It was one of those days when the lunule of the moon could be seen even though the sun had not set and he tried to remember the last time he had set foot on the lunar surface, but his head was so scrambled, he felt like a bloody gamphrel, unable to form a cogent strategy, lying there on top of the hay, bumping down the lane, through the trees he saw houses and the spire of a church – wait a minute, he took a more determined look at that church spire, he had seen it before, and surely the sun had been in a different position; he was trying to work out whether the wain was being dragged north or south, east or west, and then realised as he once again saw a cow standing under a solitary tree, that they were going round a single village in a wide circle, with never any road leading away; he tried to think how long he had lain here, since his plummet from the sky – half an hour, three hours, it could just as easily be three days! nothing else changed, the driver never stopped, the two horses just kept plodding along, the sun and moon were always there in the same place; what the hell was going on?
And the haywain trundled on, bouncing him as it creaked and crashed over ruts grown hard as the sun had dried out and baked the muds from the recent rains, and his knee, with the torn meniscus, sent spasms through his bruised body and he could barely think; through the trees he caught glimpses of houses, a church with it's steeple pointing skyward, and he followed it's path up to the scattered clouds, little puffs of cotton-wool, wondering if he could see the lunule gash through which he had plunged in that rapid descent, during which he knew, for a certainty, that he would die and, even when he spotted the horses pulling the laden cart, never for one tenth of a second, entertained the briefest hope that it might save his life, until that last, tumbling moment, when he realised that it had been pitched perfectly, and that he would land on it's cushioning load, rather than under the horses' flailing hooves, and with equal certainty, that the driver would be utterly oblivious to the unexpected addition to it's weight; he had closed his eyes just before impact and been momentarily blinded and stunned, until the first flash of pain from his knee told him that he had survived and he had to bite down hard to stop himself laughing aloud, the gnomic alive, alive, alive, alive-oh-ho, and the sun was setting, he was able to make himself reasonably comfortable and take stock: he was in England, surely, for wasn't this the place of Constable, of the pre-Raphaelites, of horses and wagons and rolling hills and peaceful villages, or maybe he was simply romanticising the snatched glimpses of thatched roofs, of chestnut trees, of neat fields with hedgerows, and bluebirds, swifts and swallows darting in the open sky above, but he thought not, he had travelled through many centuries, many countries, many worlds, since his first, undignified passage through the backwaters of Time and Space, he had heard strange tongues and yet understood and could interparle in them all, had encountered so many different forms of intelligent life, but this was the first time he found himself alone, and with no escape route; he wondered if he could crawl over, or through the hay, to catch a sight of the driver, barely registered in the moments before landing, but he must try, for if it became necessary he may need to dispose of thee driver and take his place, but his knee, his bloody knee, was going to be a handicap, certainly it would be a tall order, so if it should prove necessary, the only advantage he could have would be that of surprise!
By the time the Curate returned, with a jug of soup and three bottles of beer – two of brown for the Churchwarden and the Sexton, and one of mild for soft Mick – the rescued man was sitting on a low slab engraved: Sacred to the Eternal Memory of Job Daniel, Farmer, of Lower Exbury, March 1st 1879, aged 84, his wife Euphemia Daniel, July 7th 1884, aged 65, and their beloved children, Jonah Daniel, February 11th 1840, aged 2, Gilbert Daniel, September 3rd 1844, aged 3, Simon Daniel, March 9th 1850, aged 5, Job Daniel, August 24th 1870, aged 23, Catherine Daniel, December 26th 1872, aged 22, Maryanne Daniel, May 3rd 1877, aged 25, Constance Daniel, October 2nd 1880, aged 26, and Nathaniel Daniel, June 11th 1881, aged 24, now reunited and reposing in the Light of their Eternal Lord; Mick gladly supped the soup and drank the ale, smoking one of the Churchwarden's cigarettes and seemingly none the worse for his incarceration: "methinks I was avin a luvly dream, sir," said he, "an wen I awokened, it was darker than any night ever I saw, sir, an me room seemed ter be shrunken around me bed – or else me an me bed ad growed as big as me room, not that it's much big anyhow, but there weren't no winder, nor blanket an there were me, an no door as I could feel anyware; so I called fer help, until I fell asleep agin, an wen I awokened agin, it were still night, an I kicked the ceilin, an the walls an cried fer help, until I fell asleep