Thanks to a bookseller friend of mine, I was fortunate to obtain this copy with the Nigel story as, to date, I have found no other collector of Tranter writings who has heard of it.
Because of its rarity I share it in its entirity with you. I do hope you enjoy reading something of Nigel's that was written almost 50 years ago. His style has certainly changed over the years and the rather strange picture that illustrates the story reflects the unusual nature of this example of Nigel's writing. All in all I don't find it a pleasant tale.
PLEASE NOTE. Copyright is still relevant to this story and is held by Nigel's daughter. Any download MUST be for personal use only and not for distribution.
Cameron Cunningham (March 2001)
Was ever anyone so cursed as to have a son like Charles, and yet to have to acknowledge as a heir this slobbering, deformed, malevolent half wit of a brother!
Lord Kilburn strolled, casually, into the great room where the brothers talked.
" Well, Oaf have you informed your brother of your latest and crowning folly? " he wondered, and the smile with which it was said dissembled nothing of its stark ferocity.
Lord Buckshaws, sprawling on a couch, looked up at his father's saturninely handsome face and laughed - if such a mirthless cackling could be called a laugh. " Charlie's not interested in my bits of affairs, and him the fine soldier, " he declared, and his voice was coarse and uncouth as his person, " He's the one with the stories, is Charlie - not me. "
" I've been telling Bucko something of my doings among at the ex-herrenvolk," the younger man said. He stood a-lean against the elaborate Adam mantelpiece, his fair head pleasingly outlined against the sombre canvas of an ancient portrait. " Nothing serious the wrong, I hope, Sir? "
" That evidently depends on the point of view, "Lord Kilburn said, tight lipped, " Your...your extraordinary brother appears to be singularly little affected, but for myself, I find the whole affair little short of a calamity. He has got himself entangled with some trull from the slums of Edinburgh, got her in the family way by some miracle, and now she is blackmailing him into marrying her. And the poor fool seems to be falling for it, too! "
" I like Julie, " Buckshaws announced, and his shifty dark eyes darted furtively between father and brother even as his loose mouth sagged into its everlasting smile, and a dribble ran down the receding chin and on to a stained, unsavoury collar. " A good sort Julie... she is kind to me. I could do worse than married Julie... "
" My God, you couldn't and you won't! " his father cried. " it's bad enough having you in the family, without bringing your street-woman in with you! "
" But she's good to me, " his son whined. " She suits me, does Julie. Why can't I marry whom I like...? "
" Because you're Buckshaws, you fool, and one day, Heaven pity us all, you'll be Kilburn. D'you think that if it wasn't for that, if you were anyone else but the heir God has cursed me with, a would soil so much as a finger in your affairs? Do you think I'd care who or what you married, in what stew you swilled yourself or what sty you pigged in - so long as you did it far enough from me? "
An unpleasant sound, part giggle, part snarl, greeted that outburst - an outburst in spite of the fastidious restraint with which the words were uttered.
Major Charles broke in, quickly. " Have you tried everything else - have you tried buying her off? "
Naturally. I believe she might have listened, too, but for the encouragement of this... this ape gives her. He had the effrontery to bring her down here last weekend - with the Cranhopes and the Glenartney's, here, B'God, and I had a word with her. But with him a supporting her... "
Have you made inquiries about her, there may be facts that would be worth knowing "
" She's not married already, if that's what you mean. Yes, I had all inquiries made. " Lord Kilburn sighed wearily. " A thoroughly sordid story, too - but nothing that would help us I'm afraid. "
His first-born twisted off the couch and on to his feet. All his movements were like that, ungainly and natural. " If you to are going to discuss my bride to be, you will not be needing me maybe, " he grinned. " Have a good talk, a grand talk, about me - for that is all you can do, you see! " He whinnied his laughter. " Buckshaws has the last word for once, eh? " and he shambled to the door. His grip on the handle, he turned. " And if you want me, you can come and find me! "
The slam of the heavy mahogany door spared them some part at least of the Viscount Buckshaws mirth.
