burgundy pitch, and pigeon dung. And perhaps an enema of antimony and rock salt, and possibly wormwood bitters."

"Sweet Christ." Pole shook his head and wiped his nose on his sleeve. "Not for me. I'd rather be costive for a week. I'll go fetch his woman."

* * *

"And that was it?" Darwin was seated comfortably in front of the empty fireplace, a dish of dried plums and figs on his lap. Jacob Pole stood by the window, looking moodily out into the night and glancing occasionally at Will Bailey. The farmer was slumped back in an armchair, snoring and snorting and now and then jerking back for a few moments of consciousness.

"That's as I recall it—and I listened hard." Pole shrugged. "I don't know what happened after I left the room, of course, but Dr. Monkton says the man was peaceful and unconscious until he too left. The woman stayed."

Darwin picked up a fig and frowned at it. "I have no desire to further lower your opinion of my profession, but now that he is gone I must say that Dr. Monkton's powers of observation are not impressive to me. You looked close at that man's face, you say. And as a soldier you presumably have seen men die?"

"Aye. And women and children, sad to say." Pole looked at him morosely. "What's that to do with it?"

Darwin sighed. "Nothing, it seems, according to you and my colleague, Dr. Monkton. Think, sir, think of that room you were in. Think of the smell of it."

"The tobacco? You already remarked on that, and I recall no other."

"Exactly. So ask yourself of the smell that was not there. A man lies dying, eh? He displays the classic Hippocratic facies of death, as Dr. Monkton described it—displays them so exactly that it is as though they were copied from a text. So. But where was the smell of mortal disease? You know that smell?"

Pole turned suddenly. "There was none. Damme, I knew there was something odd about that room. I know that smell all too well—sweet, like the charnel house. Now why the blazes didn't Dr. Monkton remark it? He must encounter it all the time."

Darwin shrugged his heavy shoulders and chewed on another wrinkled plum. "Dr. Monkton has gone beyond the point in his profession where his reputation calls for exact observation. It comes to all of us at last. 'Man, proud man, drest in a little brief authority, most ignorant of what he's most assured.' Aye, there's some of that in all of us, you and me, too. But let us go, if you will, a little further. The man gripped your wrists and you held his shoulders. There was delirium, you have told me that, in his voice. But what was the feel of him?"

Pole paced back and forth along the room, his skinny frame stooped in concentration. He finally stopped and glared at Will Bailey. "Pity you've no potion to stop him snoring. I can't hear myself think. A man can't fix his mind around anything with that noise. Let's see now, what was the feel of him."

He held his hands out before him. "I held him so, and he gripped at my wrists thus. Dirty hands, with long black nails."

"And their warmth? Carry your mind back to them."

"No, not hot. He wasn't fevered, not at all. But not cold, either. But . . ." Pole paused and bit his lip. "Something else. The Dutch have my guts, his hands were soft. Black and dirty, but not rough, the way you'd expect for a farmer or a tinker. His hands didn't match his clothes at all."

"I conjectured it so." Darwin spat a plum stone into the empty fireplace. "Will you allow me to carry one step further?"

"More yet? Damme, to my mind we've enough mystery already. What now?"

"You have seen the world in your army service. You have been aboard a fighting ship and know its usual cargo. Did anything strike you as strange about our dying friend's story?"

"The ship, one of King Philip's galleons, sunk off the coast of Scotland two hundred years ago." Pole licked at his chapped lips and a new light filled his eyes. "With a load of bullion on board it."

"Exactly. A wreck in Loch Malkirk, we deduce, and bearing gold. Now, Colonel Pole, have you ever been involved in a search for treasure?"

Before Pole could answer there was a noise like a hissing wood fire from the other armchair. It was Will Bailey, awake again and shaking with laughter.

"Ever been involved in a hunt for treasure, Jacob! There's a good one for me to tell yer wife." He went into another fit of merriment. "Should I tell the Doctor, Jacob?"

He turned to Darwin. "There was never a man born under the sun who followed treasure harder. He had me at it, too—diving for pearls off Sarawak, and trawling for old silver off the Bermudas' reefs." He lay back, croaking with laughter. "Tell 'im, Jacob, you tell 'im all about it."

Pole peered at him in the dim light. "Will Bailey, you're a shapeless mass of pox-ridden pig's muck. Tell him about yourself, instead of talking about me. Who ate the poultice off the black dog's back, eh? Who married the chimney sweep, and who hanged the monkey?"

"So you have found treasure before?" interjected Darwin, and Pole turned his attention back to the doctor.

"Not a shillings-worth, though I've sought it hard enough, along with fat Will there. I've searched, aye, and I've even hunted bullion out on the Main, in sunk Spanish galleons; but I've never found enough to pay a minute's rent on a Turkish privy. What of it, then?"

"Consider our wrecked galleon, resting for two hundred years off the coast of Scotland. How would it have got there? Spanish galleons were not in the habit of sailing the Scottish coast—still less at a time when England and Spain were at war."

"The Armada!" said Bailey. "He's saying yon ship must have been part of the Spanish Armada, come to invade England."

"The Armada indeed. Defeated by Drake and the English fleet, afraid to face a straight journey home to Cadiz through the English Channel, eh? Driven to try for a run the long way, around the north coast of Scotland, with a creep down past Ireland. Many of the galleons tried that."

Pole nodded. "It fits. But—"

"Aye, speak your but." Darwin's eyes were alight with pleasure. "What is your but?"

"But a ship of the Armada had no reason to carry bullion. If anything, she'd have been stripped of valuables in case she went down in battle."

"Exactly!" Darwin slapped his fat thigh. "Yet against all logic we find sunk bullion in Loch Malkirk. One more factor, then I'll await your comment: you and I both live fifteen miles from here, and I at least am an infrequent visitor; yet I was called on to help Dr. Monkton—who has never before called me in for advice or comment on anything. Ergo, someone knew my whereabouts tonight, and someone persuaded Monkton to send for me. Who? Who asked you to fetch me from Matthew Boulton's house?"

Pole frowned. "Why, he did." He pointed at Will Bailey.

"Nay, but the woman told me you and Monkton asked for that." Bailey looked baffled. "Only she didn't know the way, and had to get on back in there with her man. That's when I asked you to do it—I thought you knew all about it."

Darwin was nodding in satisfaction. "Now we have the whole thing. And observe, at every turn we come back to the two strangers—long since disappeared, and I will wager we see no more of them."

"But what the devil's been going on?" said Pole. He scratched at his jaw and wiped his nose again on his sleeve. "A dying man, Spanish bullion, a leviathan in Loch Malkirk—how did we get into the middle of all this? I come here for a bite of free dinner and a quiet smoke with Willy, and before I know it I'm running over the countryside as confused as Lazarus' widow."

"What is really going on?" Darwin rubbed at his grey wig. "As to that, at the moment I could offer no more than rank conjecture. We lack tangible evidence. But for what it is worth, Colonel, I believe that you were involved largely accidentally. My instincts tell me that I was the primary target, and someone aimed their shafts at my curiosity or my cupidity."

"The bullion?" Pole's eyes sparkled. "Aye, where they tickled me, too. If you go, I'd like a chance to join you. I've done it before, and I know some of the difficulties. Rely on me."

Darwin shook his head. The plate of fruit had been emptied, and there was a dreamy look on his coarse features. "It is not the treasure, that can be yours, Colonel—if it proves to exist. No, sir, there's sweeter bait for me, something I can scent but not yet see. The Devil, and one thing more, must wait for us in Malkirk."

* * *

The pile in the courtyard of the stage inn had been growing steadily. An hour before, three leather bags had been delivered, then a square oak chest and a canvas-wrapped package. The coachman sat close to the wall of the inn, warming his boots at a little brazier and shielding his back against the unseasonably cold May wind. He was drinking from a tankard of small beer and looking doubtfully from the swelling heap of luggage to the roof of the coach.

Finally he looked over his shoulder, measured the angle of the sun with an experienced eye, and rose to his feet. As he did so there was a clatter of horses' hooves.

Two light pony traps came into view, approaching from opposite directions. They met by the big coach. Two passengers climbed down from them, looked first at the pile of luggage on the ground, then at the laden traps, and finally at each other. The brooding coachman was ignored completely.

The fat man shook his head.

"This is ridiculous, Colonel. When we agreed to share a coach for this enterprise it was with the understanding that I would take my medical chest and equipment with me. They are bulky, but I do not care to travel without them, for even a few miles from home. However, it did not occur to me that you would then choose to bring with you all your household possessions." He waved a brawny arm at the other trap. "We are visiting Scotland, not removing ourselves to it permanently."

The tall, scrawny man had moved to his light carriage and was struggling to take down from it a massive wooden box. Despite his best effort he was unable to lift it clear, and after a moment he gave up, grunted, and turned to face the other. He shook his head.

"A few miles from home is one thing, Dr. Darwin. Loch Malkirk is another. We will be far in the Highlands, beyond real civilization. I know that it has been thirty years since the Great Rebellion, but I'm told that the land is not quiet. It still seethes with revolt. We will need weapons—if not for the natives, then for the Devil."

Darwin had checked that his medical chest was safely aboard the coach. Now he came across to grasp one side of the box on the other trap, and between them they lowered it to the ground.

"You are quite mistaken," he said. "The Highlands are unhappy but they are peaceful. Dr. Johnson fared well enough there, only three years ago. You will not need your weapons, though there is no denying that the people hold loyal to Prince Charles Edward—"

"The Young Pretender," grunted Pole. "The upstart blackguard who—"

"—who has what many would accept as a legitimate claim to the throne of Scotland, if not of England." Darwin was peering curiously into the wooden box, as Pole carefully raised the lid. "His loss in '46 was a disaster, but the clans are loyal in spite of his exile. Colonel Pole"—he had at last caught a glimpse of the inside of the box—"weapons are one thing, but I trust you are not proposing to take that with you to Malkirk."

"Certainly am." Jacob Pole crouched by the box and lovingly stroked the shining metal. "You'll never see a prettier cannon than Little Bess. Brass-bound, iron sheath on the bore, and fires a two-inch ball with black powder. Show me a devil or a leviathan in Loch Malkirk, and I'll show you something that's a good deal more docile when he's had one of these up his weasand." He held up a ball, lofting it an inch or two in the palm of his hand. "And if the natives run wild I'm sure it will do the same for them."