agin, an wen I awokened, it were still night, an I thought I must be still asleepin, so I slept agin an it were still night, so I went ter sleepin agin, even though I were starvin ungry, sir, an after a bit I ears sumdy shouting back at me an tellin me ter stay ware I were, cos e din't know I got no door ter go noware else, sir, an then after truly believed I'd bin there fer a long time waitin fer a blue moon there wis awful bangin on the roof an it got broke an the two gennlemen ere, sir, pulled me up an out o the 'ouse, but it weren’t no ouse, sir, it were ere! an I'm right sorry, sir, to give you gennlemen so much work to do, but I thanks ye all fer yer kindliness, sirs," and the Churchwarden whispered to the Curate: "them's more words than soft Mick's ever spoken at one time in his whole life, sir, and I don't think it's really sunk into his soft head that he was taken for dead and buried, quite footfast and facing his real death, for I reckon he thinks it was all a dream, maybe still is, though happen we shouldn't speculate too much about it within his hearing, eh sir? but honestly, have you ever heard the like of this little adventure before, sir, with your knowledge of the world?" and the Curate – who wasn't used to being spoken directly to by anyone in the village, this being his first parish and the Rector usually in residence, there was really no need in the normal course of things for anyone to have a reason to speak to him anyway, so while he was embarrassed at being spoken to so freely, he was also pleased that the Churchwarden – who had held that position for twenty years or so and worked directly under the present Rector for all that time – seemed to regard him as being worth confiding in about the young man, who the Curate had regarded simply as the Village Idiot, without even knowing he had a name, but as he knew that the Rector had strong views about clergy and laity attached to the Church indulging themselves in strong liquor, and might particularly concern himself with the fact that it was the Curate who had purchased the three bottles in The Bull, only because of the extraordinary events which had taken place, he thought perhaps this was now the time to exert some influence, so he stood and surveyed the scene and addressed the three who were all looking quite relaxed and jolly: "well, then, my good fellows, I do believe that you have had an extremely unusual and perhaps even distressing experience tonight – particularly you, Mick – and that the Churchwarden's alacrity in obtaining the aid of the Sexton has in all probability saved your life, Mick, but I do confess to feeling slightly uncomfortable about the three of you drinking alcohol in the church grounds. particularly lolling on tombs smoking. . . . ." he was interrupted by the Churchwarden who pointed at him with the bottle in his hand, saying: "thank you, sir, for purchasing these bottles of beer for the three of us and bringing them to us here, in the graveyard and I don't want to get your goat, so to speak, sir, but if you were served by the Landlord, Mr Harbottle, or by his wife, Rosie, or their daughter Rapunzel, I am sure that they will testify on your behalf to the Rector of your solicitude in bringing home-made soup and three bottles of beer to us three here, an act of selfless and truly altruistic charity, which we all appreciate and therefore will be able to testify on your behalf as well," and he proposed a toast: "to the young Reverend Curate, a friend to the Working Men of this this Parish and a credit to the Church of England!" and the other two joined in: "amen to that, sir!" and finished their beers with relish; but what of him who fell from the sky and landed in the haywain, with his torn meniscus, and confused mind? for it is he who is the central character in our story, so let us leave that convivial scene in the old churchyard and discover what happened to him next.
And by the time the Churchwarden, accompanied by the Sexton and the Curate – standing in for the Rector who was away on Diocesan business – returned, although the cries of "Help!" were fainter, they could still be heard when they reached the graveside: "perhaps," said the Curate, a callow youth, somewhat moonstruck and lacking in any decision-making ability, "should call the Chancellor at the Cathedral," and the Sexton regarded him for a minute and then said: "naow, sithee, Revrend, wudee prefer ter wait till Saft Mick's deid good'n'propur, aforen us digs 'im up?" which drove the Curate in search of provender for the prematurely buried man the two church officers, armed with a pair of the Sexton;'s stoutest spades, began the disinterment: "it can hardly be called an exhumation when the deceased isn't, so to speak," said the Churchwarden, taking a breath between digging out spadefuls of soil, and "least, it's still as saft as poor Mick," said the Sexton, as the pile beside the grave grew steadily, "opee grings a gottle o gear fer us laberurs, gissa fag, matey," and soon they saw the outline of Mick's pauper's box in the moonlight: "ang on, son, us's almost gotcha!"