The Earl of Kilburn sat late, that night, alone in the vast shadowychamber, by the dying fire. His pathetic ineffectual wife had retired long since, and Charles, tired after his journey, had soon followed her. As for Buckshaws, he might be in bed, or equally well behind a hedge with some village slut; or lying drunk in a ditch anywhere between the Kilburn arms and Buckshaws House. His father did not waste time on unprofitable speculation. His mind was fully occupied, as he shared the night with the ranked portraits.
Tier apon tier, large and small, vivid and sombre, they filled the walls, those painted Kilburns, frowning warriors, ringletted and velvet-clad dandies, bewigged law makers and scarlet and gold soldiers. Only here and there was one of their women among them, in silks and satins and billowing flesh - for women had never been very prominent amongst the Kilburns. Portrayed they were by Jamieson and Allan Ramsay and Raeburn, with now and again a Reynolds or a Lely to indicate a catholicity that did not stop short at the Tweed.
Tall and short, burly and slender, handsome and plain, they frowned and stared and brooded from their golden frames - stared, but did not smile, save for one or two simpering women, as befitted a race that had so largely helped to make the stormy history of Scotland. The Kilburns were not smilers - except for Henry Ninian Augustus Gilbert, Viscount Buckshaws.
Perhaps that room that was not the wisest choice for a place in which to consider the problem of Buckshaws. They were so very definite in their judgment, those dead and gone Bethunes, so overwhelming in the solidarity of their contempt. Saints and sinners - and the former were few indeed - heroes and blackguards regents and chancellors, parliamentarians and freelances, regicides and Jacobites - they were everything but weaklings. Indeed, their attitude to weakness was writ large on every painted face. Henry Ninian had chosen a bad family in which to be a fool.
Lord Kilborn was not thinking consciously about the accusation of these portraits, he very definitely was aware of it. Had he not lived all his life under their influence? For him they represented more than any mere tradition or sentiment. To him they were Scotland, the Scotland that they had done so much to mold and rule. He himself had led a brigade in the first World War; represented his division in Parliament until he succeeded; sat on numerous Royal Commissions; and now was Lord-Lieutenant of the County. All this was at the back of his mind. And Lord Kilburn, after his own lights, was a patriot.
So his eyes travelled over the shadowy features of his forebears, as he pondered - travelled, but were apt to return with some regularity to the picture of his own grandfather, to the left of the fire place. A fine man, his grandfather, and his untimely death only a few months after his accession as fourteenth Earl had been a tragedy indeed. A shocking accident - but accidents were no respecter of persons. Long he sat, then, frowning, till the last member of wood fell with a soft whuff into the white bed of its ash. The clock was striking two before he rose, at last, heavily, wearily, his decision taken. And he shivered a little as he made slowly for the door. The fire was quite out, and it was October.
It was a pity that Charles was recalled to Hamburg so quickly that he had not time even to take part in the big shoot that his father was organising. But the War Office was like that. Its telegrams could not be ignored, even by earl's sons. Charles was as keen on the gun as on the social side of shooting, and it was particularly fitting that he should be there on this occasion. However the shoot must go on. Weren't the birds badly needing thinning out?
Quite a concourse of guests were invited, for Lord Kilburn did things thoroughly. Neighbouring lairds, tenant farmers, sporting acquaintances down from Edinburgh. There must be no lack of participants in this day's activities. Even the Lord Justice clerk and the Chief Constable of the county were to be present and gladly. The Kilburn pheasants were famous.
The thin October sunshine was breaking through the haze of an autumn morning when the party set out from Buckshaws House. Sixteen guns, four keepers, and nearly a score of loaders and beaters. Lord Kilburn had himself arranged the parties and the siting of the guns, a matter at that called for judicious selection. Though using a shotgun was one of his extraordinary sons few abilities, he kept Lord Buckshaws close to his own person. On his other hand, he had old Rulewood, the Justice Clerk. Together, they formed the extreme right of the line. The head keeper and his minions, he kept away in the centre, as was right and proper. The loaders he hospitably assigned to his guests. So they moved towards the coverts .
In a pleasant glade amongst the birches and spruce, with the forenoon sunlight and dappling all the fallen leaves and fading grasses in a crazy patchwork of every shade and tone and blend of yellow and brown on the creators palate, Kilburn called a halt.
" Your stance is over there, on the far side of those bushes, Teddy, " he directed.
