"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!"
This is just a footnote,
A little note to say,
Something went awry,
With my sentence of today!
I took my cousin's name in vain,
I dropped it on the floor,
I put my own, where hers should be,
What did I do that for?
Normally so sedulous,
A little ambivert;
I scorn any Imperium,
My nose is slightly pert;
Of Godwin's Law I've read and read;
How Men comport themselves,
You'll never hear such names as Hitler,
Flung among our Elves;
When they conduct their business,
In our little Potting Shed,
The gentle murmur of their voices
Finds me in my bed;
It sends me off to sleep at night
And wakes me in the morn,
When they call the House to Rise,
With their blasted ALPENHORN!
There, lying on the grass, was Dominic Doubleday, being tended by a doctor and a paramedic, who had run down from the HEMS helicopter, which could still be heard, idling, on the shoulder between the North and Mid Hills; a man and woman stood nearby, beside a Quad Bike – the man wore orange overalls, with the Tweed Valley Mountain Rescue tag, while the woman wore a Police Scotland uniform; she was the one Teri and Milly were staring at, because they both recognised her as a younger Milly Millican, and it was the older Milly who spoke first: "Jesus, Teri, I looked like a school kid back then!" and Teri laughed: "sometimes you still do, Milly!" and Milly asked: "what year d'you reckon it is, then?" but Teri didn't reply, instead she walked over to the younger Milly, who looked startled, because this woman looked like an older version of Teri, who was back at the Cop Shop, and then she gasped, as she caught sight of the youngest-looking woman among the group in the cave-mouth; Teri spoke first: "excuse me, but are you Constable Millican? Milly Millican?" and Milly glanced up at the drone, still hovering above the scene, before answering: "yes, Ma'am, but who are you?" and Teri produced her Warrant Card, saying: "I'm DS Teri Somerville of Police Scotland, what's the date?" at which Milly took a deep breath and said: "it's the 3rd of July, 2019 – what did you think it was?" but before replying, Teri looked up, directly into the drone's camera lens, then back at Milly, then said: "my DS, Milly Millican and I left here in 2038, following up leads in the disappearance of a group of elderly men back in 2018 – their bodies turned up twenty years later, or at least, some of them, and there were DNA traces which strongly implicated Sir Parlane MacFarlane, who was under arrest in New York, so we went over to interview him, and this guy, Dominic Doubleday – it's a long story, but we, and three friends from America, have just travelled back from 2084 in this replica of the Eildon Hills – I think it was supposed to remain in the same place, but turn back the clock to 2038; can you call for backup? there are a lot of Neanderthals inside and a couple of Russian heavies and possibly the Bronx DA who disappeared at the same time MacFarlane and Doubleday escaped; by the way, who's running Control?" and Milly pointed to the drone: "it belangs tae the Moontin Rescue fowk," she said, slipping into her less-official form of speaking, "bu' it's PC Teri Somerville wha's in cherge at the moment, it's less than hauf an 'oor since this landit here an dozens, hunners, o hooses hae disappeared unner it, buried!" and then she called Teri on her radio: "PC Millican to Control – we've got the injured man and six walkers here, more inside, the Medics are stretchering the patient and taking him by chopper to the BGH, can we have some help to bring all these people down, over," and she looked at the older Teri and said: "there's goanie be a wheen o pepperwork efter aw this is cleared up, bit oor priority is tae reach fowk wha micht be trapped in their hooses unner aw this," her arms indicating the range and scale of the work ahead, "for aw the emergency services. . . . ." at which Teri said: "well, PC Millican, sorry, Milly, your older self, and I will help in any way we can, and for a start, can I borrow your handcuffs and we'll put them on MacFarlane, he's a slippery customer, we've been sedulous in hunting him and I don't want him getting away from us now!" which was when they heard the two men in the cave-mouth arguing; MacFarlane was seething and trying desperately to close the entrance, waving his arms about kicking, punching and shouting obscenities while the man he thought was Bonanno stood his ground and refused to give way, eventually roaring back: "shudduppayaface! cut the Imperium cackle – you might tink you're fuckin Adolph Hitler, but I'm Mussolini an I'm fuckin bigger dan you!" and Teri grinned: "it's Godwin's Law, happens every time two men get into a debate! the older guy is Hyman Kaplan, one of our friends – he's a bit of an ambivert, he can seem introverted a lot of the time, but when he's roosed, ye ken, pit yer fing'ers in yer lugs an staund back!"