Darwin reached to open the lid wider. "Musket and shot, too. Where do you imagine that we are travelling, to the moon? You know the Highlanders are forbidden to carry weapons, and we have little enough room for rational appurtenances. The ragmatical collection you propose is too much."

"No more than your medical chests are too much." Pole straightened up. "I'll discard if you will, but not otherwise."

"Impossible. I have already winnowed to a minimum."

"And so have I."

The coachman stood up slowly and carried his empty tankard back into the inn. Once inside he went over to the keg, placed his tankard next to it, and jerked his head back toward the door.

"Listen to that," he said gloomily. "Easy money, I thought it'd be, wi' just the two passengers. Now they're at each other before they've set foot in the coach, and I've contracted to carry them as far as Durham. Here, Alan, pour me another one in there before I go, and make it a big 'un."

* * *

The journey north was turning back the calendar, day by day and year by year. Beyond Durham the spring was noticeably less advanced, with the open apple blossom of Nottingham regressing by the time they reached Northumberland to tight pink buds a week away from bloom. The weather added to the effect with a return to the raw, biting cold of February, chilling fingers and toes through the thickest clothing.

At Otterburn they had changed coaches to an open dray that left them exposed to the gusts of a hard northeaster, and beyond Stirling the centuries themselves peeled away from the rugged land. The roads were unmetalled, mere stony scratches along the slopes of the mountains, and the mean houses of turf and rubble were dwarfed by the looming peaks.

At first Darwin had tried to write. He made notes in the thick volume of his Commonplace Book, balancing it on his knee. Worsening roads and persistent rain conspired to defeat him, and at last he gave up. He sat facing forward in the body of the dray, unshaven, swaddled in blankets and covered by a sheet of grey canvas with a hole cut in it for his head.

"Wild country, Colonel Pole." He gestured forward as they drove northwest along Loch Shin. "We are a long way from Lichfield. Look at that group."

He nodded ahead at a small band of laborers plodding along the side of the track. Jacob Pole made a snorting noise that could have as well come from the horse. He was smoking a stubby pipe with a bowl like a cupped hand, and a jar of hot coals stood on the seat behind him.

"What of 'em?" he said. His pipe was newly charged with black tobacco scraped straight from the block, and he blew out a great cloud of blue-grey smoke. "I see nothing worth talking about. They're just dreary peasants."

"Ah, but they are pure Celt," said Darwin cheerfully. "Observe the shape of their heads, and the brachycephalic cranium. We'll see more of them as we go further north. It's been the way of it for three thousand years, the losers in the fight for good lands are pushed north and west. Scots and Celts and Picts, driven and crowded to the northern hills."

Jacob Pole peered at the group suspiciously as he tamped his pipe. "They may look like losers to you, but they look like tough fodder to me. Big and fierce. As for your idea that they don't carry weapons, take a look at those scythes and sickles, and then define a weapon for me." He patted his pocket under his leather cloak. "Ball and powder is what you need for savages. Mark my words, we'll be glad of these before we're done in Malkirk."

"I am not persuaded. The Rebellion was over thirty years ago."

"Aye, on the surface. But I've never yet heard of treasure being captured easy, there's always blood and trouble comes with it. It draws in violence, as sure as cow dung draws flies."

"I see. So you are suggesting that we should turn back?" Darwin's tone was sly.

"Did I say that?" Pole blew out an indignant cloud of smoke. "Never. We're almost there. If we can find boat and boatman, I'll be looking for that galleon before today's done, Devil or no Devil. I've never seen one in this world, and I hope I'll not see one in the next. But with your ideas on religion, I'm surprised you believe in devils at all."

"Devils?" Darwin's voice was quiet and reflective. "Certainly I am a believer in them, as much as the Pope himself; but I think he and I might disagree on the shapes they bear in the world. We should get our chance to find out soon enough." He lifted a brawny arm from under the canvas. "That has to be Malkirk, down the hill there. We have made better time from Lairg than I anticipated."

Jacob Pole scowled ahead. "And a miserable looking place it is, if that's all there is to it. But look close down there—maybe we're not the only visitors to these godforsaken regions."

Half a mile in front of them two light carriages blocked the path that led through the middle of the village. The ill-clad cluster of people gathered around them turned as Pole drove the dray steadily forward and halted twenty yards from the nearer carriage.

He and Darwin stepped down, stretching joints stiffened by the long journey. As they did so three men came forward through the crowd. Darwin looked at them in surprise for a moment before nodding a greeting.

"I am Erasmus Darwin, and this is Colonel Jacob Pole. You received my message, I take it? We sent word ahead that we desire accommodation for a few days here in Malkirk."

He looked intently from one to the other. They formed a curiously ill-matched trio. The tallest of them was lean and dark, even thinner than Jacob Pole, and the possessor of bright, dark eyes that snapped from one scene to the next without ever remaining still. He had long-fingered hands, red cheeks that framed a hooked nose and a big chin, and he was dressed in a red tunic and green breeches covered by a patchwork cloak of blues and greys. His neighbor was of middle height and conventionally dressed—but his skin was coal-black and his prominent cheekbones wore deep patterns of old scars.

The third member stood slightly apart from the others. He was short and strongly built, with massive bare arms. His face was half hidden behind a growth of greying beard, and he seemed to crackle with excess energy. He had nodded vigorously as soon as Darwin asked about the message.

"Aye, aye, we got your message right enough. But I thought it came for these gentlemen." He jerked his head to the others at his side. "There was no word with it, ye see, saying who was comin', only a need for beds for two. But ye say ye're the Darwin as sent the note to me?"

"I am." Darwin looked rueful. "I should have said more with that message. It never occurred to me there might be two arrivals here in one day. Can you find room for us?"

The broad man shrugged. "I'll find ye a bed—but it will be one for the both of ye, I'll warn ye of that."

Jacob Pole stole a quick look at Darwin's bulky form.

"A good-sized bed," said the man, catching the glance. "In a middlin' sized room. An' clean, too, and that has Malcolm Maclaren's own word on it." He thumped at his thick chest. "An' that's good through the whole Highlands."

While Maclaren was speaking the tall, cloaked man had been sizing up Pole and Darwin, his look darting intensely from one to the other absorbing every detail of their appearance. "Our arrival has caused problems—not expected, we must solve." His voice was deep, with a clipped, jerky delivery and a strong touch of a foreign accent. "Apologies. Let me introduce—I am Doctor Philip Theophrastus von Hohenheim. At your service. This is my servant, Zumal. Yours to command."

The black man grinned, showing teeth that had been filed to sharp points. Darwin raised his eyebrows and looked quizzically at the tall stranger.

"I must congratulate you. You are looking remarkably well, Dr. Paracelsus von Hohenheim, for one who must soon be approaching his three hundredth year."

After a moment's startled pause the tall man laughed, showing even yellow teeth. Jacob Pole and Malcolm Maclaren looked on uncomprehendingly as Hohenheim reached out, took Darwin's hand, and shook it hard.

"Your knowledge is impressive, Dr. Darwin. Few people know my name these days—and fewer yet can place my date of birth so accurate. To make precise—I was born 1491, one year before Columbus of Genoa found the Americas." He bowed. "You also know my work?"

As Hohenheim was speaking, Darwin had frowned in sudden puzzlement and stood for a few moments in deep thought. Finally he nodded.

"In my youth, sir, your words impressed me more than any others. If I may quote you: 'I admonish you not to reject the method of experiment, but according as your power permits, to follow it without prejudice. For every experiment is like a weapon which must be used according to its own peculiar power.' Great words, Dr. Hohenheim." He looked at the other man coolly. "Throughout my career as a physician, I have tried to adhere to that precept. Perhaps you recall what you wrote immediately after that advice?"

Instead of replying, Hohenheim lifted his left hand clear of his cloak and waved it rapidly in a circle, the extended fingers pointing toward Jacob Pole. As he completed the circle he flicked his thumb swiftly across the palm of his hand and casually plucked a small green flask from the air close to Pole's head. While the villagers behind him gasped, he rolled the flask into the palm of his hand.

"Here." He held it out to Jacob Pole. "Your eyes tell it—fluxes and fevers. Drink this. Condition will be improved, much improved. I guarantee. Also—more liquids, less strong drink. Better for you." He turned to Darwin. "And you, Doctor. Medicine has come a long way—great advances since I had to flee the charlatans of Basel. Let me offer you advice, also. Barley water, licorice, sweet almond, in the morning. White wine and anise—not too much—at night. To fortify mind and body."

Darwin nodded. He looked subdued. "I thank you for your thoughtful words. Perhaps I will seek to follow them. The ingredients, with the exception of wine, are already in my medical chest."

"Solution." Hohenheim snapped the fingers of his left hand in the air again, and again he held a flask. "White wine. To serve until other supply is at hand."

The villagers murmured in awe, and Hohenheim smiled. "Until tomorrow. I have other business now. Must be in Inverness tonight, meeting there was promised."

"Ye'll never do it, man," burst out Malcolm Maclaren. "Why, it's a full day's ride or more, south of here."

"I have methods." There was another quick smile, a bow toward Pole and Darwin, then Hohenheim had turned and was walking briskly away toward the west, where the sea showed less than a mile away. While Malcolm Maclaren and the villagers gazed after him in fascinated silence, Jacob Pole suddenly became aware of the flask that he was holding. He looked at it doubtfully.

"With your permission." Darwin reached out to take it. He removed the stopper, sniffed at it, and then placed it cautiously against his tongue.

"Here." Pole grabbed the flask back. "That's mine. You drink your own. Wasn't that amazing? I've seen a lot of doctors, but I've never seen one to match his speed for diagnosis—it's enough to make me change my mind about all pox-peddling physicians. Made you think, didn't it?"

"It did," said Darwin ironically. "It made me think most hard."

"And the way he drew drugs from thin air, did you see that? The man's a marvel. What were you saying about him being three hundred years old? That sounds impossible."

"For once we seem to be in agreement." Darwin looked at the flask he was holding. "As for his ability to conjure a prescription for me from the air itself, that surprises me less than you might think. It is a poor doctor who lacks access to all the ingredients for his own potions."