When he tumbled out of the sky and landed on a trundling haycart as it jolted and juddered down a winding lane between high hedges, he heard the meniscus in his right knee tear but he was alive, more alive than poor old soft Mick who was buried last Saturday fortnight by mistake and only dug up five days later when the Churchwarden heard moans rising from the ground only because he hadn't been called to duty as an auxiliary ARP and had time to soak in the setting summer sun's last rays and enjoy a cigarette before cycling home for a good night's kip and had been scratching his wrist where the wristlet on his new watch had been chafing, with not another soul out in the vicinity of St Mary's and the usual chatter in The Bull being far enough that it was masked by grasshoppers and blackbirds, so the sounds were clear in the quiet evening for him to distinguish from the background: "heeeeeeelp! heeeeeeeeeeeelp! heeeeeeeeeeeeeelp!" and being neither skittish or fearful, the Churchwarden moved slowly among the headstones until he focussed on the as-yet-unmarked grave of soft Mick, which was where the cries were coming from: "who's that?" asked the Churchwarden, and "me!" was the reply; "who's me?" from the Churchwarden, and "soft Mick's me!" came back: "are you alive Mick?" asked one and: "of course I am, help me, for God's sake!" said the other and dusting the grass from his trousers, the Churchwarden pushed himself upright, swayed indecisively, then knew what he had to do: "don't move, Mick, I'm going for the Sexton, we'll soon have you out!"
Excusing himself, Sir Parlane stepped out by the open doors which led onto the terrace and he found himself looking at the golden Moon floating above the trees which surrounded the lawn and he though about the many superlunary worlds he and Dominic had visited – Kombu, where intelligent life only existed in the vast oceans and the dry land was populated by subhuman beings; Schloop, a moist planet inhabited by highly intelligent giant slugs, who had developed interplanetary travel aeons before Earth's science fiction writers first described it's possibilities; and Nug, dear old Nug, on the furthest reaches of the Universe, an ancient world believed to have been the original blueprint for Earth, cast aside by the Creator in favour of this blue dot just because of the lazy hedonism of all the creatures inhabiting it's balmy islands, floating on warm seas, teeming with more fish than they could possibly consume, which is the reason for their wealth, produced by their ability to market sea-food and by-products to half the populated planets on their side of the Universe, oh, and their rejection of any Belief in or Reverence for the Creator as evidenced by three Planetary Referendums in the past five millennia, my oh my, the remembrance of Nug bringing a rueful smile to his lips, because. . . . .but no! – this is not the occasion – he plucked some flowers, fashioning a nosegay, silvered now by the Moon's brilliant reflection, which was when a vice hailed him: "oh, sir, you gave me such a start, coming out of the trees so, please forgive me for speaking, if I have disturbed your thoughts, sir, I apologise, and I beg you not to tell the Marquis I spoke without permission," and narrowing his eyes he saw that it was Maree, the maid, and realised that this was the first, the only time, so far, that he had heard her speak at all, had even fancied her for a mute and he saw her hair haloed in the light from the dining room windows and her cheeks flushed, as she stood timidly before him: "fear not, Maree, there is nothing for me to mention to your employer, but tell me, why are you outside at this time of night?" and she pulled her shawl tight and stared at him as if debating whether to tell him the truth, or something else, or simply to turn on her heel and run back indoors; her shoulders dropped as she decided: "please, sir, this is the only time of day I have a few minutes to myself and I like nothing better than to step out and feel the weather, whether it is calm or windy, dry and warm or cold and wet, sir, I care not," and he nodded, smiled and said: "believe me, Maree, I understand just how you feel – I myself need a few minutes of solitude at some point in the day, away from talk, or doing things, or even reading or writing, I call it my funsy time, and I am sure that your funsy is as precious to you as mine is to me; how long have you been out?" and she curtsied and said "five minutes, sir, I should be going back," so he asked: "would it spoil your funsy if I walk back with you?" and the smile was the first he had seen on her face, normally sullen and put-upon, "if you care to sir, thank you," so with slow steps, they walked side by side round to the kitchen door, where she thanked him with a formality that amused him, for such a slight favour, but before she turned into the doorway, he caught one of her hands, raised it to his lips and kissed the fingers, which felt raw and chapped to him, the fingers of a servant, bade her goodnight, and she was gone.
