For all his lack of sight, Blind Harry seemed to know everything that was happening around him: "gie the wummin a bit o alfresco, laddies, she needs air, no a gaggle o loons crowdin aboot hur, Madame Oyzell, ur ye a richt? Mistress Maude, hoo is she?" but Oyzell had gumption – she waved aside the boys, intercalating them so that in their semi-circle, the smallest was to her left and the tallest on her right, the same way as she arranged books on her shelves at home, then she asked Harry: "Master MacNab, I feel a little light-headed, do you have any food or water you can spare us?" and Harry opened a sack he was carrying and after rummaging, found some slightly stale communion wafers he always carried for emergencies: "if ye dinna mind manducatin these," he said and Humphrey passed them to the strange women, and then the goatskin bottle; after a few gulps Maude asked Harry something that had been niggling in her mind: "Mister MacNab, you said that you spent time with William Wallace, but weren't the historical details in your Poem drawn from the biography written by Father John Blair, he was Wallace's Chaplain and Confessor, wasn't he?" and Harry laughed again: "the only Jock Blair Ah ken wis a Tink fae Lochaber, nah, nah, Ladies, Ah just made that up aboot the Priest tae gie some credentials tae the tales – Ah cood herdly tell fowk that me an Wallace met a hunner an twenty-five year afore Ah wis born, they'd pit me in a barrel an float me oot tae sea, so they wud!" and Oyzell acknowledged the probably veracity in that, then asked: "and your travels in Time and Space – how do you achieve them?" at which Harry sat near her and explained.
"An HOO," roared Harry, "div ye ken MA name when Ah ken fine weel Ah've never heard yer voice afore in ma hale life?" and Oyzell, glancing around the alfresco scene, and taking in the man and boys who stood before them - rustic in their appearance, yes, but not banausic - said: "well, I have read your epic, The Actes and Deidis of the Illustre and Vallyeant Campioun Schir William Wallace in both the English translation and the original Scots," and when his jaw dropped and he gaped at her, she continued: "what I am about to say may perplex you, but it is absolutely true - my name is Madame Oyzell Zegan and my friend is Miss Maude Lyttleton, we come from Melrose, which is still a small town, but we have travelled backward in Time as well as through Space, in fact the year we left, although it seems to us just minutes ago, is 2020 Anno Domini. . . . ." and she let her statement hang in the silence which followed, thinking to herself how strange that in the 21st century, having just begun a walk to Lindisfarne following the footsteps of Saint Cuthbert, who would have made that journey around 665, she and Maude were dressed as if in 1380s on a Pilgrimage to Canterbury - although their clothes would place them in the earlier age of amour courtois, or courtly love, and now apparently found themselves in the 1480s somewhere in the West Highlands with Scotland's most famous, and probably first, Makar; then Harry began to laugh, and nervously - certainly confused by what they had heard - the boys also giggled, then laughed more heartily and as by some vicarious hysteria, so did Maude and Oyzell, until, at length, the Poet took control of himself and said: "weel, then, ye maun ken ma full name is Harry MacNab, an ye'rny the furst tae gaun sideways or roonaboot in Time - Ah've no been tae yer ain year, but Ah met Wullie Wallace afore an efter Bannockburn an whit ah writ wis the result o lang conversations wi him, an mony a dram tae keep us gaun, an Ah shood tell ye, that ma visit tae Melrose and Peebles wis in aboot 1880, that's likely afore ye wis born, the ane thing that a voice doesny aye reveal is the speaker's age, but Ah kin tell ye, that Miss Maude was likely born in Edinburgh and Madame Oyzell wisnae, nor even in Melrose, fur Ah'd hazard a guess that ye come originally fae. . . . .Berlin! ama richt?" at which Oyzell's legs gave way and she sat down very rapidly, which caused a couple of the boys to rush forward to her aid.