Now, as it happens, DI Teri Somerville and DS Milly Millican, together with the three journalists, Hyman Kaplan, Sadie Moskowitz and Rose Mitnik were crouching in a tunnel just out of sight of MacFarlane, in the Main Cavern; none of the Neanderthals were about – they had been consigned to their sleeping caves under orders issued by MacFarlane and Doubleday and under orders to stay there until summoned; the two heavies, Percy and Digby had last been seen, green-faced and vomiting, in their own quarters, obviously the effects of Time and Space travel had unsettled them; Teri, at the front of the group was whispering back to Milly and the others the gist of MacFarlane's rant: "he says we're in Melrose, but doesn't know the date, we'll just have to pick our moment to rush him – he may be armed, so we'll have to be careful, but if he's right about the location, we may get help on the other side!" but Kaplan pushed forward to join her: "it may be premature to say it, but I feel like the Cat's Pajamas, it's like I'm thirty years younger - lemme have a go at him, maybe it's time for an afflatus!" – and without waiting for a reply, he strolled out: "hey, Buster, what's goin on here? me an my family, we got stuck in a tunnel an got lost," and Macfarlane whirled round: "who the Hell are you?" – he gasped, and Hyman stuck his hands in his jacket pockets: "I'm Benny Bonanno from Noo Yoik," he said in a Brooklyn accent, "are you the Head Honcho in this gig?" and MacFarlane was stopped in his tracks; his ventures in North America had been funded in part by Mafia Money, but although he had met several representatives of the Families, he couldn't recall whether or not he had actually encountered Benny, although he certainly knew the name Bonanno – they had met, briefly in 2018, but Benny had been a kid then and hadn't made much of an impression but now, or when they had left Prince Edward Island, in 2084, he would be, what, in his 80s? and this man certainly looked the part; okay, maybe a bit Jewish, but hey, these Italians aged like that, so MacFarlane made an instant decision: "ah, Mr Bonanno, so good to meet you, you said 'we' just then, is your family here?" and Bonanno said: "sure ting; hey, gals, c'mon out," and the other four walked out of the tunnel and lined up behind him: "wassup Benny" asked Sadie, taking his arm, "are we gonna get outa this cave?" and to MacFarlane: "sometimes I get clawstraphobiac, hunny, are ya gonna open the door and let's get some air?" at which MacFarlane wondered if he should take hold of the motlopi root, which was actually a well-disguised lever which operated the door and find out what had happened to Dominic; he reached out for it, but when his fingers touched it, he froze, unable to decide, which was when Hyman, as Benny, shoved forward, knocked MacFarlane's hand away and grasped it himself: "we've had enuff of the giallo, Buddy, I've been on the Ghost Train at Coney Island, but this is just plain re-dick-u-louse!" and when he heaved on the root, the rock slab slid smoothly into a slot in the adjacent wall, and everyone gawped at what they saw outside!
Sir Parlane MacFarlane stormed about the Cavern, shouting and roaring, his voice echoing back at him from the rock walls: "stupid, stupid bloody idiot, not fit to be the wrangler, oh why, oh why do I expect anything more – it's the wrong fucking plat, Jesus wept! we're in the wrong bloody Time and Place, even I can see that, God knows where we are, wrong! wrong! wrong! we're in fucking Melrose – oh shite, I swore I'd never come back here, it's where it all started to go wrong because of that Learmonth and bloody Doubleday, thinks he's so plummy but he's just a fucking serf, oh woe, woe, why did I trust him? it was only a case of taking these bloody hills back thirty years, God knows how far back he's taken us, and thousands of miles away to the wrong place – I dread to think of the fucking mayhem he's caused! it's Him, Him, I should just abandon him here – but he's the one who's supposed to work the bloody thing – how the fuck am I going to do it single handed? it takes two to operate the controls – I'm the bloody Captain, he's just the Mate, but the Mate's the one who does the fucking steering! where the Hell is he now?" and overcome by a wave of mono no aware that suddenly swept over him, he slumped down against a rock, part of the hidden door, cleverly designed by the Landscape Architect who had supervised the creation of this identical replica of the three famous hills, quite unaware that just a few metres away, on the outside, Dominic Doubleday was scraping frantically – and ineffectually – at the outside; dazed by his fall, he had struggled to his feet and then, unable to stand because he was concussed and kept falling down again, he had crawled up to the entrance, followed all the way by the drone, Eagle 2 and even now, he could hear, through the buzzing in his ears, the different sound approaching – the Quad Bike, with Tom and Milly and just above that – literally – the HEMS Helicopter which had just delivered an injured farm worker to the BGH; to the watchers in the Incident Room, it was a bit like seeing the Fifth Cavalry riding to the rescue!
