Brother Bede caught the expression on Tavish's face and glanced up at the gargoyle, incorporated in the ceiling of the room: “a bit of a Golem,” he said, “but it's a fair likeness of the first Almoner I worked with, Brother Fergal – oh, a strange man, I can't say I especially liked him, but the Life throws disparate men together and we can't expect all to be cut from the same cloth, even if we all embrace the Word of The Lord and Saint Bernard's Instruction,” and Tavish felt impelled to ask: “what kind of a man was he, Brother Bede?” the old man snorted: “a wordmonger, he could weave a web, almost a calligram in speech just like one on paper, but I wouldn't want to say anything injurious to the reputation of a man in Holy Orders, you understand, so?” and Tavish nodded, then asked: “who carved it?” and Brother Bede's face broke into a beam, “ah, it was John Morow hissel, have you heard of him? he was a fine master mason, such a man as could fashion stone like it was wood and I tell you this – I never saw him discard anything because it was broken or didn't come right: with his chisel and mallet, he could make an exact representation of anything that walked upon the Earth, flew in the air, or swam in the seas, truly an Artist and one inspired by the Holy Spirit;” and Tavish then asked: “so this is the head of your predecessor?” but Brother Bede shook his head, “nay, that was Brother Caradoc, he was a Brython from Wales, a wild country you would best steer clear of, he died of an apoplexy five years ago; no, Brother Fergal was the one before him, and he left twenty years since, was transferred to Lindisfarne and may be there still, I can't say I've ever heard that he died,” and Tavish wondered if that meant his brother could indeed be in this Time and whether he might manage to catch up with him yet; he took another look at the face which stared back at him – there was no doubt in his mind at all, it was Pherson to a T!
“There was young lass made a rebus,
And sent it, verbatim, to Jesus,
Though sheer apostasy,
It tickled his fancy,
And he declined, ad infinitum, to leave us!”
and Brother Bede slapped his knee and rocked with laughter, having read out the winning entry, by Brother Duff, in the Melrose Abbey Hogmanay Limerick Competition, and Tavish admitted that he, too, was a great fan of the verse form and that Brother Duff was, indeed, a worthy winner; then asked if, perchance, Brother Bede knew of the Laird of Ercildoune, who he believed was Thomas Learmonth: “oh a verra, verra fine gentleman indeed,” vouchsafed the elderly Almoner, pouring out two more goblets of his Special Mead which, he said, he reserved “only for those, and such as those, which mean yourself and mine this morn, but sad to say, Master Thomas has gone missing and none know what has become of him – save of course, Our Lord!” and when he pointed upwards, Tavish could not help but follow Brother Bede's example and look upwards himself, and what he saw filled him with an icy dread and he felt a tingle in his back-bone!
And so it was that Tavish and the two girls, his daughter Tammy and her lover Bernie, found themselves in the office of the saturnine Almoner, Brother Bede, just as the Father Abbot sidled in, with an air of sleek insinuation; at sight of the dishevelled visitors, clearly a family down on their luck, whose rag-covered bodies were considerably better fed than the normal beggars who found their way here in the hope of some sustenance in return for unpaid work in the gardens and orchards, or in the kitchens, laundry or shit-house if they were really unfortunate, or even in the Father Abbot's bed if they were especially pleasing – these were certainly a cut above that, and the Abbot's eyes were drawn unerringly towards Tammy – of the two, slightly the younger, the prettier, but also the smaller and least likely to deter Sir Parlane's advances; and the other, the darker, more sultry, had that strong look that stirred the Abbot's interest, and he spoke to the father, or uncle; perhaps, he wondered idly, the whoremaster but . . . . . and in that aposiopesis his thoughts seemed to hang in the air and all eyes turned to him expectantly: “aha!” he said brightly, “two fine daughters you have here, my son, and we can certainly benefit from their vigour today, will you oblige me in permitting them to follow me to the duties which await them while Brother Bede constructs a complot for fair recompense with you?” and without giving time for Tavish to question or reply, expertly steered the two girls through the door and well away from ears that did not need to hear what might be said next; the fair girl he almost pushed into his own office where Sir Parlane sat idly at the desk, the dark one he directed into his own cell – rather larger than average – with instructions to sweep and tidy it and then await his imminent return, and so quickly made for the kitchen to direct the first small girl-child towards the chamber where he knew MacFarlane's Man Doubleday would be cooling his heels; and that done he almost ran back to his own cell in time to find Bernie sitting on the bed, having completed all her tasks and looking up at him expectantly for further orders!