They were alfresco, the two women looking like victims of a clothing snatch and run, the boys goggled, but Blind Harry, as if he could hear their fear, distress and nakedness, spoke with more refinement than usual, and listened to their responses: "good day to ye, ladies, do you speak the langwidge?" and the replies being in the affirmative, he continued: "we," indicating the entire assembly, " are in historic Glen Glum, famed in ode and ballad as the site of the most fearsome battle, atween Pandemic MacFarlane, Dreich Doubleday and The Red Etin of Ireland on the ane side and on t'ither, The Lochlann and the Men o Clan Glum and the Slaves o the Chief o Glum, wha each survivor received his Freedom an a Croft in Perpetuity," and one of the women asked him: "have you ever been to The Borders, sir?" at which Harry's eyes twitched in irritation, but he replied civilly enough: "borders o whit?" he grunted, "Land and Sea? the Clan Glens? or the Faery Fowk?" the last with a glint of humour, and Maude who had asked the question, now went on: "the Borderlands between Scotland and England, the Debatable Lands!" and Harry laughed: "fer ower muckle chit-chat and chiff-chaff doon therr, Madame, bit Ah confess Ah've been tae Melrose an Roxburgh," and leaned towards where he judged the women to be: "a bit sleepy and tame fer me, though, but, Ah prefer somewhaur mair lively, a proper City, like Elgin or Brechin, no a jumped-up Abbey toon or a wee castle oan the back o a hog! bit noo Ah think on't, Ah wiz aince in Peebles, steyed at the Tontine Hotel, even met the last Pairtner wha goat it aw tae hissel – mind, Ah wudnae hae liked him as a Pairtner, like-as-all peesened the rest o them, haw haw haw," and suddenly asked, like an old fox playing with a rabbit: "ur ye'se Hibernians, then? – a pair o Micks?" and quick as a flash, Oyzell came back: "Micks, Schmicks, already – you're Blind Harry, ain'tcha?" and Harry gaped, lost for words in his own question-time!
Blind Harry cocked his head at the commotion and put out a hand to tell wee Padraig Macaroon o Minestrone to pause; Padraig was the sixth boy about to attempt to pull The Lochlann's Battle Axe from the rock into which it had been struck while delivering the cleaving coo de grass to Sir Parlane MacFarlane – Erchie Ecclefechan, Alasdair MacCaroon, Tam Sneddon, Boabie MacConkey and Humphrey MacAugustine-MacAmpersand o The Muckle Flugga had already tried and failed to so much as ease it a hair's breadth, while Gibby Lonnegan and Nicol Nicol o Nicol still waited their turn: "whit in the name o the Wee Maun wis thon?" – he asked in the deathly hush that followed, and it was Tam who spoke: "twa beasties cam doon fae the sky, Harry," and the Poet then stated confidently: "am bounden they're gey hirsute then, tis definately certes they'se be muckle black apes fae Affrickay, aye, Tam?" but Tam stuttered: "naw, Harry, white an kindo smooth, jist pickle o hair abune they'se heids!" which made Harry snort: "then it's surely a pair o young Johnny Aipleseed loons fae the Land o the Settin Sun, fer ower awa tae the West, they blaws in fae time tae time, on hurricaneals an hooly cyclones Tam, huv they brode freckled faces an wee snubbed-up nebs? ye can aye tell a Aipleseed, ma chiels," but Tam, emboldened, explained: "nah, nah, Harry, they'se nah loons, therr baith quines an awfy kind o auld, ye ken, mair'n 30 iffen they'se a day!"
Was it by some strange, unheard of – indeed, unimaginable – artifice, that Maude and Oyzell were dashed amain through their own field of vision, pell-mell, roister-doister, herky-jerky, even hundy-mundy, only to crash arse-over-elbow through branches and land base-over-apex with sickening, bone-crunching, brain-numbing, quite excruciating thumps on stony ground in the middle of, well, not quite nowhere? no, no indeed, it was not, for it was, in point of fact, although they hardly cared, never mind knew, so gingerly were they establishing that they were both all in one piece and not having suffered life-changing or life-shortening injuries to even credit the thought, not that it would have helped them identify this place as Glen Glum, which, despite their many separate travels, not to say travails, throughout Scotland during their working lives, neither of them had ever before set foot in Glen Glum – although, strictly speaking, so far as Blind Harry would be concerned, if he had even the eyes to see them with, the fact would be that in the latter part of the 15th century, neither Maude Lyttleton nor Oyzell Zegan had yet existed!
Oyzell pulled back, not lily-livered, Maude could see that, but faute de mieux, because of something she had seen, something that wasn't there, where it ought to be, and Maude followed Oyzell's stare, and over the hill and down the glen, ahent a higgledy but-and-ben, in a darkly glade in a misty wood, an altricial babe – a gnome – in it's pulled-down hood, in it's winter home, snuffled and sighed and sucked it's thumb for try as she would, Maude could see no mum, but blood on the floor and a kicked down door and the Mark of IV where a tall man wrote and on the twisting path, his shadow fell and Maude heard the creak of a leathern coat, then all was still and Oyzell nodded and, leaving the Pilgrimage, they took a different track through the nameless place and soon were gone out of Time and Space!