"But you were impressed," said Pole. He was looking pleased with himself. "Admit it, Dr. Darwin, you were impressed."

"I was—but not because of his drugs. That called for some powers of manipulation and manual dexterity, no more. But one of Hohenheim's acts impressed me mightily—and it was one performed without emphasis, as though it was so easy as to be undeserving of comment."

Pole rubbed at his nose and took a tentative sip from his open flask. He pulled a sour face. "Pfaugh. Essence of badger turd. But all his acts seemed beyond me. What are you referring to?"

"One power of the original Paracelsus, Theophrastus von Hohenheim, was to know all about a man on first meeting. I would normally discount that idea as mere historical gossip. But recall, if you will, Hohenheim's first mode of address to me. He called me Doctor Darwin."

"That's who you are."

"Aye. Except that I introduced myself here simply as Erasmus Darwin. My message to Maclaren was signed only as Darwin. So how did Hohenheim know to call me doctor?"

"From the man who carried your message here?"

"He knew me only as Mister Darwin."

"Maybe Hohenheim saw your medical chest."

"It is quite covered by the canvas—invisible to all."

"All right." Pole shrugged. "Damme, he must have heard of you before. You're a well-known doctor."

"Perhaps." Darwin's tone was grudging. "I like to believe that I have a growing reputation, and it calls for effort for any man to be skeptical of his own fame. Even so . . ."

He turned to Malcolm Maclaren, who was still watching Hohenheim and Zumal as they walked toward the sea. Darwin tugged gently at his leather jacket.

"Mr. Maclaren. Did you talk of my message to Dr. Hohenheim before we arrived?"

"Eh? Your message?" Maclaren rubbed a thick-nailed hand across his brow. "I was just startin' to mention something on it when the pair of ye arrived here. But did ye ever see a doctor like that. Did ye ever?"

Darwin tugged again at his jacket. "Did Hohenheim seem to be familiar with my name?"

"He did not." Maclaren turned to stare at Darwin and shook his jacket free. "He said he'd never before heard of ye."

"Indeed." Darwin stepped back and placed his ample rear on the step of the dray. He gazed for several minutes toward the dark mass of Foinaven in the northeast, and he did not move until Pole came bustling up to him.

"Unless you're of a mind to sit there all day in the rain, let's go along with Mr. Maclaren and see where we'll be housed. D'ye hear me?"

Darwin looked at him vacantly, his eyes innocent and almost childlike.

"Come on, wake up." Pole pointed at the blank-walled cottages, rough stone walls stuffed with sods of turf. "I hope it will be something better than this. Let's take a look at the bed, and hope we won't be sleeping sailor-style, two shifts in one bunk. And I'll wager my share of the bullion to a gnat's snuffbox that there's bugs in the bed, no matter what Malcolm Maclaren says. Well, no matter. I'll take those over Kuzestan scorpions if it comes to a nip or two on the bum. Let's away."

* * *

West of Malkirk the fall of the land to the sea was steep. The village had grown on a broad lip, the only level place between mountains and the rocky shore. Its stone houses ran in a ragged line north-south, straddling the rutted and broken road. Jacob Pole allowed the old horse to pick its own path as the dray followed Malcolm Maclaren. He was looking off to the left, to a line of breakers that marked the shore.

"A fierce prospect," remarked Darwin. He had followed the direction of Pole's gaze. "And no shore for a shipwreck. See the second line of breakers out there, and the rocks of the reef. It is hard to imagine a ship holding together for one month after a wreck here, still less for two centuries."

"My thought exactly," said Pole gruffly. "Mr. Maclaren?"

"Aye, sir?" The stocky Highlander halted and turned at Pole's call, his frizzy mop of hair wild under the old bonnet.

"Is the whole coastline like this—I mean, rocky and reef-bound?"

"It is, sir, exceptin' only Loch Malkirk, a mile on from here. Ye can put a boat in there easy enough, if ye've a mind to do it. An' there's another wee bit landing south of here that some of the men use." He remained standing, arms across his chest. "Why'd ye be askin'? Will ye be wantin' a boat, same as Dr. Hohenheim?"

"Hohenheim wants a boat?" began Pole, but Darwin silenced him with a look and a hand laid on his arm.

"Not now," he said, as soon as Maclaren had turned to walk again along the path. "You already said it, the lure of gold will attract trouble. We could have guessed it. We are not the only ones who have heard word of a galleon."

"Aye. But Hohenheim . . ." Jacob Pole sank into an unquiet silence.

They were approaching the north end of the village, where three larger houses stood facing each other across a level sward. Maclaren waved his hand at the one nearest the shore, where a grey-haired woman stood at the door.

"I wish ye could have had a place in that, but Dr. Hohenheim has one room, and his servant, that heathen blackamoor, has the other. But we can gi' ye a room that's near as good in here." He turned to the middle and biggest house, and the woman started over to join them.

"Jeanie. Two gentlemen needs a room." He went into a quick gabble of Gaelic, then looked apologetically at Pole and Darwin. "I'm sorry, but she hasna' the English. I've told her the place has to be clean for ye, an' that ye'll be here for a few days at least. Anythin' else ye'll need while ye are here in Malkirk? Best if I tell her now."

"I think not," said Darwin. But he swung lightly to the ground from the seat of the dray and began to walk quickly across to the black-shuttered third house. He had seen the repeated looks that Malcolm Maclaren and the woman had cast in that direction.

"I don't suppose there is any chance of rooms in here?" he said, not slowing his pace at all. "It will be some inconvenience, sharing a room, and if there were a place in this house, even for one of us—"

"No, sir!" Maclaren's voice was high and urgent. "Not in that house, sir. There's no room there."

He came after Darwin, who had reached the half-open door and was peering inside.

"Ye see, there's no place for ye." Maclaren had moved around and blocked the entrance with a thick arm. "I mean, there's no furniture there, no way that ye could stay there, you or the Colonel."

Darwin was looking carefully around the large stone-floored room, with its massive single bed and empty fireplace. He frowned.

"That is a pity. It has no furnishings, true enough, but the bed is of ample size. Could you perhaps bring some other furniture over from another house, and make it—"

"No, sir." Maclaren pushed the door to firmly and began to shepherd Darwin back toward the other house. "Ye see, sir, that's my brother's house. He's been away inland these past two month, an' the house needs a cleanin' before he comes back. We expect him in a day or two—but ye see, that house isna' mine to offer ye. Come on this way, an' we'll make you comfortable, I swear it."

He went across to the dray, ripped away the canvas with a jerk, grunted, and lifted the box containing Little Bess clear with one colossal heave. The other two men watched in amazement as he braced his legs, then staggered off toward the center house with his burden.

Pole raised his eyebrows. "I won't argue the point with him. It took two of us to lift that. But what's over there that he's so worried about? Weapons maybe? Did you see guns or claymores?"

"There was a bed in there—nothing else." Darwin's intrigued tone was at odds with his words.

"You are sure?" Pole had caught the inflection in the other man's voice. "Nothing mysterious there?"

"I saw nothing mysterious." Darwin's voice was puzzled. He went over to the dray and took one of his bags down from it. His expression was thoughtful, his heavy head hunched forward on his shoulders. "You see, Colonel Pole, that is one of the curiosities of the English language. I saw nothing, and it was mysterious. A room two months empty and neglected, and I saw nothing there—no dust, no cobwebs, no mold. Less than I would expect to see in a house that had been cleaned three days ago. The room was polished." He rubbed at his chin.

"But what does that mean?"

Darwin shrugged. "Aye, that's the question." He looked at the dirty grey smoke rising from the house in front of them. "Well, we will find out in due course. Meanwhile, unless my nose is playing me tricks there's venison cooking inside. A good dish of collops would sit well after our long journey. Come on, Colonel, I feel we have more than earned an adequate dinner."

He went in, through a door scarcely wide enough to permit passage of his broad frame. Jacob Pole stared after him and scratched his head.

"Now what the devil was all that about? Him and his mysterious nothings. That's like a sawbones, to conceal more than they tell. I'll still bet there's weapons in that place, hidden away somewhere. I saw their looks."

He picked up a small case and followed into the house's dark interior, where he could now hear the rattle of plates and cups.

* * *

Jacob Pole awoke just before true dawn, at the first cock crow. He climbed out of bed, slipped on his boots, and picked up the greatcoat that lay on the chest of drawers. Despite his misgivings, the bed had been adequately large and reasonably clean. He looked to the other side of it. Darwin lay on his back, a great mound under the covers. He was snoring softly, his mouth open half an inch. Pole picked up his pipe and tobacco and went through to the other room to sit by the embers of the peat fire.

He had spent a restless night. Ever since dinner his thoughts had been all on the galleon, and he had been unable to get it out of his mind. Hohenheim was after the bullion, that was clear enough. Maclaren had made no secret of the galleon's presence, but it was also clear from the way that he shrugged the subject away with a move of his great shoulders that he knew nothing of anything valuable aboard it. He had seemed amazed that anyone, still less two parties, should be interested in it at all. The Devil, too, had been casually shrugged off.

Yes, surely it was there—had been there as long as anyone in the village could remember.

Its dimensions?

He had pondered for a while at Darwin's question. As large as a whale, some said—others said much larger. It lived near the galleon, but it was peaceful enough. It would merely be a man's fancy to say that the creature guarded anything in the loch.

The three men had played a curious game of three-way tag for a couple of hours. Pole had wanted to talk only of the galleon, while neither Darwin nor Maclaren seemed particularly interested. Darwin had concentrated his attention on the Devil, but again Maclaren had given only brief and uninformative answers to the questions. He had his own interests. He pushed Darwin to talk of English medicine, of new drugs and surgical procedures, of hopeless cases and miracle cures. He wanted to know if Hohenheim could do all the things that he hinted at—make the blind see, save the living, even raise the dead. When Darwin spoke Maclaren leaned forward unblinking, stroking his full beard and scratching in an irritated way at his breeches' legs, as though resenting the absence of the kilt.

Pole shook his head. It had been a long, unsatisfying evening, no doubt about it.