Meanwhile, in Melrose Cop Shop, Isa was quickly established as the wrangler and Tom from the Mountain Rescue next door took on the duties of Wayfinder; all the properties on the citerior, North side of the Bypass appeared to undamaged, while to the South, the new Eildons had obliterated everything! but Tim , also Mountain Rescue, had already sent a couple of drones up – Eagle 1 and Eagle 2, and the live feed was displayed on two large monitors in the Operation Room; it was hard to make sense of it – it seemed so higgledy-piggledy, topsy-turvy, tapsell-teerie, and just plain wrong; they all knew what they should be seeing, but apart from a chimney-pot here or there, the appearance of a wall or a roof, on the lower slopes, everything had gone: "can we get a visual on the hilltops?" asked Isa, and Tim, obligingly, sent Eagle 2 up to hover above the second North Hill, and scan the second Mid Hill: "look," said Milly, excitedly: "it's got the Trig Post and the Cairn, it's not just some hills, they are exactly the same as the real ones, the old ones, like they've been cloned, even the sheep-tracks are the same, and the broom!" and she was right; and then Tom pointed to something moving on the Western side of the new Mid Hill: "do you see it? a whole section of the broom slid under the are next to it, it's the entrance to a cave, or Cavern, zoom in on it, Tim," and the image grew on the screen and it really did seem like an entrance to a large Cavern and then . . . . . "Oh My God!" gasped Milly, as two men came into view, one carrying a kind of scroll, which he unrolled and showed to the other – they seemed to be looking at a map and comparing what they could see with what they expected do see from the map; then the first man ripped the map in two and shoved the second, hard, causing him to lose his footing and roll down the steep slope, while the other strode back into the cavern and, almost immediately, the entrance was hidden by the broom which had slid back into place; Tim made Eagle 2 swoop closer to the man who had rolled down the hill – he seemed to have hit his head against a rock and lay motionless, as if was unconscious: "Tom," said Isa, can you and Milly get up there on a Quad, while I call the Air Ambulance? whoever that guy is, and whatever state he’s in, we need to bring him here so we can find out what's going on!" and Tom and Milly didn't need any second asking, as they hurried next door to get one of the Quad Bikes: giving Milly a helmet, Tom took the opportunity to say: "hold onto you hat, Kid, this could be a bumpy ride!"
"Sex Montibus!" said Milly, staring at the impossible view, and then switching from Latin to our commoner tongue: "where the fuck did them ither three come fae?" and in front of us they loomed, towered, rose magnificently – seeming to stand alongside the originals, but grafted on, identical in shape and form, cheek by jowl; I rubbed my eyes, to rid them of the double-vision, but when I looked again, they were still there; Isa had been gabbling on her phone, calling all the emergency services and as I heard her, I realised that there must be casualties: "the South side of the bypass, all the housing up Dingleton Hill, at the old Dingleton Hospital site, OMG! what about the Borders General?" but Isa held up a finger to silence me, then turned: "the BGH is okay – but we'll need specialist search parties, Mountain Rescue and probably Mines Rescue; yes, I'm heading towards the Cop Shop now, patch me through as soon as you can," she ended the call and told me and Milly to hurry as she ran down to The Greenyards and cut across to the unmanned Police Station; tapping the keypad and opening the door, she turned to me and said: "sorry, Teri, we're going to be running a rescue operation from here, essential staff only, go home and check our Aunties are ok and make sure the rest of the family are accounted for – you know what they're like about heading out for walks without telling anyone where they're going," and she kissed my cheek and closed the door behind herself and Milly – it felt exactly like what it was: being shut out of the most dramatic, unbelievable, totally unreal thing that had ever happened right on my doorstep, like a pair of wranglers consigning an old nag to the knackers' yard – our three Eildon Hills had identical Siamese Twins, sorry, Triplets! well, I wasn't