But it was Madame Oyzell who eftsoons appeared from behind a climbing-tree, like a walk-on girl, and beckoned for Maude to join her, when she quickly explained what else she had heard: "well, they cried theirsels Pansy an Denny, an thon awfu scunner Ochan'toshan wis there tae, like as if he wantit tae glom some o their ideas so's he could pass them aff as his ain, but harken closely Maudie, t'wis Ochan'toshan wha produced the mocotaugan an a wicked-looking blade it hus, and they seem tae hae arranged fer some-ane in Jethart tae 'dae the deed' as thon Pansy ane pit it," and Maude interjected: "what costume are they wearing?" but Oyzell shook her head: "they wis pertly oot of sicht an Ah couldn'a get a decent look-see, jist Mediaeval-sort-of-thing, ye ken, in Melrose Square they'd staun oot like a sare thumb!" and Maude shook her head: "on this Pilgrimage, they'll look just like everyone else – would you recognise their voices, Oyzell?" and her friend's face lit up: "och aye, Maudie, the Pansy ane hus a richt Heilan' wey and the Denny's mair o a Weegie, ah'd be able tae pick them oot in the derk," so seizing her hand, Maude set off after the procession which soon hove in sight.
And that was when Auntie Cristo did it! moving with the swiftness of a cobra, she reached forward with both hands, grabbed and hauled, and the two headdresses flew into the air, leaving the two Muslim women just ahead of her exposed to the world as – two Muslim women! "why, Zulaykha Youssef," cried Auntie Maude at the sight of the proprietor of the Premier Express in the High Street: "and this is?" and the older woman, recovering from her shock, said: "why, Miss Lyttleton, this is my daughter, Phoebe, surely you. . . . ." and Cristo, quickly, said: "of course, Phoebe! what a surprise, I had no idea that you wear the Burkha," at which Zulaykha laughed: "we have come as two of the nuns, and our friend here, you surely know Sister Charlotte Russe, is a real nun, she is a Poor Clare," and this time it was Daphne who spoke: "my goodness! yes, Charlotte, you don't usually wear your habit, certainly not at the BGH," and the young nun smiled, and said: "at the hospital I am a charge nurse and always wear the uniform, but for the Pilgrimage, I felt that I should dress the part," and the ice broken, the six women, my three aunts and their three friends embraced and continued walking, while Cristo confessed that she had been conducting an indagate of her own, and was looking for two particular people believed to be in disguise and the sight of the Muslim dress, which showed only the eyes, had drawn her attention: "not that I have anything against National or Religious dress – although you all know what my own beliefs are. . . . ." and the three younger women acknowledged that they were well aware that Cristo is a Humanist, "and a truly Good Person," said Phoebe with conviction, being a firm believer that Good People were few on the ground in Melrose and those few she encountered should be treasured as much – and maybe even more than – others who professed a firm Faith but, she often found, were more likely to disappoint, once she got to know them better; and her mother asked: "the two you seek, would their names possibly be Prestonpans MacFarlane and Dennistoun Doubleday?" which made my aunts exchange glances, but not quite confirming Mrs Youssef's supposition, so she went on to say: "they are the two Head Office Managers of the Bank, who had poor Archibald Auchinleck sacked – we could not help but overhear your conversation," she admitted, "but Madame Oyzell Zegan is who you should ask," she turned to Phoebe: "didn't she mention them just after brunch at the Kirk?" and young Phoebe nodded: "yes Mamma, she said that she overheard them in the Kirkyaird, saying something about Jedburgh Abbey being a good place to lose people, with an emphasis on the word lose which seemed to attach to it a degree of permanence that gave her, Madam Oyzell, a shiver down her back-bone – she has a great acuity about her, Madame Oyzell, and I always pay particular attention to what she says: I remember her mentioning a jockey last year, speaking of his determination to rise to Special Occasions, and just a few weeks later he rode the winner of the Grand National! not that I often bet, but I did that day and won £500," and Auntie Maude made a mental note to consult Oyzell Zegan before any big race, for her own luck with the horses seemed to have taken a nose-dive lately and someone with that kind of acuity could be well worth a coffee-and in Marmions Brasserie as the small price for improving the security of Daphne and Maude's common weal! when, of a sudden a cry of "Basta!" interrupted her reverie and she looked round to see that she had wandered away from the path and another step would have pitched her into one of the burns which rise among the Eildons and make their several ways down to join the Tweed, and as with the others, recent rains had swollen this one gey mightily, so Maude called out a thank-you to whoever had saved her but then realized that she was quite alone, the others so engrossed in their conversation that they had missed her wandering – but if it wasn't one of them who had roused her by shouting, who on earth was it?