However, his attention was drawn away from thoughts of Time-Travelling Art Thieves when he realized that the Symbol formerly known as the Marquis de Sade was speaking to him: "my dear Parry, have you ever heard of an ancestor of mine, Gilles de Rais?" and MacFarlane replied: "oh yes, Donny, a victim of the Spanish Inquisition, so I've read," not feeling the time was right to admit that Blue Beard was a descendant of his and an enthusiastic member of The Ring of Gold, but he need not have worried, for Donny went on: "one might otherguess that the entire case against him, prosecuted so enthusiastically by that turncoat old Queen, Henri V Duke of Brittany – did you know he was a double-yolker? no? oh, 'tis well known in the family that he preferred to dress as a woman and insisted that he be addressed as Henriette – was sheer embezzlement on a monumental State-sponsored scale," and seeming to have lost his train of thought, Donny turned to Maggie – or was it Daphne? - and asked her whether she preferred to be fucked in the front, or back? for her part, the girl neither blushed nor looked at all shocked, and replied: "where do you prefer to take it, Milord, in your gură or your cur?" using obscene gestures to indicate that these Roma words translate to mouth and arse, at which point MacFarlane was struck by that feeling of l'esprit de l'escalier as he realised what he ought ot have said to the Symbol earlier but that now it was too late, as Donny roared with laughter and made various suggestions to Daphne, or Maggie, but perhaps there will be another chance tomorrow.
And as he watched the interplay between Eunice and Dominic, in which each glance, touch, inhalation had an otherguess about it's assumed meaning, every gesture reached higher strings, notes which the human ear could never catch, Sir Parlane thought about the paintings, stolen probably in the 1960s and now stashed here at Lacoste – where better for the thief to lie doggo with her booty? another Time and Place altogether, almost 200 years before the crime; and where better for a calvous man to hide than in a room full of other baldies – yes, he had to give it to her, aligning herself with the Marquis – now apparently to be known as an unpronounceable symbol – engaged upon a torrid, hedonistic life, who could ever imagine her to be a Time Travelling Art Thief? it was too perfect and that would be her downfall!
By the time the maid, Maree, knocked on their doors, Sir Parlane MacFarlane and Dominic Doubleday were ready and presentable: their bags had been brought up to their rooms along with their wives, and all four went down together; Maree showed them into the dining room, where they found the Marquis and Eunice Eglantine there already and MacFarlane went straight to de Sade, shook his hand warmly and thanked him profusely for agreeing to this meeting; for his part, de Sade, a man in his mid-thirties – after asking Sir Parlane to call him Donny, at which MacFarlane said that his friends call him Parry, and Dominic hearing the Boss's blatant lie, quickly looked away – behaved with the impeccability of a French aristocrat, despite being quite otherguess in his beliefs and practices, while his eyes lingered on the two Gypsy women – no, girls, for they were by far the youngest people in the room and clearly unused to being in such exalted company and Donny said softly to Parry: "there seems to be a dearth of buxom wenches hereabouts, maybe it's because I'm here," and laughed; Eunice played the part of hostess, showing each of the visitors where to sit – the Marquis, naturally, sat at the top of the table, the girls on either side of him, MacFarlane and Doubleday beside them, and Miss Eglantine at the other end, facing de Sade; Eunice explained that this was the informal dining room, which they used daily, or for dining with close friends, while the formal Dining Room (with capitals) was used for larger gatherings and whenever local dignitaries or neighbouring estate owners and aristocrats were invited, more as a social duty than for the pleasure of their company, she asked the girls their names – something neither MacFarlane nor Doubleday had bothered with and they were surprised to learn that they were Daphne and Maggie and their family name was Maro, which translated to Brown in English: "they're only fuckin Broons," whispered Dominic to Sir Parlane and they giggled like schoolboys; de Sade's English was perfect, but he seemed content to let Eunice do most of the ice-breaking and only interjected whenever she indicated that his local knowledge was required to supplement her mention of certain people or places in the vicinity; his descriptions of the local Mayor, the Duc de Gaulois, or Comte Aristide de Pomade, among others, were highly entertaining and quite scurrilous and soon everyone was laughing and visibly relaxing – even the two girls seemed able to follow the conversation although it was obvious that their own knowledge of the world in which they were now living was sketchy, to say the least, a sketchiness which de Sade was happy to fill in for them; although MacFarlane – whose own French was good – was able to follow all of this, the girls knowing no English – Doubleday's knowledge of the language was restricted to Oui and Non and a few other one-word sentences, so Eunice interpreted for him and this went well for the scheme the two Scotchmen had decided upon; as the meal progressed, Eunice and Dominic quickly developed a closer bond: he looked to her for clarification, explanation and guidance and she clearly enjoyed playing the tutor to his student as he asked her about her travels and how she had come to la Coste – not that she gave anything away about Worm Holes, Space/Time or Bridget Riley – and for her part, she seemed delighted to be admired, praised and respected as she blossomed under his flattery; Sir Parlane just hoped that Dom wouldn't pile it on too thickly, concerned that Miss Eglantine might suspect his motives in giving her so much attention, but then, Vanitas vanitatum dixit Ecclesiastes omnia vanitas, and certainly, in that respect, Miss Eunice Eglantine was the living, breathing, glowing proof, so when Dominic held out his right hand and she took it in hers, turned it palm up and began tracing the lines, it certainly seemed that they may indeed be able to look forward to counting their chickens, which was a promising prospect, when their fortunes, otherwise, were rather abeyant; MacFarlane turned to Donny and asked: "we noticed a strange squiggly symbol set above the front door, it's not familiar to me as a coat-of-arms, can you tell me what it means?" and Donny laughed heartily: "oh, Parry, dear friend, it means, only what it is, itself," and Parry (how he hated that contraction of his name!) said: "but that is tautegorical, is there any way of pronouncing it? it is in no language I know of," at which Donny leaned forward and said, confidentially: "as I said, it is only what it is, and I have chosen it as my name, to replace the inherited one I was given at birth and no longer represents who I am," and MacFarlane's memory poked him in the ribs, as much as to say: I have encountered this conundrum before, or will in Time yet to come, but I can't for the life of me remember exactly what it was, so he said: "You are now therefore the Symbol ডিসাডrepresenting the Explorer of Human Sensuality previously known as Donatien Alphonse François, Marquis de Sade?" his host smiled, then said: "I rather like the ring of that, dear Parry, let us drink to our collaboration in my Grand Scheme!"