“Pray, have a seat, Sir Parlane, I will summon wine and food, for you have ridden through the night and no doubt are hungry and needs must break your fast, please, let me take your cloak and hat, would you like me to help you with your boots? what can I tempt you with? just say the word and it is yours, do you wish a wench, or a serving-boy? We have some sweet Novices, still with the fresh bloom of youth upon their cheeks – upon my word, upon all their cheeks indeed - and all that we have is yours, but you know that my dear friend, oh, my dear sir, I do apologise for that presumption, I am your servant and will do whatever I can to aid and succour you . . . . .” and MacFarlane, tired with the creature's sycophantic servility, but also in need of a theriac after his long and hard ride from Edinburgh, said simply: “a wench for me to canoodle, a girl-child for Doubleday, no more that twelve, you know his tastes, send the wench to me here and give Dominic a closet for his benefit, and stop wringing your hands man, get on with it and then we will complot what to do with this little problem you have created!” and the simpering Abbot, his face having been almost purpurous through his fear, now slowly returning to it's more usual rubicund, in relief that Sir Parlane's fury seemed to have abated for the nonce, scurried off to do his bidding!
And, strange as it may seem to anyone unversed in the micro-complexities of Quantum Collision Theory, it was at just about the same time as the party including Thomas Learmonth was watching the remarkable reunion of Patience Scott with her rag-doll, quite independently of each other, Tavish Dalwhinnie, Bernie Westwater and Tammy Shanter were cautiously entering the Abbey Grounds by the cart-way, in search of the Almoner, while Sir Parlane MacFarlane was entering by the main gate with the purpose of visiting his good friend and fellow member of The Golden Ring, Father Pandelion Gillyfeather, Abbot of Melrose who rose in greeting as his fellow-debauchee popped his head around the thick oaken door of the Father Abbot's Office: “my good fellow,” said Father Gillyfeather as he rose in greeting, and closed the door on the droning psittacism of the Matins ritual (he had never found the Benedictine Rule either to his taste or his habits) and invited MacFarlane to take a seat, knowing already that this was not a social visit, but, rather, part of their complot, made all the more propitious by recent events and that now was the time to levigate their options and settle on the most beneficial two or three, so he was startled when Sir Parlane opened up on him: “imbecile, dolt, knave, rascal, thou art an eater of broken meats, a base, proud, shallow, beggarly, three-suited, action-taking, whoreson, glass-gazing, superserviceable, finical rogue, one-trunk-inheriting slave, one that wouldst be a bawd in way of good service, and art nothing but the composition of a knave, beggar, coward, pander, single of wit, double of chin and the son and heir of a mongrel bitch, one whom I will beat into clamorous whining if thou deniest the least syllable of thy addition, what were your men thinking of, if indeed they are capable of rational thought, of following simple instructions – assuming you gave them the proper instructions – their task was quite clear: batter him to death and then bring the body here, as if they had stumbled upon it, so what went wrong? why was he left? did he simply get up and walk away? or was he found by another who took him to safety somewhere? is he likely to turn up and identify your men as his assailants? call yourself an Abbot? you'd be better off managing a Convent, man! you're an old woman yourself! though hardly fit even to be a Mother Superior, I believe the local washerwomen are superior to you in intellect!”