He picked up a glowing lump of peat, applied it to his pipe, and sucked in his first morning mouthful of smoke. He sighed with satisfaction, and went at once into a violent and lengthy fit of coughing. Eyes streaming, he finally had to stagger across and take a few gulps from the water jug before he could breathe again and stand there wheezing by the window.

"You missed your true vocation, Colonel," said a voice behind him. "If you were always available to wake the village, the cockerel would soon be out of work."

Darwin stood at the door in his stockinged feet. He was blinking and scratching his paunch with one hand, while the other held his nightcap on his head.

Pole glared at him and took another swig from the water jug. Then he looked out of the window next to him, stiffened, and snorted.

"Aye, and it's just as well that one of us gets up in the morning. Look across there. A light in that house, and that means Hohenheim is up already—and I wager he'll be on his way to Loch Malkirk while we're still scratching around here. He's ahead of us already, and with his powers I wouldn't put anything past him. We have to get moving ourselves, and over to the loch as soon as we can."

"But you heard Hohenheim last night, announcing his intention to be in Inverness. What makes you think that he is still in Malkirk?" Darwin nodded to the grey-haired woman, who had silently appeared to tend the fire and set a black cauldron of water on it. "He is probably not even here."

"He is, though." Pole nodded his head again toward the window. The door of the other house had opened, and two figures were emerging. It was too dark to make out their clothing, but there was no mistaking the tall, thin build, backed by a shorter form that seemed to be a part of the darkness itself.

"Hohenheim, and his blackamoor." Pole's voice held a gloomy satisfaction. "As I feared, and as I told you, we come to seek bullion, and we find we are obliged to compete with a man who can see the future, travel fast as the wind to any place that he chooses, and conjure powerful nostrums from thin air. That makes me feel most uneasy. By the way, did you take the draught that he provided for you?"

"I did not," said Darwin curtly. He sat down at the table and pulled a deep dish toward him. "I found one bowl of Malcolm Maclaren's lemon punch more than enough strange drink for me last night. My stomach still gurgles. Come, Colonel, sit down and curb your impatience. If we are to head for Loch Malkirk, we should not do so until we have food in us. The good woman is already making porridge, and I think there will be more herring and bowls of frothed milk. If we are to embark on rough water, at least let us do so well-bottomed."

Pole sat down bad-temperedly, glared at his offending pipe, and pecked halfheartedly at porridge, oatcake, and smoked fish. He watched while Darwin devoured all those along with goat's whey, a dish of tongue and ham, and a cup of chocolate. But it went rapidly, and in five minutes the plates were clear. Pole rose at once to his feet.

"One moment more," said Darwin. He went across to the woman, who had watched him eating with obvious approval. He pointed at a plate of oatcakes. She nodded, and he gave her an English shilling. As he loaded the cakes into a pocket of his coat, Jacob Pole nodded grudgingly.

"Aye, you're probably right to hold me there, Doctor. There'll likely be little hospitality for us at the loch."

Darwin raised his eyebrows at the sudden truce, then turned again to the woman. He pointed at the rising sun, then followed its path across the sky with his arm. He halted when he had reached a little past the vertical, and pointed at the cauldron and the haunch of dried beef hanging by the wall. The woman nodded, spoke a harsh-sounding sentence, laughed, and came forward to pat Darwin's ample stomach admiringly.

Darwin coughed. He had caught Pole's gleeful look.

"Come on. At least dinner is assured when we return."

"Aye. And more than that, from the look of it." Pole's voice was dry.

The path to Loch Malkirk was just as Maclaren had described it, running first seaward, then cutting back inland over a steep incline. The ground was still wet and slippery with a heavy dew that hung sparkling points of sunlight over the heather and dwarf juniper. By the time they had travelled fifty yards their boots and lower breeches were soaked. When the loch was visible beyond the brow of the hill, they could see the mist that still hung over the surface of the water.

Darwin paused at the top of the rise and laid his hand on Pole's arm. "One second, Colonel, before we head down. We could not find a better place than this to take a general view of how the land lies."

"More than that," said Pole softly. "We'll have a chance to see what Hohenheim is doing without him knowing it. See, he's down there, off to the left." The shape of the loch was like a long wine bottle, with the neck facing to the northwest. An island offshore stood like a cork, to leave narrow straits through which the tides raced in and out. Once in past the neck of the bottle, the water ran deeper and the shore plunged steeply into the loch. Hohenheim and Zumal stood at the head of the narrows, looking to the water.

Darwin squinted across at the other side, estimating angles and widths. He sucked his lips in over his gums. "What do you think, Colonel?"

"Eh? Think about what?"

"The depth, out in the middle there." Darwin followed Pole's gaze to where Hohenheim and his servant had moved to a small coble and were preparing to launch it. "Aye, it seems they may be answering my question for me soon enough—that's a sounding line they're loading with the paddles. Steep sides and hard rock. It would not surprise me to find that the loch sounds to a thousand feet. There's depth sufficient to cover a galleon ten times over."

"Or hide a devil as big as you choose." Pole wriggled in irritation, and Darwin patted him on the arm.

"Hold your water, Colonel. Our friends there will not be raising any treasure ship today. They lack equipment. With luck they will do some of your work for you. Do not overestimate Hohenheim."

"You saw that he has great powers."

"Did I? I am less sure. Observe, he uses a boat, so at least he cannot walk upon the waters."

Their voices had been dropped to whispers, and while they spoke Zumal had pushed the boat off, Hohenheim sitting in the bow. He was in the same motley clothes, quite at ease and holding the sounding line in his lap. At his command Zumal paddled twenty yards offshore, then checked their forward motion. Hohenheim stood up, swung his right arm backward and forward a couple of times, and released the line. Darwin muttered to himself and leaned in concentration.

"What's wrong?" Pole had noticed Darwin's move from the corner of his eye.

"Nothing. Only a suspicion that Hohenheim . . ."

Darwin's voice trailed off as the weighted line unwound endlessly into the calm waters of the loch. Soon Hohenheim had paid out all that he held, still without touching bottom. He spoke to Zumal, gathered in the line, and sat quietly as the coble moved slowly off toward the mouth of the loch. He tried the line again, and as they moved farther the depth gradually decreased until it was less than twenty feet in the neck at the entrance.

Hohenheim nodded and said something to his companion. They both had all their attention on the line. It was Jacob Pole, looking back along the length of the inlet, who noticed the swirling ripple spreading across its surface. It showed as a line of crosscurrent, superimposing itself on the pattern of wavelets that was now growing in response to the morning sea breeze. The forward edge of the moving ripple was running steadily toward the coble at the seaward end of the loch. Pole gripped Darwin's arm hard.

"See it there. Along the loch."

The ripple was still moving. Now its bow was less than fifty yards from where Hohenheim was reeling in his line. As the spreading wave came closer, there seemed to be a hint of lighter grey moving beneath the surface. The wave moved closer to the boat, thirty yards, then twenty. Pole's grip had unconsciously tightened on Darwin's arm until his knuckles showed white. At last, where the bed of the loch became sharply shallower, the moving wavefront veered away to the left. Another moment and it was gone. All that remained was a spreading pattern of ripples, lifting the coble gently up and down as the light craft was caught in their swell.

Hohenheim looked round as he felt the motion of the boat, but there was nothing to be seen. After a moment he turned his attention back to the line.

Pole released his hold on Darwin. "The Devil," he said softly. "We've seen the Devil."

Darwin's eyes were glittering. "Aye, and it's a Devil indeed. But what in the name of Linnaeus is it? That's a real test for your systems taxonomical. It is not a whale, or it would surface and sound for its breathing. It is not a great eel—not unless all our ideas on size are in preposterous error. And it cannot be fish or flesh in any bestiary I can construct."

"Be damned with the name we give it." The shaking in Pole's hands was more pronounced, from excitement and alarm. "It was big, to make a wave that size—and fast. You scoffed at me when I brought Little Bess, but I was right. We'll need protection when we're on the loch. I'll have to carry it here and set it up to train where we need—forget the muskets, they'll be no better than a peashooter with that monster."

"I am not sure that the cannon will serve any useful purpose. But meanwhile, we have a duty." Darwin started heavily down the hill toward the loch side.

"Here, what are you up to?" Pole hesitated, then bent to pick up his pipe and spyglass from the heather as Hohenheim and his servant turned to face the sudden sounds from the hillside.

"To give fair warning," called Darwin over his shoulder. Then he was down by the water's edge, waving at the two in the boat and calling them to look behind them.

Hohenheim turned, scanned the loch's calm surface, then spoke quietly to Zumal. The black man paddled the coble in close to the loch side, running it to within a few feet of Darwin.

"I see no monster," Hohenheim was saying as Jacob Pole hurried up to them. "Nor did Zumal—and we were near, on water. Not spying in secret from shade of heather."

"There is a creature in the loch," said Darwin flatly. "Big, and possibly dangerous. I called to you for your own protection."

"Ah." Hohenheim put his finger to his nose and looked at Darwin with dark, suspicious eyes. "Very kind. You did not want to drive us from loch, eh? If so, you need better story—much better."

He looked at Darwin slyly. "So we are here for same purpose as each other. You would argue with that? I think not."

"If you mean a sunken galleon, for my part I would certainly argue." As he spoke, Darwin continued to scan the surface of the loch, seeking any sign of a new disturbance there. "I came here for quite different reasons."

"But I didn't," said Pole. "Aye, I'll admit it—why not? It drew me here, three hundred miles, that galleon, just as it drew you. How did you hear of it?"

Hohenheim pulled his tattered cloak around him and stretched to his full height. "I have methods, secret methods. Accept that I heard, and do not question."

"All right, if that's what you want, but I would like to suggest an alliance. What do you say? There's a ship out yonder, and Dr. Darwin spoke the truth. There is something out in the loch that needs to be watched for. The people of Malkirk set no value on the galleon, but we do. What do you say? Work together, we and you, and we'd have the work done in half the time. Equal shares, you and us."

Pole stopped for breath. All his words had rushed out in one burst, while Hohenheim listened, his black eyebrows arched. Now he laughed aloud and shook his head.

"Never, my good Colonel. Never. If we were equal, then maybe. Maybe I would listen. But we are not equal. I am ahead of you—in everything. In knowledge, skills, tools. Do it, my friend, try and beat me. I have power you lack, eh? Knowledge you lack, eh? Equipment, you ask about? Yesterday I was in Inverness, buying tools for seeing loch. Tonight it comes, tomorrow we use. Here, see for self."