Dominic pulled out his sudarium and blew his nose like a trumpet: "don't make so much noise, Dom," said Sir Parlane, "we mustn't be discovered in here," then, "what's that you've found?" as Dominic eased a canvas to one side and indicated a stove: "it's ane o thae athanors," he said, triumphantly, "mind Doctor Dee had ane the very spit, thon big muckle thing he used fer aw his highfalutin alchemical experiments," and MacFarlane nodded: "it was a bit ostentatious, but what about it?" and Dominic shook his head: "unless ma memry's gaunin, this is the verra same ane, it's fair identickle," and he went behind it, and clapped his hands triumphantly: "bejasus, it is, the verra verra exact same, see here." and he pointed at something scratched into the metal; MacFarlane crouched down while Doubleday held the candle close, but careful not to let the hot wax drip on his Master's head, and then MacFarlane grinned back at him: "you're right, Dom, Doctor John Dee 1550! well now, unless she's got a strong Man and Cart to do her haulage at both ends of the Worm Hole, which could well be through a bealach, if not up and down a narrow mountain track, one of the entrances can't be far away, and she must be able to direct herself to particular Times if not Places – all these pictures must have been collected over a period, even if she had one exit/entry point in London in the 60s, on a particular date, she'd still have to spend time over there, gathering her loot, and it would take one journey back with each picture, look at the size of them! you can't exactly slip one under each arm, or hide it in a rucksack – this is a well-thought out plan, but unless she is a truly dedicated collector with a passion for Bridget Riley, it has to be a scam, like intending to put them up for sale at some future date when the price of such pieces will have risen, or even offering them back to the real owners for a slice of the insurance money they got; wash your hands well tonight, Dom, I think you need to have your Future told!" and they had a good laugh over that.
Sir Parlane MacFarlane shook himself, both physically and mentally, to get rid of the gloopy and eudemonic lethargy which had enveloped him in a haze in th immediate aftermath of his realization that Eunice Eglantine must have discovered the secrets of Space/Time travel utilizing the network of Worm Holes he had discovered in the continuum; he cursed himself for assuming that he and Doubleday were the unique possessors of such knowledge: "we must not pessimize, Dom, there must be a way to turn this to our advantage, come now, show me the storeroom," and removing their footwear so that they would not be heard, he followed his valet along the corridor from their bedrooms and down several flights of stairs: "that's the door, Boss, it isnae locked," and the handle indeed turned easily, and they were soon inside; using a cigarette lighter he kept hidden in a pocket of his breeches, Doubleday lit the candle he had brought with him and MacFarlane let out an involuntary gasp – the paintings stood along two walls of the room, there must be thirty, thought MacFarlane, some he recognised, others not, but all unmistakably the works of Bridget Riley, metathesized from the 1960s or later, to this château in 1776, but why?
