Dickson McCunn, a respectable, newly retired grocer of romantic heart, plans a modest walking holiday in the hills of south-west Scotland. He meets a young English poet and, contrary to his better sense, finds himself in the thick of a plot involving the kidnapping of a Russian princess, who is held prisoner in the rambling mansion, Huntingtower. This modern fairy-tale is also a gripping adventure story, and in it Buchan introduces some of his best-loved characters, including the Gorbals Die-Hards, who reappear in later novels. He also paints a remarkable picture of a man rejuvenated by joining much younger comrades in a challenging and often dangerous fight against tyranny and fear.
Mr. Dickson McCunn completed the polishing of his smooth cheeks with the towel, glanced appreciatively at their reflection in the looking–glass, and then permitted his eyes to stray out of the window. In the little garden lilacs were budding, and there was a gold line of daffodils beside the tiny greenhouse. Beyond the sooty wall a birch flaunted its new tassels, and the jackdaws were circling about the steeple of the Guthrie Memorial Kirk. A blackbird whistled from a thorn–bush, and Mr. McCunn was inspired to follow its example. He began a tolerable version of “Roy’s Wife of Aldivalloch.”
He felt singularly light–hearted, and the immediate cause was his safety razor. A week ago he had bought the thing in a sudden fit of enterprise, and now he shaved in five minutes, where before he had taken twenty, and no longer confronted his fellows, at least one day in three, with a countenance ludicrously mottled by sticking–plaster. Calculation revealed to him the fact that in his fifty–five years, having begun to shave at eighteen, he had wasted three thousand three hundred and seventy hours—or one hundred and forty days—or between four and five months—by his neglect of this admirable invention. Now he felt that he had stolen a march on Time. He had fallen heir, thus late, to a fortune in unpurchasable leisure.
He began to dress himself in the sombre clothes in which he had been accustomed for thirty–five years and more to go down to the shop in Mearns Street. And then a thought came to him which made him discard the grey–striped trousers, sit down on the edge of his bed, and muse.