He snapped his fingers a few inches from Jacob Pole's chin. As usual his gesture seemed exaggerated, larger than life, and when he opened his hand he was holding a square of brown paper.

"Here is list. Read, see for self—you will need every item on it. And you will be forced to buy in Inverness, two days away for you. By time you ready to begin, we will be finished and away from here."

Pole's sallow face flushed at the tone in Hohenheim's voice. He shook off Darwin's hand and stepped within inches of the tall doctor.

"Hohenheim, last night you impressed me mightily. And you did us both a favor giving us those potions. This morning Dr. Darwin did his best to return that favor, warning you of a danger out on the loch. Instead of thanking him you insult us, saying we made up a monster to keep you away. Well, go ahead, ignore the warning. But don't look for help from me if you get in trouble. And as for the galleon, we'll work without you." He stepped back. "Come on, Dr. Darwin. I see no reason to stay here longer."

He turned and began to stride back up the hillside. Hohenheim looked after him and waved one hand in a contemptuous gesture of dismissal. His laugh followed Pole up the hill, while Darwin stood silent, staring hard at the other's lean face and body. His own face was an intent mask of thought and dawning conviction.

"Dr. Hohenheim," he said at last. "You have mocked a well-meant and sincere warning; you have refused Colonel Pole's honest offer of cooperation; and you have dismissed my word when I told you I did not come to Malkirk for the galleon. Very well, that is your option. Let me say only this, then I will leave you to ponder it. The danger in the loch is real, I affirm again—more real than I would have believed an hour ago, more real than the treasure that you are so intent on seeking. But beyond that, Doctor Hohenheim, I think I know what you are, and how you came here. Bear that in mind, the next time that you seek to astonish Malcolm Maclaren and his simple villagers with your magic flights to Inverness, or your panaceas drawn from the air."

He snapped his fingers—clumsily, with none of Hohenheim's panache—turned, and began to stump after Jacob Pole up the hilly path that led to Malkirk. Hohenheim's jeering laugh sped his progress as he went.

* * *

"He's still there, with another crowd around him. Now he's taken a big knitting needle from one of the women. I wonder what he's going to do with it? I could give him a suggestion or two."

Jacob Pole stood upright, turning from the window where he had stooped to look at the open area between the houses.

"Here, Doctor, come over and look at this."

Darwin sighed, closed his Commonplace Book in which he was carefully recording observations of the local flora, and stood up.

"And with what new mystery are we now being regaled?" He looked out onto the dusk of a fine evening. On the green in front of them, Hohenheim had taken the knitting needle and waved it twice in a flashing circle. He grasped the blunt end in both hands, directed the bone point at his heart, and pushed inward. The needle went into his chest slowly, an inch, then another, until it was buried to more than half its length. He released his hold and as the villagers around him gasped a bead of crimson blood oozed out along the white bone and dripped onto his tunic.

Hohenheim let the needle remain for a few seconds, a white spike of bone deep in his chest. Then he slowly withdrew it, holding it cupped in his palms. When it was fully clear he ran the length between fingers and thumb, spun it in a flashing circle, and handed it to be passed among the villagers. They touched it gingerly. As it went from hand to hand he took a small round box from his cloak, dug out a nailful of black salve on his index finger, and rubbed it into the round hole in his shirt. He was smiling.

"What is that drug?" Pole had his nose flattened against the dirty glass. "To save him from a wound like that—I've never known anything like it."

"I think I have," said Darwin dryly, and went back to his seat. But Jacob Pole was no longer listening. He went to the door and out, to join the group watching Hohenheim. The latter nodded as he appeared.

"Good evening again, Colonel." His voice was friendly, as though the morning incident had never happened. "We'll have no sea monsters, eh? But you come at right time. Now I will show antidote, cure for all poisons. So far, I have used only for crowned heads of Europe. Great secret, of high value." He glanced toward the other house. "A pity that Dr. Darwin is not here, he might learn much—or maybe not."

He reached into the tall cabinet by his side and took out a slim container of oily fluid. The pitch stopper came out easily, and he sniffed at it for a moment.

"Very good. Here is phial, see? Now, pass it round, one to another. Smell it—but not taste it. Deadly poison. If you want, replace with other poison—makes no difference to my antidote. I have made this extract from yew leaves. Colonel, you take it."

Pole sniffed carefully at the bottle. "It's terrible."

"Pass on to next man." The villager next to Pole handled the bottle delicately, as though it might explode. It went from hand to hand, some sniffing, others content to look, and at last came back to Hohenheim.

"Good. Now watch close." He reached again into the cabinet beside him and took out a neatly made cage of iron spokes around a wooden frame. A grey rat ran from side to side within, nervously rearing up against the narrow bars and sniffing hungrily at the air. Hohenheim held the cage high for a few seconds, so that the villagers could observe the rat closely. He set the cage on the ground, poured a drop or two of liquid from the phial onto a fragment of oat bread, and slipped it deftly between the bars.

The rat paused for a few moments, while the circle of villagers held their breath. At last the rat sidled forward, sniffed the bread, and devoured it.

"I will count now," said the tall doctor. "Fifty pulse beats, and you see result."

He put his left hand to his right wrist and began to count in a clear, deep voice. At thirty the rat hesitated in its movements around the floor of the cage, and reared up against the bars. Ten more beats and it slipped to its belly, paws scrabbling against the wood.

Hohenheim did not wait to complete the count. He lifted the phial to his lips and tossed the contents down his throat. As the villagers muttered to themselves he inverted the bottle, allowing a few last drops of viscous liquid to fall to the grass.

"Now—and quickly—the antidote."

He pulled a flask of green liquid from his cloak, drained it, and carefully replaced the stopper. Amid the excited hubbub of the watching group, talking to each other in Gaelic about what they had witnessed, Hohenheim turned to Malcolm Maclaren. He was quite calm and relaxed, with no trace of nervousness about the poison.

"There is a limited amount of this antidote. If any have desperate need—or want for future use—I can make arrangement. Normally I do not sell, but here where doctors are few I will make special case. You tell them, eh? While you do it"—he was looking at the southern road in the gathering dusk, nodding knowingly—"I think I have business to attend. See? I bought yesterday in Inverness, now it comes. If you will help unload, I can use tomorrow."

He pointed to the laden cart coming toward them, drawn easily down the hill by two dusty horses. "Those are my supplies for work here." He turned to Jacob Pole. "As I told you, we are well advanced in plans. We have located the wreck, we have equipment to look at it. Maybe you and Dr. Darwin stop wasting your time here, would like to make arrangements to go home to south? Galleon will be done before you begin to look, eh? So good night, Colonel, and sleep well."

He nodded to Pole, bowed again to the circle of villagers, and strolled away toward the arriving cart. It was heavily laden with boxes and packages, and most of the villagers followed him, openly inquisitive. Jacob Pole stood, biting at a fingernail and staring angrily after Hohenheim.

"Arrogant pox-hound!" he said to Zumal, who alone still stood by him. The black man ignored him. He was busy. He turned the dead rat out of the cage, replaced everything back in the tall cabinet, and carefully closed it. Placing it on a low trolley, he pushed it to the house and went inside. While Pole still stood there undecided, Malcolm Maclaren came back along the path toward him. The stocky Scotsman was looking worried, biting his lip and frowning.

"Colonel, I'm not wantin' to trouble ye now, but is Dr. Darwin inside an' available for a word?"

"He is inside." Pole still sounded angry. "But if you can keep him to one word you are a better man than I am."

He led the way to the house. Darwin was sitting in the same chair, still at work on his notes. A bottle of Athole brose stood untouched by his side and he had been forced to light the oil lamp, but otherwise everything was exactly as Pole had left it. Darwin looked up and nodded calmly to Maclaren.

"Another display of medical thaumaturgy, I have no doubt. What was the latest wonder? Ex Hohenheim semper aliquid novi, if you will permit me to paraphrase Pliny." His tone was cheerful as he laid down his pen and closed the book. "Well, Malcolm Maclaren, what can I do for you?"

The Scot fidgeted uneasily for a few seconds, his dark face working under the full growth of beard.

"I did not come to talk to ye of Hohenheim," he said at last. "No, nor of yon galleon that ye seek to raise. I'm askin' help. Ye may recall I spoke to ye about my brother, away inland these past two month. We had word come in today, rare bad news. He took an accident, out on the mountains. A fall."

Darwin puffed out his cheeks but did not speak. Malcolm Maclaren rubbed his big hands together, struggling for the right words.

"A bad fall," he said finally. "An' we hear of injury to his head. They're bringin' him on back here, an' I'm expectin' him tomorrow, before nightfall. I was thinkin' . . ." He paused, then the words came in one rush. "I was wonderin' if ye might be willin' to do some kind of examination on him an' see if there's any treatment that would help him to regain his health and strength—we have plenty of money, that's no problem, we'll pay your usual fee an' more."

"Aha," said Darwin, so softly that Jacob Pole had trouble catching his words. "At last I think we see it." He stood up. "Fee is not an issue, Malcolm Maclaren. I will examine him gladly, and give you my best opinion as to his condition. But I wonder a little that you are not consulting Dr. Hohenheim. He is the one who has been displaying prodigies of medical skill to the people of your village. Whereas I have done nothing here to show power as a physician."

Maclaren gloomily shook his grizzled head. "Don't say that. I've had argument enough this very day on that subject, from man and woman both. I saw what he can do. Yet there's somethin' I canna put a name to, that makes me . . ."

His voice trailed off and he and Darwin stood eye to eye for a long moment, until Darwin nodded.

"You're an observing man, Malcolm Maclaren, and a shrewd one. Those are rare qualities. If your evaluation of Dr. Hohenheim is not one that you can readily place on logical foundations, that is not necessarily sufficient reason to distrust it. Like the animals, humans communicate on many levels more basic than words."

He turned to Jacob Pole. "You heard the request, and I am sure you see the problem it creates for me. I promised to help you with your equipment. But if I am also to be here, awaiting the arrival of Maclaren's brother, I will be unable to do it. I know you will not wish to wait another day—"

"An' there's no reason for that," said Maclaren gruffly. "If it's another pair of hands ye need, I've twenty men ready to serve—even if I have to break heads to persuade them of it. When do ye need that help?"