"In the name o the wee man, whit wis thon?" cried Doubleday, from the adjacent room; "the return of our host, I presume," replied MacFarlane, more laconically than he actually felt, for he was desperately trying to remember the dream of Plato's cave, fast disappearing down the plug-hole of his mind, because he sensed that there was something vastly important in it – though, whether there really was, he could not quite put his finger on whatever it might be: "why don't you stroll down and see," said his Master, "there's something at the back of my mind I need to get a hold of," and he heard Dominic's bed creak as weight was transferred from the middle to the edge, and then the scramble as his Man found and put his boots on: "Ah hope wur wives have arrived wi the bags, ma boots are caked wi mud an Ah dinnae want tae durty the cairpets, efter wur stay wi the Gypsies, this place is like a palace," and then the tightening and tying of laces, followed by the unmistakeable tramp, tramp of tacketty boots on the polished wooden floor and the opening and closing of the door from Doubleday's room into the corridor; MacFarlane lay his head back on the pillows; he knew that if he closed his eyes he would soon be asleep again, but the dream had fled and he didn't want to be unready if the dinner gong rang out – his stomach felt empty, there was no clock in his room and his pocket-watch had been broken several days ago; for a man who regularly travels backwards and forwards in the Space/Time Continuum, he had surprisingly little interest in the actual, official time of whatever present he happened to be in – he had, long ago, taken the decision to go by his own internal clock, sleep when he was tired and eat when he was hungry, or had the opportunity, because there was never any saying when the next meal might be forthcoming; that was the down-side of such an unpredictable way of life – vagabonds, such as he supposed he and Dominic truly were, had to rely on their wits: if they needed money, they took it where they found it, or more properly, from whomever had it and could be relieved of it, without too much to-do, for they had no real status, no home address, no bankable resources and indeed, no bank account, oh yes, a little gold and silver sewn into their clothes, for the direst of emergencies, but for the day-to-day transactions, purchasing meals or drinks in taverns, local currency was usually needed and that was always the most pressing matter; for the most part, it fell to Doubleday to acquire it, after all, MacFarlane was, or properly, still is a nobleman, Doubleday his minder, tasked with the menial, even venial duties, and good old, honest-to-goodness, theft, swindling, burglary, or more especially, demanding with menaces, fell right into his domain, absolutely no doubt about it; but the most pressing issue here and now was the unexpected presence of that woman, a countrywoman of theirs and from Longformacus to boot, who by her seeming authority over the servants – well, that simple-minded Maree, at least – implied that she had assumed the role of chatelaine, and that might present it's own problems! he had been too brusque in dismissing her offer to read his hand, or tea-leaves or tarot, or whatever form her fortune-telling foolery might take, she was probably a confidence trickster, but if de Sade was confident enough to leave her unsupervised in the house, it implied some trust which he would be unwise to forget: better to have her think she was on his side, rather than alienate her and have her as his enemy – if she has a connection to Sister Evadne, all the more so; then he heard the tacketty boots returning and was somewhat relieved to see that Doubleday was unaccompanied: "well," he said when Dominic entered his chamber: "what's up Doc?" and Doubleday cleared his throat, before: "yer wummin's goat a fuckin hebdomad – seevin auld witches, arguin aboot whit's the best debauchery fer a jaded palate, but iffen they luik at me, am offski, ah wudna touch any o theym wi a barge-pole, let alone ma pogo-stick!" and MacFarlane laughed: "for Christ's sake man, don't ne so churlish, we're guests here and remember, any port in a storm – you can always close yer eyes and let yer imagination take over," but Dominic snorted: "aye. bit ma memory's ower guid – Ah've seen thum, Boss, faces aw wrinkly, hardly a full set o gnashers atween he loat o thum, an mair whiskers oan ther chins than me an ye pit thegither! – – it's a fearsome sicht!" at which MacFarlane reminded him that they both had young wives to entertain them if there was nothing else to hand: "oh aye, Ah meant tae tell ye, when Ah wis luikin fer theym Ah opened a door an, ye'll never guess, Ah saw sum o they picters ye liked in Lundin in the 1960s, they Op Art things by Bridget Riley that meed ma een whirl, black an white wavy lines, an even signed by hur – like as no sumdy else hus bin usin the Worm Holes an stashing thur stuff here – whit div ye mak o that?" and Parlane's mind flashed – Eunice Eglantine, it can only be her!
