Authors: Gian Bordin
Rose and Andrew looked at each other in silence for a while. Then
Rose ventured a suggestion: "If they keep on drinking, you might be able
to sneak upstairs and free your lady."
Owen immediately contradicted her: "No, that wouldn’t work. The
stairs are clearly visible from where they sit. They’d spot him."
"But they’d not know who it is?" retorted Rose.
"The innkeeper would know that he isn’t one of his customers… And
how would master Andrew and his lady get out?" countered Owen.
"You’re such a smart lad. Naturally, I could get a group of sailors
together to keep them in check, while you free her, but that would cause
a big uproar and would just bring in the law. No, that’s no good." She
seemed to be thinking aloud. "If we somehow could get them stone drunk
that they’d pass out—"
"Dougal’s capacity is phenomenal. I doubt that even a whole night’s
drinking would get him to that point," interjected Andrew, and then a sly
smile crossed his face. "Adding a good dose of laudanum to their wine
would do the trick though. But where can we get laudanum at this time
of night, and how could we get it into their drink?"
Rose’s face lit up in delight. "I’ve got a little flask in my room. I take
a bit when I’ve trouble sleeping. Mind you, I only use it sparingly.
Sometimes I even slip a bit into the drink of a troublesome patron."
"That solves the first problem, but still leaves the second, how to get
it into their wine?"
Rose ignored him and took up questioning the boy again: "Owen, did
you see the innkeeper bring them the wine?"
"Did he uncork the bottle in front of them or bring it already opened?"
"There was no cork in it."
"So he fills the bottle from a keg in the cellar and then charges them
the bottle price, the cheating bugger." She laughed when she noticed
Andrew’s surprised expression. "You see, this is a common trick of the
trade. I’ve done it myself. That’s why I know."
A thing to keep in mind next time I order a bottle of claret,
mused. "But knowing this, how does it help us?"
"He may fill several bottles in one go to save time and bring them up
into the kitchen, particularly if he expects his guests to drink them. So it
might be possible to add the laudanum when he’s not around— Owen,
was he drinking with them."
"Yes, he joined them. He knows their Highland tongue."
"Then Dougal will definitely keep him at his table, except for getting
more bottles," said Andrew, and then added with a laugh: "And the
potion will put him to sleep too. So all we need is a way to slip the
laudanum into the bottles."
"I’m afraid, young man, you must think of a way yourself. At such
short notice, I won’t be able to summon up any trustworthy help, except
for Owen here. Boy, are you still up to help master Andrew with this?"
"I sure am. You know that I never go to sleep much before midnight
Rose fetched a small bottle with her supply of laudanum and gave it
"You better disguise yourself again with the hairpiece and the hat. We
don’t want anybody recognizing you, would we now?"
The church bell rang eleven o’clock when Andrew and Owen slipped
away from the inn and headed upriver to the bridge. The city seemed
deserted. There was a new moon. It was as dark as it ever gets at the
beginning of the northern summer. They flitted from building to building,
keeping always in the deep darkness of the walls. Whenever they crossed
over an open space, Owen first carefully scanned the area and then went
ahead, Andrew following him after a few seconds.
As they got ready to cross the wide ramp of Glasgow’s only bridge
over the Clyde at the bottom of Bridgegate, Owen held him back, and
they ducked under the outside stairs of a house.
"A patrol’s on the bridge," he whispered soundlessly, as if he guessed
that his companion didn’t know the reason for the caution.
After a minute two uniformed constables passed no more than twenty
feet from where Owen and Andrew cowered motionless, hidden in the
"Nothing, not a soul around," complained one of them. "I bet they
aren’t in the city anymore."
"Yea, it’s already more than four hours since they got away," remarked
the other. "You know, we never identified the girl or found the horse."
"Well, we might as well report to the station. No point searching
around when they’re gone."
"Yea, I guess the other patrols will report back too. Maybe we can get
… sleep. We sure … up early … morning again."
Their voices became gradually more indistinct and then died away
completely. Owen sneaked to the corner of the house and watched them
disappear up Stockwell Street. When he judged it safe, they quickly ran
across the open space in front of the bridge and went along the back of
the houses on the south side of Bridgegate Street. After about three
hundred yards, they entered a narrow alley that led to The Golden Eagle
just beyond its stables.
"I’ll quickly check what’s going on," whispered Owen, pressing
Andrew into the recess of a house. "You wait here."
He ran light-footed along the wall to the tavern window and raised
himself carefully so that his eyes were just above the window sill, shaded
under his flat black cap. He only gazed inside for a second or two and
"All five of them are still drinking. Nobody else is there," he reported
and the next moment he disappeared again in the narrow opening
between the stables and the inn. Five, ten minutes passed. Andrew began
to worry. But Owen had told him to wait, and he trusted the boy’s ability
more than his own to cope with any unforeseen events.