"Tomorrow afternoon will do well enough." Jacob Pole sensed that Maclaren was in his most cooperative mood. "I'll want help to carry something to the loch. On that score, you know all about the Devil there. But have you ever seen it yourself, and is it dangerous?"

"Aye, I've seen it, but never close, and never more than a shape in the water. Others here have seen it better. But I've never heard word of harm that came to any man that left the beast to live in its own way." Maclaren sat down, raising his head to look at the others. "We've had trouble in these parts, plenty of it, but it was not from the beast in the loch. Men have lost their lives, these past years in the Highlands—an' their heritances. But it was not the Devil's doin' that left the women lonely an' took all of us down close to beggary. For that ye have to look closer to your own kind. Aye, but I'm runnin' loose an' sayin' more than I ought."

He shook his head, stood up, and abruptly left the room. Pole, following him to the door, could at first see no sign of him in the dusk. Then he made out a squat, dark figure, striding rapidly across to the house with the black shutters. For the first time since they arrived, a light was showing in the window there.

* * *

It was a problem, and one that he could have anticipated. Jacob Pole crouched by the box that held Little Bess, grumbled to himself, and frowned at the late afternoon sunlight that was turning the peaks to the east into soft purple.

Darwin had been adamant, and Maclaren had agreed with him. The villagers could help carry the box, but they must not see the cannon inside. With weapons forbidden since the Disarming Act, a Highlander risked fines and transportation if he knowingly so much as assisted in carrying arms. The responsibility for handling Little Bess at the loch had to remain with Jacob Pole alone.

Very well; but how in damnation was he supposed to manhandle two hundredweight of cannon so that it pointed correctly to cover the loch? He was no Malcolm Maclaren, barrel chest and bulging muscles.

Grunting and swearing, Pole lifted the one-pound balls out of the box and laid them on the canvas next to the bags of black powder. Thank God the weather was fine, so nothing would get wet (but better hurry, and be done before the dew fell). With powder and shot removed, the box and cannon was just light enough to be dragged around to face the right direction. But now the sides of the box made it impossible either to prime or fire. And the cannon was too heavy to lift clear.

Pole sighed and took the iron lever that he had used to pry open the top of the container. He began to remove the sides, one by one. It was a slow and tedious job, and by the time that the last pin had been loosed and the wooden frame laid to the ground, dusk was already well on its way.

At that point, he hesitated. He had intended to fire one test round, to make sure that range and angle were correct. But perhaps that should wait for the morning, when the light would be better and the travel of the ball more easily seen. After a few moments of thought, he loaded a bag of black powder and a ball, and placed the fuse all ready. Then he went across to a square of covering canvas, well away from the powder, and took out tobacco, pipe, flint and tinder. He sat down. His pipe was already charged and the flint in his hand when he looked down the hill to the surface of Loch Malkirk. He had been too absorbed in his own work to pay any attention there. Now he realized that two figures were busy by the loch's edge.

Hohenheim and Zumal were wheeling a handcart full of boxes and packages. At the flat-bottomed coble they halted and began to transfer cartons. As the breeze dropped, Hohenheim's words carried clearly up from the quiet water. Pole, crouched there in his brown cloak, was indistinguishable from the rocks and the heather.

He repressed his instinctive reaction, to call a greeting. As they finished loading and moved offshore he sat, pipe still unlit, and watched closely.

"Steady now, until I give the word." That was Hohenheim, leaning far forward in the boat's bow. With the sun almost on the horizon, the shadow of the boat was like a long, dark spear across the calm surface of the loch. Hohenheim was leaning over into the shadow, so that it was impossible for Jacob Pole to see what he was doing.

"Back-paddle, and slow us—now." The coble was stationary on the calm surface. The man in the bow reached down over the front of the boat, pulled up a loop of line from the water, and tied it to a ring in front of him.

"Looks good. I see no drift at all since yesterday." Hohenheim turned and nodded to Zumal. "Get ready now, and I will prepare the rest."

The black man laid down the paddle and began to strip off his clothes. The setting sun was turning the surface of the loch into a single glassy glare in Jacob Pole's eyes, and Zumal was no more than a dark silhouette against the dazzling water. Pole raised a hand to shield his eyes and tried to get a closer look at Hohenheim's activities.

The scene suddenly changed. As he watched, the even surface of the loch seemed to tear, to split along a dark, central line, and to divide into two bright segments. Pole realized that he was seeing the effects of a moving ripple, a bow wave that tilted the water surface so that the sunlight no longer reflected directly to his eyes. Something big was moving along the loch. He dropped his pipe unheeded to the heather, and his heart began to beat faster.

The coble was close to the seaward end of the loch, where the shallow water lay. The moving wave was still more than a quarter of a mile away in the central deep. But it was moving steadily along toward the boat. Pole watched in fascination as it came within about forty yards, to where the bed of the loch began to rise. Then the wave veered left and turned back along the shore. The two men in the coble were too busy to notice. Hohenheim had now taken a small barrel from the bottom of the boat, removed its top, and was adjusting something inside it. He said a few soft words to Zumal, naked now in the stern, and laughed. Behind them the ripples still spread across the sweep of water.


Pole heard the single word from Hohenheim as the sun finally dipped below the western horizon and everything took on the deeper tones of true twilight. Zumal's nod was barely visible in the gloom.

"As soon as I lower it, follow it down. It lasts only a short while, so act quickly."

Pole watched the flash of flint and metal that followed the last words. It sparked three times, then there was the glow of tinder. Hohenheim was holding a smoldering wad of cotton over the open end of the barrel.


A dazzling white light was shining from the barrel's mouth. Hohenheim lifted it out and dropped it over the side. The flare sank at once to the bottom, but instead of being extinguished by the water it seemed to burn brighter than ever, with a blue-white flame.

The bottom of the loch was suddenly visible as a rugged, shiny floor of rock and sand. Close to the coble, just a few feet from the underwater flare, Jacob Pole could see the outline of a long ship's hulk. As he crouched by his cannon, almost too excited to breathe, he saw the naked form of Zumal slip over the side of the coble, swim to the float, and move hand-over-hand down to the anchor that marked the wreck.

Shielding his eyes from the direct light, Pole peered at the shape of the hulk. After a few seconds he could make out details through the unfamiliar pattern of light and shadow on the bed of the loch. He gasped as he realized what he was seeing.

* * *

In the village, the fading light had been the signal for new activity. Darwin could sense the bustle of movement through the walls of the house and there was a constant clatter of footsteps in and out of the kitchen.

It was one of the few signs of a rising tension. After Jacob Pole left, Maclaren had dropped in every half hour, trying to appear casual, and spoken a few distracted words to Darwin before hurrying out again. At five o'clock Maclaren had made a final visit and departed with the woman who did the cooking, leaving Darwin to dine as best he might on cold goose, oat bread, chicken fricassee, and bread pudding, and to order his thoughts however he chose.

When Maclaren finally appeared again he looked like a different person. His lowland garb was gone, and in its place were brogues, knee-length knitted socks, the kilt, and a black waistcoat with gold-thread buttons.

"Aye, I know," he said at Darwin's inquiring look. " 'Tis against the law yet to bear Highland dress. But I'll do no less to welcome my brother home, whatever the law says. An' there's talk of a change of the rule in a year or two, so what's the harm? Surely a man ought to be allowed to dress any which way he chooses. But would ye be all ready then?"

Darwin nodded. He stood, picked up the well-worn medical chest that had been his companion on a thousand journeys, and followed Maclaren outside into the warm spring night. The Highlander led the way at a stately pace to the stone house with the black shutters. In spite of the darkness, Darwin had the feeling that many eyes followed their progress from the shadows.

At the door Maclaren halted. "Dr. Darwin, I'm not one to want to deceive myself. It's a bad wound, that I know, and I'm a man that respects the truth. I'm not after lookin' for ill news, but will ye gi' me the word, that ye'll tell me honest if it's good news or bad?"

The light was spilling out into the quiet night. Darwin turned to look steadily into the other man's worried eyes.

"Unless there is good reason to do it, to save life or lessen suffering, it is my belief that a full and honest diagnosis is always best. You have my word. No matter where the truth may take us tonight, I will provide it as I see it. And in return I ask that what I say should not create ill feeling to me and to Colonel Pole."

"Ye have that word, an' it's my life that stands behind it." Maclaren pushed the door wide open and they went on in.

The room had not changed, but now lamps had been placed in eight or nine places around it. Everything was well lit and spotlessly clean. There were lamps on each side of the big bed, where a man lay covered to the chest by a tartan blanket.

Darwin stepped forward. For many seconds he was motionless, scrutinizing the man's chalk-white face and loose posture.

"What is his age?"

"Fifty-five." Maclaren's voice was a whisper.

Darwin stepped forward and turned the blanket back to the thighs. When he rolled back an eyelid under his thumb the man did not move. He opened the mouth, studying the decaying teeth, and grunted to himself thoughtfully.

"Here. Help me turn him to his side." Darwin's voice was neutral, giving no clue as to his thoughts. With Maclaren's help they moved the man to his right side, revealing the red cicatrix that ran all the way from the crown of his head down to above the left temple. Darwin bent close and moved his hand gently along it, feeling the shape of the bone beneath the scar. The wound was indented, a deep cleft in the skull, and no hair grew above it.

Darwin sucked in a deep breath. "Aye, a sore wound indeed. One cleavage, straight from the sphenoid wing to the top of the calvaria. It is a wonder to see any man living after such an injury."

He pulled the blanket back farther, to show the legs and feet covered in a white and gold robe. Then he was a long while silent, scowling down at the patient. He sniffed the man's breath, examined nose and ears, and finally lifted the arms and legs to palpate the joints and muscles. The palms of the hands and the short, well-trimmed nails came in for their own brief examination, and he felt the condition of the sinews in wrists and ankles.

"Lift him to a sitting position," he said at last. "Let me see his back."

The skin over the ribs was white and unmarked, free of all sores and blemishes. Darwin nodded, looked again at the white of the eye that showed beneath the lid, and sighed.