Unburdened, Sir Parlane MacFarlane and Dominic Doubleday reached La Coste first, their wives, carrying all their luggage, being half a mile behind, which their husbands fervently hoped would cause them to take that wrong turning on the left which would lead them past the village and on into a different future; the door was opened by a young woman, who introduced herself as: "Mlle Eunice Eglantine, of Longformacus, I am the Marquis's biographer and fortune-teller, I read palms and divine the future, would you like me to do yours?" she said brightly: "not for the nonce, Mistress Eglantine," said MacFarlane, taken aback both by her presence and her suggestion, "do you have rooms for us?" at which she bawled: "Maree, Maree, come hither," which produced a lumpy girl of about thirteen who scowled at Eglantine and the two new arrivals: "show the gentlemen to their chambers and come back here." said the Scotchwoman: "are your bags coming by carrier?" she asked, but MacFarlane informed her that their new brides were following on, which caused her to smirk: "honeymooners are you?" she asked, which MacFarlane resented – his affairs were none of her business, but he forced himself to smile and agree, then turned to the servant-girl and asked her to take him and his, manservant quickly as they were both tired; then Miss Eglantine told them that the Marquis was out on business, but was expected home for dinner, which would be served promptly at 7pm; considering the half-built house they had seen outside, most of the interior seemed to have been completed and their rooms, adjacent to each other, were both clean and fresh and each had a large four-poster so, leaving the connecting door open – that they could easily converse without having to shout, they lay down on their respective beds and were soon asleep, having barely exchanged a dozen words; although not normally a dreamer – which is to say, he rarely recalled his dreams – on this occasion, MacFarlane found himself in a cave, rather like the Great Cavern in the Eildon Hills, where so mane Worm Holes meet and cross, over, under, sideways, even vertically, a veritable Spaghetti Junction, except that this dream cave was empty, save for an old Greek sitting, cross-legged on the rocky floor, talking to himself, and MacFarlane felt himself to be ensorcelled, as if this place were, indeed, Plato's Cave and he began to circle the old man, much as one of the planets appeared to orbit the Earth, until the old man caught sight of him and beckoned him over; so it came to be that MacFarlane sat quietly by the old man, attempting to find some sort of sense in his words, but they seemed nonsensical, for he had taken MacFarlane for a hastate, of the Roman army – had he returned to the times when the Roam Camp was named Trimontium after the three hills? pooh! that was nonsensical, for it was much later than Plato, whom he had met in Athens on a particularly hot day in 333BC (not, of course the date known at the time, and he laughed at his absurdity) and the thought came into his addled head that this was all something foolish to do with the Scotch wench who had greeted them on their arrival – a fortune teller – he and Dominic knew more about the future of any person alive or dead, for hadn't they travelled thousands of years ahead, as well as thousands of years behind? perhaps for amusement he should let her study his hand, but which one? and suddenly he woke, alarmed by a strange howl that seemed to echo through the château – did this herald the return of de Sade?
And that was how, just out of the window and down the aulacogen at the foot of the garden, albeit in April 1776, in the Gipsy caravan near La Coste, MacFarlane and Doubleday became the husbands of two nubile gipsy girls, with the urgent pressure of Balthazar and the challenging stares of the girls' fathers who, it was clear to both L'Ecosse, would have much preferred to slit their throats then, rather than later: "we just have to 'man up'," said MacFarlane, accept our lot and shoulder our responsibilities to these lassies, until we find a Worm Hole that'll get us out of here, and then it's Goodnight, Vienna and we'll tak the Low Road to where'er it goes and those villains can search high and low for us, we'll be well gone!" and Doubleday grinned, the Boss always had a plan, which was just as well: "ye'r na jist a inkhorn, ur ye, sir?" said Doubleday, which his Master took as a compliment of some sort and replied: "we canna live in a Plato's cave, Dom, but even we may learn a thing or twa from the Marquis, he's what I think future generations will call 'the real deal'," but Dominic replied: "well, ah read a couple o his buiks when we were bidin wi that Crowley laddie – now he was completely bonkers, if ye ask moi – but ah thocht them buiks wis awfy repetitive – dinna get me wrang, Boss, ah luv the whoorin, bit readin aboot it gets borin efter a whiley, an am urny usin ane o thae dooble intendernesses ye talk aboot," which made MacFarlane laugh aloud: "their cried double entendres, Dom, double meanings, oh man, yer education is sarely lackin!" which Doubleday acknowledged, though he had no responsibility for it, having been a bastard son of the old Baronet, and a serving wench who served the Maister in every sense, but received none of the advantages the legitimate heir had – a couple of years in the Parish school had given him the alphabet and rudiments of arithmetic, but an avid reader, he quickly, if surreptitiously, devoured many of the manuscripts the Maister left lying around and by the time he was fifteen he had a good basic grasp of history, religion and law, but knew nothing of foreign languages, other than the Latin expressions he found and worked hard to understand by working out their meaning from the context in which they were used; and in the years during which they had exploited the Boss's discovery of the Worm Holes and explored different Times and Places, Dominic had read much more – although he drew the line at the coffee table books of the twentieth century: he preferred words over pictures any day;"well, now," said MacFarlane, "it's time for us to bid our new relatives 'farewell' and hie ourselves to the Château, at least I hope it's a château and not a draughty castle; give the wives our bags to carry, come on, chop-chop!"