going to quit, so, like an onager, acting entirely on my own volition, I headed straight to the Sorting Office, behind the foremer Post Office in Buccleuch Street, arriving just in time to see – and hear – Whistling Jack, our regular Postie, coming out, whistling Scotland the Brave: "stop!" – – I cried, rushing up to him and, somehow, bustling him back inside, where Maisie, who did most of the sorting, stared in disbelief! forgetting all about what had happened above the town, I asked him about the postcard from Berlin he had delivered this morning to Debbie Downer's mother; he was immediately havey-cavey, humming and hawing, crossing his arms and staring up at the ceiling, whistling a few bars and then, suddenly, the other shoe dropped! Jack snapped his fingers and led me across to one of the huge pigeon-hole cabinets that stood against a wall: "this is the ane fer letters an cairds, Teri," he said, "yer mair muckle heavy items like books an manuscripts," with a wink to let me know that he was indeed referring to the packages I regularly receive, "they gauns ower there," pointing to where Maisie was working, "weel, see, it wis cause a caird slipped atween thon gap, an a pult oot the cabinet tae retrieve it an there wis another ane, sae Ah pit them baith in the hole fer the Downer's street – it wis only when Ah wis walkin up the path that Ah noticed the stamp an the Swastika – that fair hud me flummoxed, bit ye ken Donnie's intae aw thon stuff, so Ah thocht it must be fae ane o his pals – Ah only saw it wis postmarked 1939 as Ah wis haunnin them tae Jessie – Ah hope they've no complained aboot late delivery! Ah wisnae here in 1939 – Ah wisnae born even an tho she's in wi the bricks, even Maisie dusnae ken owt aboorrit!"
"Hark! laddies," said Blind Harry, leading the way doon the path, an keen tae demonstrate his sharp hearing: "ah kin hear an auld broken-doon nag, bein led doon ahent us, bi an auld hackman wi ginger hair, an acquisitive cast tae his lourin, scowlin features, piercin een an they're as black as sin – am a richt Humphrey?" an Humphrey squirmed at being asked: "c'mon laddie, tell us whit ye see!" sae Humphrey swallowed herd, afore launching intae a torrent o words: "weel Harry it's a horse richt enuff but it's a warhorse bein ridden uphill bi a squire wha's a young loon wi bricht blue een, blonde hair an a straw in his gub an he's gien us a freenly wave. . . . ." but Harry kicked a stane an then said grandly: "ah wis richt – a horse! then he stuck baith forefingers in his lugs, as if howkin oot wax, shook his heid tae dislodge it an growled: "hurry up laddies, ma belly's grummlin fer lack of food and liquor!"
And at the same time – but not in the sense you might think I mean – and hundreds of miles away, on the North West Coast, and hundreds of years in the past - but not in the sense you might also think I mean (because, see if you turn around quickly and slip through that wee gap in the air, you'll likely find yourself there) - in Glen Glum, the Cradle of Chivalry, itself, Blind Harry and the Laddies stood stock still in the heady atmosphere, the glade, in the gloaming, held the weight of it's history like a plaid; "youse laddies look like a Parliament o Indris, but ye'll nae ken whit a Indri is, wull ye, Gibby Lonnegan?" – and Gibby turned scarlet and stared at his feet, as if he expected the answer to creep oot frae between his taes: "naw Harry, ah divnae, but!" and Harry smiled at the laddie's admission: "bit ye, wee Padraig Macaroon, descendant o Kwasi, ane o the maist illustrious Lairds o The Isles, Ah'll warrant ye'll ken weel enuff, um a richt, then?" – and the wee black boy blushed, as he always did when his name and the great Kwasi’s were used in the same sentence: "it's a muckle Lemur, Harry, it's oan wur Coat o Airms, intit?" and Harry nodded: "aye, Padraig, that it is, but dinnae ye ither loons worry that no kennin a answer wull mean sumdy else supersedes ye an gets tae jump the queue an pull at The Lochlann's battle axe afore ye, it's nae goannie work like thon; come awa, ye've aw worked like Picts this forenoon, oo'll hie awa tae a wee hashery ah ken doon in the Glen, they hae guid food an their ain braw Malt an oo'll fortify oorsels fer the Maist Important Task o Yer Lives: findin oot jist which ane o ye's goannie be able tae pull oot the Battle Axe an be King o Scoatland!