"I wouldn't say they are particularly contemperament," was Auntie Cristo's comment on the couple they were discussing, "you do know that he was a Local Manager for RBS before they cut the Branch," and Auntie Maude suggested: "judicious pruning? I suppose he took gardening leave?" and Auntie Daphne snorted: "that's such an overused euphemism, dear, the poor man was sacked and put out to grass," at which Cristo – who knew them better than the others – said: "well, I did hear that he'd been indagating some of the so-called advice given to borrowers by a Special Investment Department at the Head Office, and they shut him down before he could blow the whistle," at which Daphne said sotto voce: "it was rather a blooper on his part to leave sensitive information in the photocopier, he should have known that his superiors would have someone in place in the Branch to keep them informed," and Maude asked: "is that what Shonagh says happened?" and Daphne nodded: "he'd been smuggling copies of everything on twenty small-business loans out at night, but he left the last page of his summary in the copier, and his Depute found it when she arrived in the morning," and Cristo told Maude: "she was the grass, the stoolie, the mole – the ones at Ingliston knew that he wasn't too happy at some of the ways they were forcing his clients to raise additional funding and put up their homes as security, he'd sent up a few, very mild, memos about it, just expressing the vaguest concerns that a Local Manager would be expected to do, but they didn't trust him and put in this Mata Hari to keep tabs on him, but she went further," and Maude asked: "in what way exactly?" and Cristo lowered her voice, aware that the Muslim women in front of them seemed to have slowed their pace marginally, so that they were now just a step or two ahead: "well, she had some kind of elixir and was putting a few drops into his coffee, told him it had been recommended to her by her Aromatherapist to invigorate tired brain cells, swore blind it had increased her own attention span, and he swallowed it," and Daphne chortled: "in more ways than one!"
There was a burst of applause within the Kirk and then, with a skirl of bagpipes, the Pilgrims filed out led by a lone piper, young Jock Hazeldean, who slowly paced along the path towards the gate, then paused and glanced – as though for instruction – at Aggie who, showing her exemplum as a Mistress of Ceremonies, to say nothing of her broad smile, quietly dragooned them into threes and, almost as if this power of hers was something of a newelty, nodded her approval, raised a whistle to her lips and blew a mighty blast, and they were off, marching briskly up to the St Boswells-Selkirk road, where the column wheeled left and set course for old Saint Boisil's Toun, and Teri noticed that an elderly, but spry, woman wearing a red riding-cloak and hood, had joined in near the end of the procession, walking with the two Moslem women, and closely followed by Cristo, Daphne and Maude, bringing up the rear and deep in some private conversation.
"You know, Teri," said Aggie, giving me one of her illicit cigarettes, "Slavi, Xmas, Yule-Tide, Hogmanay, Auld Lang Syne, the old year giving way to the new, as the Old World was changed by the birth of a baby, has more significance in an agrarian, peasant community than would ever be the case in a city, or an industrial region – we are exposed to the elements every day and in greater need of some kind of ombrifuge: you have an umbrella sticking out of your back-pack, I've got a cagoule in mine, and Madame Oyzell Zegan has her red riding hood, which to my mind seems to indicate that she may have decided to return to the world, it's hardly a cloak of invisibility, is it?"
"How do you spell her surname?" I asked and Aggie laughed: "not the way you pronounce it, Teri, i's O Y Z E L L but that's her given name, her family name was Glickstein, married is Zegan," and I burst out: "she's married?" but Aggie corrected me: "was, you must remember old Mod Zegan, had a bespoke tailors beside the Corn Exchange, that was her husband, but he died, oh 25 years ago, come now, you're not so young you won't remember Mod!" and I conceded that yes, "I do remember the old Jewish tailor who's nimble stitches dressed generations of Melrosians, but I never noticed his wife, was she very morigerous?" at which Aggie snorted: "no, Teri, absolutely not! that lollapalooza was the coryphée o the Young Moderns School of Archaeologists, who wanted to awaken people to the real lives of their forebears, they were the Social Archaeologists whose discoveries and interpretations brought the past to life – she didn't hang around Old Mod's back shop and pass him his chalk and pins, they were devoted to each other, but each had their own work and he was delighted to tell customers of her latest finds and all the permutations and implications of strata and cross-stratum distinctions," and I had to ask: "did they have any children?" and Aggie nodded: "two girls, fine strong lasses too, like their mother," then she was silent, so I said: "and?" and she shook herself and I felt the goosebumps rise on my skin: "they were with her at a site in Wester Ross, when a plague pit was opened, and they were both infected and died, it was a tragic accident, but Oyzell blamed herself, said the girls should never have been there, it was all her fault – she went into a flat spin and disappeared, I don't think even Mod knew where she was for weeks and months, and when she came back she was changed, she'd lost her drive, her confidence and her passion; I think that was when she started to erase herself and when Mod died, she seemed to become a shadow, and she moved house a lot, oh, she still spoke if you met her in the street, or sat beside her at a concert, but she never gave anything away, it was as if she was just another anonymous, unknown resident of an old settlement, whose objects still exist after several thousand years or more, but whose names and identities have been lost – a bit like the negatives of Pompeii, yes?" and I understood.