" Eh............? " cried Lord Rulewood, who was rather deaf.
His host repeated his instructions, lou-voiced . " You ought to get fair sport there - they, come rocketing over these laurels. " he shouted. " Move up until you can see Elliott on your left. Buckshaws and myself will be just over there, beyond those bushes. You'll have a clear arc of fire. "
The old law-lord nodded his white head, and moved over to his appointed place. Kilburn called his dogs and his son, and proceeded around the Laurel clump.
Out of sight of the rest of the shoot, the Earl turned on the younger man. " You, " he said, " Get over there. No -- forword there. Into that thicket. "
" But I'd be better here. " Buckshaws complained. " Too far forward there, too much cover, the birds'll come across .........."
" Stop your whining and go where I say, " his father commanded. " You'll be best there I don't want any of your pellets about my ears! "
His son gave him a sideways glance of sheer malevolence, for all the inevitable grinning that went with it. And lips moving but wordless, he slouched to his place.
Presently a distant whistle from the head keeper announced that all the guns were in position, and acted as a signal for the drive to begin. For a space thereafter there was silence over the vast upland coverts of birch and larch and thorn and elder that clothed the rolling foothills of the Lammermoors. In this drive there was none of the shouting that in August, on the heather moors above, heralded the driven grouse. The proud pheasant required no such unseemly clamour. A line of beaters advancing slowly, steadily, towards the corresponding line of waiting guns, would produce all the sport that was available.
And the sport was good --- which was as well, since the grouse had been a sore disappointment that season. The birds were plentiful, well-developed, and took wing readily. Soon the banging of guns up and down the line grew general. Single shots and doubles and something like small volleys, punctuated by the high excited yelping of the young dogs, as gliders and soarers and high flyers came over in quick succession. Johnnie Dickson, the head keeper, could feel satisfied with the result of his labours during a difficult spring.
Even the extreme end of the line enjoyed a fair measure of sport, and the red cylinders of empty cartridge cases began to dot the grass at Lord Kilburn's feet. But though he shot with his usual methodical proficiency, his heart was not in it. More than once he let a difficult rocketing cock pass unchallenged, that normally would have drawn his shot unhesitatingly. Buckshaws, restricted by over much cover got fewer chances but shot effectively if unorthodoxly.
From beyond the bushes to their left, they could hear old Rulewood fire occasionally.
The Earl waited until the shooting was slackening off all down the line - for he was a good host, and recognised his responsibilities towards his invited guests in all circumstances. Then he picked up a wounded bird that one of his labradors had brought him, and expertly dispatched it.
Taking up his gun again, with something like deliberation he flicked the breach open, inserted a cartridge into the choke-barrel to complete a reloading, clicked it shut, and applied the safety catch. Ordering his dogs to sit and wait, he moved out from his stance, and hurried in the direction of his son's bushes.
Buckshaws was leaning against a birch trunks sulkily, a cigarette a-droop from the corner of his slack mouth. He had had little sport, and expected no more. His gun stood upright against a nearby branch. As his father appeared through the green screen of the undergrowth and pushed his way towards him he glanced up startled. He was always being startled, was Lord Buckshaws, just as he was always smiling. " What is it? What's the matter.......... " he began.
" It's all right. Just a runner came this way. " The air earl's voice was steady and level, rather than calm.
His tone did not seem to reassure his son. He heaved himself up, and began to move backwards against the enclosing branches. " There is nothing here. I have seen nothing. " he mumbled. " I don't....... I don't.........." And then, suddenly, his darting eyes widened, he gasped " No! No! " he cried " No ! " and a pleading, shielding hand jerked up before his face.
But it was no use, that hand, either as a shield or supplication. Swiftly Lord Kilburn raised his gun. For a brief second his eyes, steely grey, unwavering, along the blue-black barrels, met those of his son, horror stricken, aware, behind the curling, clawing fingers. Then deliberately he pulled the triggers, both triggers.
Deafening, in that confined space, were the double, almost simultaneous, reports.