But by this time, PC Isa Urquhart had been relieved as Control by the Gold Commander, DI Gordon Brevity who, along with his wife, Sergeant Goldy Brevity, was now co-ordinating the Search and Rescue operation in that part of Melrose which lay on the rising Dingleton Hill area, south of the town's bypass; vehicles, including diggers and trucks were run from the Borders General Hospital, where the Staff and Visitors car parks had been cleared of cars and a stream of casualties was arriving at A&E; many off-duty doctors, nurses and ancillary staff had already arrived to help deal with the influx and two extra HEMS helicopters were helping paramedics reach injured people who could not be accessed by ambulances; additional Police Scotland officers had come from Galashiels, Hawick and other towns to assist by the time PC Milly Millican, DI Isa Urquhart and PS Milly Millican reached Melrose Cop Shop with Sir Parlane MacFarlane – struggling against the handcuffs which joined his hands behind his back – and the three All-American journalists (Dominic Doubleday was at the hospital with a pair of armed guards) and a ferry system had already found and taken to the BGH a large number of Neanderthals and the two Heavies, pointed out by PS Millican, who were both debilitated by time-travel sickness; a couple of Mountain Rescue volunteers were searching the cave network, looking for Crystal Shann-Delyeer and another woman, also believed to have been abducted and held captive by MacFarlane and Doubleday; when I reached home by a circuitous route – as all the roads were closed to non-essential personnel, which inspired a riot as customers either couldn't drive to the Co-op, or couldn't bring their shipping home – by walking along the riverside path as far as the Waverley Hydro Hotel and then cutting through Darnick to High Cross Avenue (only being allowed through by proving to the Army Cadets manning a roadblock that I live here) where I found all of my Aunties, Father Mungo Macaneny and Lulu, crowded into the living-room and watching the operation on TV; the BBC had managed to set-up at the BGH and Border Television were based the Scottish Borders Council HQ in Newtown, both had their own drones providing aerial cover, although one had been shot down by a nervous Cadet who apparently thought it was part of a terrorist attack! apparently the conspiracy theories are already wide-spread and wildly off-the-mark, blaming what had happened on eco-terrorists, ISIS, leftover remnants of the Tartan Army, an earthquake – or volcano - English Nationalists resentful of Scotland daring to vote Remain, Christian Fundamentalists unhappy with Scotland's progressive Abortion Laws and Gay Marriage, a publicity stunt by Boris Johnson which mysteriously back-fired, or some disgruntled Teris (as citizens of Hawick are known for reasons which I don't have room to explain here and now) unhappy about a number of things I don't understand or can be bothered to ponder here and now; but it was Lulu who drew me into a corner and asked: "this is some Time Travellin stuff gone wrong, but, in'tit?" – and, although I don't know quite what has happened or why and can only guess, I nodded: "most likely; I wouldn't expect MacFarlane to come back here so publicly of his own accord," and Lulu gave me a hug, which was when I noticed her dangly earrings, girandole in fact, not at all what I would have expected, and I said so: "yepp," she replied, "surprises me tae, but Mungo gave them tae me; ye know, he comes across all brusque and irascible, but I saw another side to him when we went tae the Grapplers Convention – he wants me to tak ower as his Hoosekeeper when Sister Concepta retires, and now that there's only him, where there used to be three priests, the Diocese says he dusnae warrant a Housekeeper! they've no bin tae see it, so they think it's bairn's play, huv ye seen the state o the Parish Hoose? it's totally clarty, an fer ower much fer Sister Concepta – it's ower dark inside an she canny see hauf the time, puir sowell, she diz her best but it's like tryin tae brush back the waves at North Berwick, she husnae a Hope in Hell, oops! ach but ye ken am urny ane o thae Holy Wullies, Teri; onywey, when the Removals Business is quiet, ah pop in an gie her a haun – ah sit her doon wi a cuppie an dae sum o the werk maseel, an then we hae sum peeces an a blether – she cums fae the Gaeltacht, awa oan the West Coast o Ireland, whaur they aw speak Irish, jist like the Gaelic up oan Skye an the Western Islands, so that's whaur she's retirin tae, she's still goat cousins and nephews an nieces, an maybe a wee brither, ah think, bit he'll likely be eighty-five, cause she's near ninety – an thae measly, stingy, miserly bastards wudnae gie hur a helper, it's fifteen year syne Sister Immaculata died – it's a fukn Crime!"
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