The light touch of a hand startled him and Owen whispered almost
inaudibly: "I found the kitchen. Nobody inside. Two empty bottles on a
bench, but no full ones. We may have to wait until the innkeeper refills
"Or we put a portion of the potion into each of those," replied Andrew,
"and hope he’ll take them when he refills the bottles. The liquid is almost
colorless, so that he won’t notice it." He retrieved the flask from the
pocket of his waistcoat and held it up so that the light from the tavern
window was behind it. "But did Rose give me enough?" The little bottle
was three quarters full.
"Is it enough?" asked Owen.
"Yes, for a dozen people or more. You now have to show me the way
to the kitchen."
"Oh no. I’ll have to do this myself. I can enter and leave almost any
place without being heard or seen." He chuckled soundlessly. "Sorry, sir,
but you’d just give us away."
He snatched the bottle from Andrew’s hand and was gone before
Andrew could catch his breath. This time he did not return for what
seemed ages. The nearby church steeple pompously announced midnight,
and then rang half past twelve. Andrew got more and more anxious. He
expelled an audible sigh of relief when he again felt Owen’s small hand
on his arm.
"I did it and waited to see if the innkeeper would take the bottles. I was
getting afraid that they had stopped drinking—"
"Not until they emptied the barrel!"
"—but then he came and refilled both, as well as the one he just
brought back, and took two to them out straight away. So at least one
must have the sleeping concoction in it," he concluded.
"Yes, that’s right. You’re a smart one… But where did you hide? In
the kitchen?" he asked alarmed.
"Yes, in a corner, behind several big aprons. You see, sir, in my
profession it’s a great advantage to be small."
Andrew had the urge to hug the boy, but restrained himself. "I’m sure
glad Helen hired such a competent young man."
"So now we just have to wait for them to fall asleep. How long will it
"That depends how fast they drink the wine. A quarter hour, half-an-hour at most… Are all of them drinking wine?"
"I’ll check. If I don’t come back right away, the answer is yes. You
wait here until I give you a signal."
He sneaked silently to a spot opposite the tavern window, hiding in the
shade of a wall recess. Although Andrew saw him get there, the slim
figure simply disappeared, fading into the darkness. Time passed.
Andrew wondered how the boy could keep still for such a long time.
After about fifteen minutes, he emerged from the shadow and dashed into
the entrance of the inn. A minute later he came out and waved. As quietly
as he could, he joined the boy.
"They’re all asleep," Owen whispered and led him into the inn. Three
bodies were slumped over the table, and two more sprawled on the floor.
"We need the key to their room," whispered Andrew. He took a step
toward the five. Owen held him back.
"I’ll get it. You remain here!" It was said very sternly.
The boy slid silently across the room and, without the slightest
hesitation, went to Dougal, just as Andrew wanted to signal that the old
man, as Owen had called him, was the most likely to have the key.
did he know?
What a boy!
Owen carefully felt Dougal’s coat. The latter shifted his bulk and
mumbled. Andrew held his breath. Instantly, Owen froze, his hand
remaining suspended in mid air, a keen, fearless expression of an
experienced observer on his face. Dougal settled into a new position. The
boy unerringly reached for one of the coat pockets and retrieved the key.
Dougal did not stir a bit. With a proud smile, Owen tiptoed back and
continued up the stairs, lifting an oil lamp off the wall. On the first floor
he studied the key in the light of the lamp. It had the number four
embossed on it. He quickly checked the doors on this level and then
silently went up to the next floor. Andrew followed, annoyed that the
stairs creaked when he stepped on them, while Owen simply seemed to
float up the stairs.
By that time the boy was already in front of the door with the brass
number ‘4’. He handed the lamp to Andrew and inserted the key, turning
it silently in its lock. With deliberate slowness he opened the door,
holding it still the moment the faintest beginning of a squeak could be
heard. Lifting the door by its handle with both hands to prevent it from
squeaking further, he opened it completely without the slightest noise.
Then he entered, followed by Andrew. In the bleak light of the lamp,
they saw Helen tied to a chair, slumped forward. She raised her head. The
light seemed to blind her, and her lips parted as if she was going to say
something. But Owen was already at her side and put a finger on his
mouth. Her eyes opened wide. For a second, Andrew was afraid that she
might scream in joy, but she caught herself in time.
They immediately removed the ties, and Andrew lifted her up. She
collapsed into his embrace, her legs still numb from having been tied for
"I’ve no feeling in my legs. Please, rub them."
Andrew set her down again and gently massaged her legs and ankles,
while she rubbed her arms.
"Where’s father? And the others?" she asked.
"We drugged them, slipped laudanum into their wine. They’re soundly
asleep downstairs, including the innkeeper."
She giggled. "Father will be mad as hell! He promised that I won’t get
away this time… Ah, my legs and arms begin to tingle."