I looked round quickly, just in time to see the figure of a woman wearing a red cloak with a hood pulled down over her head, walking briskly round the corner of the Kirk: "who was that?" I called to Aggie, who was smoking a cigarette by the land-rover: "that? oh, it was Madame Oiselle," and I gasped: "do you know her?" and she laughed: "well, as much as anyone can," she replied: "she's a very private person, doesn't let anyone get close to her," and I was gaping: "where does she live?" I asked stupidly, but Aggie shook her head: "no-one's quite sure." she confessed, "some say she's in Darnick, or Gattonside, or even Newstead, but I did hear she has rooms in one of those big houses off High Cross Avenue, the other end from you and your aunts, although it might be up Dingleton Hill," she admitted lamely; so I explained: "she's someone I've never knowingly met, though I keep hearing that she was at the same concert, or meeting of the Historical Society, Literary Society or Burns Supper or Ceilidh as me – what's her story?" and this time Aggie hesitated: "well, and this is only shorthand," she predicated, "her family were German Jews and they got her out in '39 on one of the Kinder Transports, she was passed along after arriving in England – I think she had a brother and sister, but don't know where they went – and through a distant cousin, she landed with the Melrose Rabbi at the time, you won't remember Rabbi Rawicz? a bit before your time, I suppose," and she shook her head understandingly, as I asked: "so she must be eighty or so?" and Aggie nodded: "she was just a baby when she arrived, so yes, eighty-two maybe, now I don't know how kosher the story is," daring me to call it mendacious, as if I would, "but she's certainly one lollapalooza – specialises in Bronze Age fewtrils, has something of an eye for them, nothing so meretricious as those people with metal detectors you see around Trimontium or on the Eildons, she studied Archaeology and History at St Andrews, was involved in digs on the Northern Isles and the Hebrides, your aunts are bound to know her, haven't you asked them?" and I admitted that I hadn't, because it seemed such a foolish interest I didn't want to confess it: "is she a Pilgrim?" I asked, but Aggie shook her head: "not officially, she won't be with the group, but she'll only be about a mile away, she really is someone who needs to keep her own space and distance," and I said: "like Greta Garbo?" and Aggie nodded, quite serious, which made me mentally kick myself for being so crass.
I admit that it's one of my foibles,
To build castles in the air, not of moibles,
But a lollapalooza,
Perjinking to Sousa,
Would see me as old Madame Oiselle!
The beard and whiskers, I decided at once, were a foofaraw, an attempt at cosmeticization intended to disguise the true identity of the Franklin and without giving any further thought, I pushed my way towards him, cried "Sir Felix, Sir Felix, is it really you?" and flung my arms around him, took firm hold of his hairy appendages and yanked with all my might, suddenly wondering if – if he had used some form of superglue – this might tear skin from his face, but that was not enough to prevent me from using maximum force: he screamed, like a banshee or a cat accidentally sat upon in a normally empty armchair! the resultant tumult was, well, tumultuous; I was instantly grappled to the floor by several large lady members of Bowden Women's Rugby Club and found myself no longer an integral member of the Pilgrims' heterotopia, being roundly abused physically and verbally for my unwarranted assault on the new – and quite naturally endowed – Minister, the Reverend Indigo Jollifant, which I only fully appreciated once I had been carried, struggling and bawling, outside by the scrum and deposited on the outside of the Kirkyaird wall: "that'll teach ye tae attack Maister Jollifant, ye whippersnapper," grunted one of them, built, in common with her male counterparts, like a brick shithoose, adding: "an dinna fer ane second think yer gettin aff lightly – we ken wha ye ur, an whaur ye bide, yer caird's merked!" and shoulder to shoulder they waddled back into the Kirk, leaving me with a horrified Aggie.
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