A pink gin invariably plunged Charles Vaughan into reminiscent mood. He had one in his hand in the Mess before lunch when he remarked, "Donald, did I ever tell you that we had a fire here?"
I almost choked over my drink. I might have known. It was bound to happen. Once before an English soldier had come to Achnacarry - the Duke of Cumberland in 1746, after Culloden. And he had burned the Castle to the ground. Now, here was Vaughan telling me that he had nearly done the same.
The Colonel's head was thrown back. His eyes were half-closed. The signs were unmistakable. He was about to tell the whole story in some detail.
"It happened on the fifth of November, 1943 - by no means an inappropriate date, I think you'll agree Donald. I had Lord Lovat and Colonel Dunning White staying with me at the Castle."
"About midnight, there was a banging on my bedroom door, and I heard someone shouting: 'If you don't get out quickly, you'll be burnt alive!'"
"As it was always raining at Achnacarry, I thought somebody was playing a practical joke. But, just in case, I got up and opened the bedroom door. The whole centre of the baronial all was a mass of flames."
"I shook Lovat and Dunning White, and we all got dressed as fast as we could. But by this time the fire had such a hold that we couldn't get through the door of the bedroom. So we opened a window and climbed down a drainpipe."
"It was pouring with rain, an 'elluva night," he went on, "We had no fire appliances of any kind, and flames were shooting through the roof of the Castle."
"We phoned for the Inverness and Fort William fire brigades. The Inverness one took seven hours to arrive. The one from Fort William managed to get to Achnacarry in three hours. But it was a voluntary service and had only a small trailer pump, which took nearly another hour to get into operation. We turned on the first jet of water from it on to Michael Dunning White, who was standing there wearing blue silk pajamas and a dressing gown like a film star. The force of it bowled him over in the mud."
"This was one of the few bright moments of the evening," continued Colonel Vaughan. "By the time the fire had been put out, the whole centre of the Castle had been gutted, and the roof burnt off completely. The Officer's Mess had gone - there wasn't as much as a bottle of whisky left. To make matter worse, Lochiel arrived in a furious temper."
"It didn't improve when he caught sight of Lord Lovat. As you know, Lovat is Chief of the Fraser Clan. For a moment, I thought I was going to have another ruddy clan feud on my hands."
"I don't mind telling you Lochiel got an 'elluva lot of compensation - I don't think he did so badly of it in the end."
He sighed, "But I'm still suffering for it, Donald. This whole countryside is full of Camerons as you know. And they're all after my blood. Why when I go down to Spean Bridge post office now, they make me stand in the queue and wait my turn."
"To add insult to injury, do you know what that clown in North Highland District does, Donald?"
I shook my head.
"He goes," said Vaughan hoarsely, "and repairs Lochiel's Castle with a tin roof!"