"You can let him lie back again. And you can tell some man or woman that I have never in my life seen an injured person better cared for. He has been fed, washed, exercised, and lovingly looked after. But his condition . . ."

"Tell me, Doctor." Maclaren's look was resolute. "Do not disguise it."

"I will not, though my medical opinion will bring bitter news for you. His wound will prove mortal, and his condition cannot be improved. It can only worsen, and you must not expect there will be any waking from unconsciousness."

Maclaren clenched his teeth, and the muscles stood out along his jaw. "Thank you, Doctor," he said in a whisper. "An' the end, how far away will it be?"

"I can answer that only if you will give me some information. How long has he been unconscious? It is apparent that this is not a recent wound, with the degree of healing that it now exhibits."

"Aye, ye speak true there." Maclaren's face was grim. "Near three year, it has been. He was hurt in the summer of '73, an' has not wakened after that. We've tended him since then."

"I am sorry to end your hopes." Darwin drew the sheet back over the man on the bed. "He will die within the year. You brought me a long way for this, Malcolm Maclaren. Your devotion deserves a better reward."

Maclaren looked swiftly to the door, then back again. "What do ye mean, Doctor?"

Darwin waved his arm to door and window. "Let them all come in, if you wish. They are as worried as you are, and it serves no purpose to have them hide and listen outside."

"Ye think . . ." Maclaren hesitated.

"Come on, man, and do it." Darwin leaned again to look at the figure on the bed. "If you worry still about my state of knowledge and discretion, I could offer you a tale. It is a story of loyalty and desperation. Of a man, who might be this very man here"—he touched the smooth brow of the unconscious patient—"returned after many years to his homeland. There was an accident. Let us put it that way, although a sword or axe could leave just such a wound. After the accident the man was lovingly cared for, and the doctors of these parts did all they could, but there was no progress in his condition. At last, despite daily exercise of muscles and the best food that could be found, he began to weaken, to show signs of worsening. More expert advice and medical attention seemed to be the only hope. But how to obtain it, without revealing all and risking the wrath of a still vengeful government?"

"Aye, how indeed?" said Maclaren. He sighed and walked over to the door. A few words of Gaelic, and a file of somber men and women came into the room. Each went to the bed, knelt there for a moment, then moved back to stand by the wall. When all had entered, Maclaren spoke to them again, a longer speech this time. While Darwin watched, the faces in front of him seemed to fold and crumple as all hope drained from them.

"I have told them," said Maclaren, as he turned back to the bed.

Darwin nodded. "I saw it."

"They are brave folk. They will bear it bravely, whatever I tell them. But to ye I have told nothin', not one word, an' yet ye seem to know all. How can that be?" Maclaren's voice was husky but he held his head up high. "How can ye know this, as well as I know it? Are ye what Hohenheim has claimed to be, a man who can divine all by magical methods?"

"I would never claim what I believe impossible for any human." Darwin had moved forward again to the bed and was gently turning the head of the unconscious man. "I proceed by much simpler methods, ones available to all. Let me, if you will, continue with my tale. This man needed help, if help could be found, from other physicians. It would be futile of me to plead excessive modesty, and to deny that in the past few years my reputation as a court of last resort for difficult medical cases has spread throughout England—aye, and through Europe, too, if my friends are to be believed. Let us suppose it is true, and that my name was known here. Perhaps I could help, or at least tell the worst. But the idea of a direct approach, with a patient who was perhaps an outlaw and an exile—not to add that he is one of royal blood—why, that would be unthinkable. A subterfuge of some kind was necessary, one that would allow an examination without revealing too much. And if the patient could not easily be carried for a long distance, the presence of the physician in the Highlands must somehow be assured."

He paused and looked up at Maclaren. "Who was it worked out the details of the plan?"

Maclaren was sitting on the stone floor, his chin resting on his cupped hands. "It was I," he said softly. "An' God knows, it came from desperation, not from choosin'. But I still do not see how ye could know any of this."

"I was suspicious before I left Lichfield. You followed the first rule of successful deception: build upon what is real, and invent as little as you must. But you went too far, with a double lure, of great treasure and of a fantastic animal. The beast in Loch Malkirk would have been sufficient to bring me here without further embroidery, but you could not have known that. So there was added the galleon, and the priceless treasure, all to be revealed to me by the words of a dying man."

Maclaren smiled ruefully. "It worked. Ye came here, an' that was a surprise to me. So where was the error in it?"

"Your plan went astray not in outline, but in detail. You had hired good actors, that was necessary, and they were well grounded in their roles—enough to convince Dr. Monkton. You had also told them to beware my examination, I surmise, since I would surely see through the deception. But Colonel Pole was there, and he was an accurate reporter. How could a tinker have the hands of a gentleman, or a delirious man suffer no fever?"

"We were not careful enough in choosin'—but still ye came, an' I don't see why ye did."

"The mystery that you had never intended brought me, more than treasure or Devil. Before we left Lichfield, I was asking myself, what would make anyone try to draw me here, three hundred miles from home? That curiosity was my motive, but what could their motive be? From the moment that we set out I was vastly curious, and when I arrived here my perplexity was increased. For here was Hohenheim, and I could not readily see how he fitted the situation at all."

Maclaren glanced around him at the circle of grieving faces. He shrugged. "Dr. Darwin, I said that I will tell ye true, an' I will. But I swear by the man who lies there helpless before us—an' I know no higher oath than mine to Prince Charles Edward—I cannot tell why Hohenheim came. He was no part of my thoughts or plans, an' his arrival surprised me totally. I am sorry to disappoint ye."

"You do not," said Darwin. He had a satisfied look on his face. "What you have just told me fleshes out the picture, and I can tell you the answer myself. As to how Hohenheim knew at once that I was a doctor, upon my arrival, that is easy. You had told him, by referring without thinking to a 'Doctor Darwin' who was coming to Malkirk. Hohenheim thought of me that way from the time you did it—but when he first spoke that knowledge perturbed me mightily. As for the rest, Hohenheim has been the unintentional confusion factor, the place where your plan suffered an accidental complication. Look back to the instrument by which your scheme was carried out—the hired players—and you will see the rest. Hohenheim—"

The boom of a cannon sounded through the quiet night, shockingly loud and near. Darwin and Maclaren looked at each other in confusion. There was a rush to the door of the house as the echo carried back from the eastern hills.

* * *

It was not a Spanish galleon. Jacob Pole was sure of it, sure as soon as he saw the ship's lines by the light of the flare. Everything stood out clearly in that white and penetrating light, and even the crusting of silt and the deep corrosion of iron parts were not enough concealment. A man without naval experience might be fooled, because there were similarities enough to cause confusion; but Pole saw through those, and was stunned by the knowledge. He was looking at a coastal cargo ship, high in the stern and with three masts, and he had seen many like it in English and Irish waters. It was not—could not be—the galleon they were seeking. And Hohenheim and Zumal did not know it!

Pole squatted by Little Bess and frowned down at the scene below. Zumal was down on the wreck's listing deck, prying the forward hatch with a long iron bar. It was slowly opening and releasing a cloud of fine silt that fogged the water. Outside that cloud the bed of the loch showed as a dazzling confusion of white sand and black rock. Above, Hohenheim was busy in the coble, lowering other tools and preparing a second underwater flare.

They did not know enough about ships to realize that this was not a wreck likely to bear treasure of any kind. But if they had discovered and were exploring the wrong ship, so much the better. The galleon must be somewhere else in the loch.

Pole nodded to himself and looked back along the length of the inlet. If he had to search for another wreck, there could be no better time for it than now, when the floor of the loch was so brightly lit. The powerful light made every detail in the water visible for scores of yards. He could see schools of fish, flashing here and there in panic from the alien glare in the water. Away from the loch's entrance the whole underwater panorama was a frenzy of darting silver shapes. And a great shadow moved swiftly among them, scattering them wildly from its path.

The light allowed Jacob Pole to see what had been hidden from them the previous day. The Devil was speeding along, the crest of its back a couple of yards below the surface as it moved away from Zumal and the bright flare. Pole could see a small head and long neck leading a massive body and powerful tail. The back was grey, and as it rolled to make a turn there was a flash of pink on its sides, and a brief sight of a red underbelly. It was at least seventy feet from head to tip of tail, and its swift forward motion came from the powerful body and winglike side fins.

The creature was flying blindly along the loch, seeking escape from the light. Its frenzied rush set up a big wave and brought the beast closer to the surface as it neared the inland end of the loch. The surface was foaming under the power of the lashing tail. As the Devil turned, the flare near the loch entrance began to fade. A moment more, and the bow wave was racing back along the loch, with the beast close enough to the surface for the smooth back to be revealed.

Hohenheim had the second flare ready and Zumal was hanging on the side of the coble, taking breath before he dived again. They were both looking uncertainly along the water, not sure what was causing the sudden pattern of choppy waves.

Pole stood up and waved. "Hohenheim! Look out—you're in danger."

Without waiting to see the effects of his shout, he bent over the cannon. It took a second or two to line Little Bess to fire along the loch, and another second to strike the spark and apply the match at the breech. His hands were trembling with tension, and he could not control them.

The beast in the loch was less than fifty yards from the coble, and both men below were now aware of its rapid approach. Zumal cried out and tried to hoist himself into the coble, while Hohenheim left the second flare to burn in the bow while he took up the paddle and tried to move the boat away toward the safety of the shore. They were going too slowly. Pole glanced up, and saw that the Devil's dash toward the sea would take it straight into the coble.

As he straightened to shout again the cannon beside him roared and leapt backwards in recoil. He was surrounded by black smoke and could scarcely see where the ball went. The direction was good, but the timing a little too late. Instead of hitting the Devil's body the ball grazed the long tail and spent its energy uselessly in the waters of the loch. The beast leapt forward even faster.

A second shot would take minutes to make ready. Pole watched helplessly as the Devil surged frantically for the loch entrance.

The second flare was still alight. At the impact it flew high in the air. Fragments of the coble went with it and Hohenheim's body spun away, the limbs loose and broken like a wrecked puppet. There was an agonized scream—Hohenheim or Zumal, Pole could not tell which—and a crash of splintered wood. Then the Devil's broad back was standing six feet above the surface of the water as the beast thrashed and wriggled its way through the shallows to the open sea. It headed west and plunged into the deep water beyond the reefs.