At home and quite oblivious to what had just happened, and stopped me, Isa and Milly in our tracks, not to mention – but I will – poor Debbie, who fainted at the shocking sight, our Aunties were hooting with laughter at the radio after listening to the latest soap opera episode in the horse race campaign for the leadership of the Tory Party between Mr Bean and Goldilocks; it had been an unusually gritty, and strangely weird, interview with Goldilocks in which, asked what he did for relaxation, he eventually, after apparently falling asleep and
snoring loudly, began bumbling about painting "things" and "making model thingies, you know, buses," eventually confessed that he played at buses with large cardboard and wooden boxes, which he decorated himself, and the interviewer, TalkRadio's Ross Kempsell, seemed to find this admission more than a mite troubling coming from The Man Who Would Be PM!
Isa turned over the postcard and we saw that it was actually a photograph showing two women sitting outside the Hippodrome Café in Unter den Linden and one of them was Gertie, although the other was a stranger to us; she turned back and we read the message, which was short, but imbued with some meaning: We're looking forward to the fireworks when Prince Paul makes his cavalcade to meet the Fuhrer it's going to be Totally Mega – our friend, the Bulgarian, has arranged a good vantage point for us and the Americans; JAP has been measuring the coffee spoons – wish us luck! Gertie; and below her signature, a smudge which on closer inspection turned out to be a fingerprint, but not in ink – it was some dark substance pressed into a small blob of glue: we'd better get this to Carolina Moonbeam," said Isa, "her technical people will be able to tell us a lot about this," and she turned to Debbie: "is that okay?" she asked and Debbie nodded: you know, the funny thing is, in 1939 it was my Grannie and Grampa living in the house, but see how it's addressed to my mum and dad and me? there's no way she could know that we would be living there – my mum hadn't even been born then!" and Isa reminded her that Gertie had disappeared last year: "so, although she wrote and posted it in 1939, it was with with knowledge of this Time and the adynaton 'Totally Mega' is her kind of hyperbole, and she must have known a way to ensure it wasn't delivered till now!" and Debbie, excitedly said: "of course – the Postie, you know him, Whistling Jack - told my mum he'd found it tucked into a corner of the Sorting Office, but the place was renovated a couple of years ago," and Isa's eyes flashed bright: "she must have found a contraption, a Portal - she passed it through Time and Space, ensuring it was delivered now, today or a day or so either side; I wonder if there's any way we can write back to her - is Whistling Jack still on duty?" – – Milly checked her watch: "if I'm right, he'll be finishing his shift in about twenty minutes," and Isa took the decision: "Debbie, you take the card down North to our house, give it to Auntie Cristo and tell her what we've been talking about, she can call Professor Moonbeam and get it to the Lab, we'll see if we can catch up with Jack, c'mon, chop-chop!" and she started running up South, with Milly and I lagging behind and it was just as we crested the top and could see the North Eildon looming over the town, that it happened: some Smart Alecs say Expect the Unexpected – well this was one hell of an Unexpected that none of us could have Expected!
Achillized by the innuendos and ithyphallic jocularity of the Professor, Isa, Milly and I went for a walk past the Parish Church and down the hill to the Tweed; we sat awhile at the start of the old Mill Lade, gazed at the rushing water over the remains of the old Melrose Cauld, and soaked up the sun which continued to beam at us, and were only roused from our lassitude by the arrival of Debbie Downer, who joined us and asked if we had heard any news about Gertie Mountcastle – our cousin, last heard of in Berlin in 1939: "we got a postcard from her yesterday," said Debbie, "it had taken 80 years so the postie delivered it personally – I mean, instead of simply putting it through the letterbox, he knocked and handed it to my mum," and I remembered that Debbie's mum is an auntie of Gertie on the other side of the family; "can we see it?" asked Isa, suddenly alert, and Debbie produced it from her handbag: "here it is, I was on my way to your house, 'cause I know your Aunties are connected to the investigation," she said, as Isa seized the card and stared at it; the postmark bore a Swastika and the date: Juni 1 1939!
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