Tight-lipped, Lord Kilburn looked down on the crumpled, twitching, hideously-disfigured body of his son. Two barrels of a twelve bore shotgun, firing number four shot at three yards range, can do fearsome damage. It was only with an effort that he considered his handiwork; always he had disliked blood - and there was much blood about ............ And, incredibly, below what was barely recognisable as a face, that slack idiot mouth leere still. Frowning his revulsion, the Earl turned away. He had much to do.
Stooping, he collected such of his sons empty cartridge cases as were strewn about the grass of that leafy recess, also the few birds that had fallen to his gun. These he took out to the far side of the bushes, where, in a pleasant glade that would have made so much better a stance for a marksman he scattered both game and shells. Also the stamped down the grass thereabouts quite thoroughly. Back beside the dead Buckshaws he looked searchingly. Two or three cigarette ends he saw and thesehe picked up and transferred to the glade beyond. Then, satisfied, after a last glance around he lifted up his voice and shouted.
" Rulewood! Elliott! Here! I've shot Buckshaws. Fetch a doctor - fetch MacDonald! Quick - I've shot Buckshaws..........." he went on shouting.
Colonel Elliott, the Chief Constable, was first to arrive panting.
" Buckshaws............! " his host gasped, pointing, with an unsteady finger. " In there. I shot him! Lord, I think I've killed him! Dr MacDonald --- where is he? Both barrels I fired at a runner.
How he got in there in the bushes. How often I told him not to move from his stance at a drive like this. My God ........... "
The colonel pushed his way in, as Lord Rulewood, Dr MacDonald and others, came up. He emerged, head a shake. " I'm sorry ............ terribly sorry, Kilburn - but I'm afraid........... MacDonald, you'd better have a look. But I doubt it's too late. A dreadful thing to happen, sir...... But you must not blame yourself. It might have happened to anybody.......! "
Lord Kilburn, distressed as he was, was able to superintendent the removal to the House by keepers and beaters, of his late heir. He walked back, pale, quiet, but composed, with his appalled and horrified guests. He even apologised for the unhappy end to the day's sport. Gilbert John Bethune most emphatically came of a stock that recognised its responsibilities.
The butler came across the lawns in dignified haste to meet them, as they approached the house. His few carefully arranged hairs rudely tossed by the breeze, his plump hand holding down a flimsy envelope on a small silver tray.
" Telegram just arrived, my lord. " he announced. " The boy is waiting to see if there is an answer. "
His employer nodded, turned to old Rulewood and the others with a murmerred apology, and slit the envelope. He read the wire, looked up to along a line of the Lammermoor summits, still face, and then read it again. " No answer, Brown, " he said then, quietly, and returned to Rulewood. " As you say, it is a tragic coincidence. My own grandfather......... The same horrible accident. Quite, quite. I am grateful for what you say. It is true, of course. But I cannot forget that it was my finger that squeezed the triggers. But come in, come in all of you. Some small refreshment you must have, before you go. No. I insist. Not at all. In the Portrait Gallery, I think ......... "
Lord Kilburn shook hands with the last guest, listened gravely polite to the last mumbled expression of sympathy and condolence, and watched the last car disappear around the bend in the drive. Then, turning, he stalked through the whispering servants, past the room where the body of Buckshaws lay covered with a dust sheet, past the room where his so useless wife sobbed hysterically on a sofa, upstairs to is own study. There, he took the crumpled telegram out of his pocket, and, smoothing it out on the top of his desk, read its brief message once more. He took his keys and unlocked the second drawer of his desk, picked out first a heavy army type revolver and then a small square box of. .45 ammunition.
Carefully he selected one shell, and then, as of an afterthought, one more and slipped them into the chamber. Just as methodically, he replaced the box and shut the drawer, cocked the hammer, and raised the weapon to his temple. Then the key pulled the trigger.
As the right Honourable Gilbert John, sixteenth and last Earl of Kilburn slumped forward over his desk, the flimsy, creased paper slipped from his nerveless fingers and fluttered to the floor. The regrets of the Under Secretary of State for War, that Major the Honourable Charles Bethel and had been killed that afternoon when his plane crash--landed at Eudensbad Airfield, Hanover, were stained, soaked, and obliterated in a growing pool of blood.
The House of Kilburn's race was run. Scotland would do without the Bethunes in future ---- save only, perhaps, for Julie Scanlan's bastard.