Jacob Pole did not wait to chart the course of the Devil's departure. He was running down the hill, with the cannon's blast and the human scream of final agony still loud in his ears.

The surface of the loch was calm again. There was nothing to be seen but the bobbing light of the flare and shattered remnants of the coble.

* * *

At the sound of the cannon shot Malcolm Maclaren's face turned white. He looked at the figure on the bed.

"If that is soldiers, an' him here . . ."

Already four or five of the men had run silently from the room. Maclaren gestured to the women, and they moved to lift the unconscious man from the bed and wrap him in blankets. Before they could reach him, Darwin stood in front of them, his hand raised.

"Hold this action, and your men, too. Maclaren, that came from the loch—from Colonel Pole. There may be trouble there, but it's no danger for you or for your prince. If you want to send men anywhere, send them to the loch. That's where help is needed."

Logic had spoken to Maclaren faster than Darwin could. He had recalled the cannon that Pole had brought with him and carried to the loch. He shouted a command to the men outside, then moved swiftly over to the figure on the bed. There was a new hopelessness in his expression, as though he was fully realizing for the first time the import of Darwin's pronouncements on the future. He bent to kiss the unconscious man's hand, then looked up at Darwin.

"Ye are right about Colonel Pole, an' my men will be at the loch in minutes. An' if ye are right about this other, he canna' be revived—ever. It makes no difference now if he is living or dead, if he remains like this it's over. Our fight's all over an' done." The despair in his voice was total. Darwin moved to his side and laid a gentle hand on his shoulder.

"Malcolm Maclaren, I am truly sorry. If it will ease your mind at all, be assured of this: Prince Charles Edward departed this world as a conscious, thinking human the moment that he took that injury. If you had found a way to transport me here to Scotland the very day that it happened, I could have done nothing for him."

"I hear ye." Maclaren rubbed a knuckle at his eyes. "The line is ended, an' now I must learn to bear it. But it comes hard, even though I've feared that word all these past three years. It is an end to all hope here."

"So help me to look to those who can still be assisted. Bring lamps, and let us go down to the loch." Darwin started for the door, then instinctively turned back to the bedside to pick up his medical case. Before he reached it there was a shout and commotion outside the house.

"Come on, Doctor," said Maclaren. "That's my men calling, something about Colonel Pole."

It took a few seconds to see anything after the bright lamps of the room. Darwin followed Maclaren and stood there blinking, peering up the hill to where the group outside was pointing. At last he could see a trio of Highlanders. In their midst and supported by two of them was a stumbling and panting Jacob Pole. He staggered up to Malcolm Maclaren and stood wheezing in front of him.

"Talk to your blasted men—I can't get them to understand plain English. Send 'em back to the loch."

"Why? Dr. Darwin was worried for your safety there, but here ye are, safe an' well."

"Hohenheim and Zumal." Pole held his side and coughed. "At the loch, but I couldn't help. Both dead, in the water."

Maclaren barked a quick order to three of the villagers, and they left at a trot. While Pole leaned wearily on supporting arms, Darwin stood motionless.

"Are you sure?" he said at last. "Remember, there have been other examples where Hohenheim's actions were not what they appeared to be."

"I'm sure. Sure as I stand here. I saw the coble smashed to pieces with my own eyes. Saw Hohenheim broken, and both their bodies." He bent forward, rubbing at his balding head with a hand that still shook with fatigue. "The ship they were looking at was not the galleon! I saw it, an empty hold in an old wreck, that's what they died for. The wrong ship. That's their end."

"Aye, the end indeed," said Maclaren. He was watching as a silent procession of women carried an unconscious body out of the black-shuttered house and away toward the main village. "An' a bitter end for all. Hohenheim came here of his own wish, but it was no plan of mine that would make him die here." He began to walk with head lowered after the women.

"Not quite the end, Malcolm Maclaren." Darwin's somber tone halted the Scotsman. "There is one more duty for us tonight, and in some ways it is the most difficult and sorrowful of all. Give me ten more minutes of your time, then follow your lord."

"Nothing could be worse," said Maclaren. But he turned and came back to where Darwin and Pole stood facing each other. "What is left?"

"Hohenheim. He came here uninvited, and you asked why. You did not seek to bring him, and I certainly did not. He has been a mystery to all of us. Come with me, and we will resolve it now."

Followed by Pole and Maclaren, he led the way across the turf to the house where Hohenheim and his servant had stayed. The door was closed, and no light showed within.

Darwin stepped forward and banged hard on the dark wood. When no answer came he gestured to Maclaren to bring the lamp that he was holding nearer, and opened the door. The three men paused on the threshold.

"Who is there?" said a sleep-slurred voice from the darkness.

"Erasmus Darwin." He took the lamp from Maclaren, held it high, and walked forward to light up the interior.

"What do you want?" The man in the bed rolled over, pushed back the cover, and sat up. Jacob Pole looked at him, gave a superstitious groan of fear, and stepped backwards.

The man in front of them was Hohenheim. The tunic and patchwork cloak hung over a chair but there could be no mistaking the hooked nose, ruddy cheeks, and darting black eyes.

"It's impossible," said Pole. "Less than ten minutes ago, I saw him dead. It can't be, I saw—"

"It is all too possible," said Darwin softly. "And it is as I feared." He leaned toward the man in the bed, who was now more fully awake and beginning to scowl at the intruders. "The deception is over. Hohenheim—for want of a true name I must continue to use your old one—we bring terrible news. There was an accident at the loch. Your brother is dead."

The red cheeks paled and the man stood up suddenly from the bed. "You are lying. This is some trick, to try and trap me."

Darwin shook his head sadly. "It is no trick, and no trap. If I could find another way to say this, I would do so. Your brother and Zumal died tonight in Loch Malkirk."

The man in front of him stood for a second, then gave a wild shout and rushed past them.

"Stop him," cried Darwin, as Hohenheim plunged out of the door and into the night.

"Is he dangerous?" asked Maclaren.

"Only to himself. Send your men to follow and restrain him until we can reach him."

Maclaren moved to the door and shouted orders to the startled group of villagers who were still waiting near the black-shuttered house. Three of them set off up the hill in pursuit of Hohenheim's running figure. When Maclaren came back into the room Jacob Pole was slumped against the wall, his head bowed.

"Is he all right?" Maclaren said to Darwin.

"Give him time. He's over-tired and he's had a great shock."

"I'm fine." Pole sighed. "But I've no idea what's going on here. I never saw any brother, or any deception. Are you sure you have an explanation for all this?"

"I believe that I do." Darwin walked around the room, studying the cases and boxes stacked against the walls. He finally stopped at one of them and bent to open it.

"Why did these men come to Malkirk?" he said. "That is easily answered. They came to seek treasure and the galleon. But there is a better question: How did they come—how did they know a galleon was in the loch? There is only one possible answer to that. They heard it from the actors hired to tempt me here. And is it not obvious that we have also been dealing with stage players here? You saw them and heard them. Think of the gestures, all larger than life, and of the hands that drew materials from the air. Their magic spoke to me strongly of the strolling magician, the attraction at the fairs and festivals throughout the whole of England."

"But how did you know their feats were not genuine?"

"Colonel, that would lie outside the compass of my beliefs. It is much easier to believe in prestidigitation, in the cunning of hand over eye. I reached that conclusion early but I was faced with one impossible problem. How could a man be here today, and a few hours later be in Inverness? No stage magic or trickery would permit that. Accept that a man cannot be in two places at once and you are driven to a simple conclusion: there must be two men, able to pass as each other. Think of the value of that for impossible stage tricks, and think how practice would perfect the illusion. Two brothers, and Zumal as the link that would travel between them to protect it."

"But you had no possible proof," protested Pole. "I mean, a suspicion is one thing, but to jump from that to certainty—"

"Requires only that we use our eyes. You saw Hohenheim at the village. And the next day you saw him again, at the loch. But in the village he favored his left hand, constantly—recall for yourself his passes in the air, and his seizing from nowhere of flasks and potions. Yet at the loch he had suddenly become right-handed, for casting lines, for working the boat, for everything. We were seeing brothers, and like many twins they were one dexter, and one sinister."

Maclaren was nodding to himself. "I saw it, but I had not the wit to follow it. Now one of them is dead, and the other . . ."

"Knows a grief that I find hard to imagine. We must seek him now, and try to give him a reason for living. He should not be left alone tonight. With your permission, I will stay here, and when he is brought from the loch I will talk to him—alone."

"Very well, I will go now and see if they have him safe." Maclaren walked quietly to the door.

"And here is your proof," said Darwin. He lifted from the open chest in front of him a long cloak. "See the hidden pockets, and the tube that can be used to carry materials from them to the hands. No supernatural power; only skills of hand, and human greed."

Maclaren nodded. "I see it. An' when ye find the reason that makes him want to go on livin', ye can tell it to me."

He left, and Jacob Pole looked across at Darwin. "Does he mean that? Why would he think to stop living?"

"He has had a bad shock tonight, but for him I do not worry; Malcolm Maclaren is a brave man, and a strong one. When he recovers from his present sorrow, his life will begin again—better, I trust, than before."

Pole went across to the empty bed and sat down on it with a groan. "I'll be glad when tonight is over. I've had too much excitement for one day. Let tomorrow come, and I can go to the loch again and seek the real galleon." His eyes brightened. "If there's one thing to pull from this sorry mess, perhaps it will still be the bullion."

Darwin coughed. "I am afraid not. There is no treasure—no galleon, even. It was only a part of the tale that was used to draw us here."

"What!" Pole lifted his head. "Pox on it, are you telling me that after all our work we came three hundred miles for nothing? That there is no treasure?"

"There is no treasure. But we did not come for nothing." Now it was Darwin's eyes that showed a sparkle of excitement. "The Devil is still in the loch. Tomorrow we will go there and learn the true nature of the animal."

Jacob Pole coughed. "Aye, well, the Devil. You are determined to study it?"

"Indeed I am. For that I would travel far more than three hundred miles."

"Well, Doctor, that's something I was going to mention to you. You see, after I fired the cannon—"

He paused. Something in Pole's look told Darwin that the night's bad news was not yet complete.



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