Suddenly, Thomas's face darkened and he shuddered as a wave of emotion swept over him, and he saw in his mind's eye the image of his Home Tower as it had been when he was last there, all those years ago and – if these ladies were correct – some eight hundred years since! the changes wrought by time made everything he loved seem insignificant, blink and they were gone and forgotten, his family, friends, servants, even his livestock and the people of his village, it was as if they had never lived at all; and then he glanced at Ludmilla and shook himself: she was a true Learmonth, in many ways so like himself and his wife, whose eyes and colouring she had obviously inherited – this was the true gift which could be bestowed and passed down through the countless generations, it was through his descendants that he would live on, in some strange way referencing their appearance, their minds and bodies and, he hoped, their character; it was for them he must live a fit and proper life, so that they – and she, this girl Lermontova – would be proud to be a Learmonth, just as she was proud of that intermediary, Mikhael (the name to him sounding clumsy compared to his own elder son's Michael, was it Michael's line he wondered?) but just then they were disturbed by the sight of Teri's little red vehicle entering the small parking place and soon Teri, Maude and Patience joined them and Patience rapidly chose Hot Chocolate and a sugary Doughnut which she evidently found quite palatable, seeming relaxed and at home here, no matter how strange it must all be to her, too; but Patience was also impatient, having been taken on a route which included several places she was familiar with: Dryburgh Abbey, though neither Maude nor Teri told her that this was where her father would be buried, and then a viewpoint she knew her father loved and they told her that in their time it was named 'Scott's View' and she was pleased to learn this; but now that they had all met up by Thomas's Tower, which really was no longer, she wanted to get on and so they all soon drove in the two cars to Abbotsford House and as Patience began to recognise the approach, she became tense and when she saw the new Visitor Centre, she became quite upset; her confidence crumbled and she had to be led along the path towards the House where she had lived with her parents, brothers and sisters; without warning, she ran away from Teri and Maude and they were concerned that she was running towards the river, but Thomas chased after her and, though she was nimble and quick and fleet of foot – all the more so by her life about The Cavern on the Eildon Hills - led him through trees and undergrowth that she knew as little changed from before, he soon took her in his arms and they sat on the ground, heedless of the damp grass, breathless and alternately laughing at the fun of their chase and crying over the changes and losses they had both witnessed, until the others gathered round: “am urny ever coming back here am ah?” the young girl wailed, and beat at his chest with her fists, “am urny gaunie see ma mither an faither again, sure am no?” and when no-one contradicted her, for researches had shown that there was never any mention of Patience after the fateful night when she had tumbled into the river in spate, her wails grew louder and more intense; it was Teri who wrapped a blanket around Patience, rocked her and crooned, perhaps drawing on her own memories of that distressing time in her own early teens when she felt lost and abandoned, and helped soothe Patience into a quiescent state and then helped her to her feet, and slowly walked with her, while the others followed, toward her former home; once inside, Patience seemed to rally – for here she was in very familiar surroundings, though she did show some confusion about the signage (Fire Exits etc) which, more than anything, showed that it was no longer a family home, but now a Museum; even Teri, whose earliest memories of Abbotsford were dominated by the two wonderful sisters, Patricia and Jean who, direct descendants of Sir Walter, were the last of the family custodians and the tireless workers who kept countless thousands of visitors enthralled by their personal attention and guidance and maintained interest in their ancestor as a man of flesh and blood, not just in his literary achievements, great though they undoubtedly were and kept his spirit alive in this, his home and theirs; Patience wanted to see into every room and quickly took the party to the rooms she had her siblings had slept and played in; she sat down on the floor and Maude was anxious lest she was going to become upset again, but Patience appeared to be counting the floorboards until she stopped with her hand on one: “under here,” she said, “I hid a dolly,” and Thomas, little heeding the protestations of the Guide who had accompanied them, evidently suspicious, managed to force his finger into a little gap and pulled a section of the plank up: Patience's small hand delved and with a cry of excitement she withdrew a rather dessicated and almost pinnate rag doll, quite fragile, with red hair and freckles, and the Guide, perhaps anticipating some altercation, hurried away to fetch her Manageress!
Theresa took Maude and Patience, in her car, while the imperturbable WPC Isa Urquhart – exhilarated by the success of her performance as Sally Bowles at The Kit Kat Klub night – drove Daphne and Thomas; perhaps not surprisingly, it was Patience, although by far the younger of the two, who was the least concerned by their mode of travel: she smiled as she realised that there were no horses to pull the carriage (a compact Red Renault Clio) and asked Teri what her Groom did all day, offering a rather ludic and decidedly cheeky smirk which gave a hint of the young girl whose life had truly been overturned when she fell from the Ferry-boat into the Tweed two hundred years earlier, although, Teri realised, for Patience herself, it was probably no more than 6 months to a year since the event; on the other hand, Thomas, for all his maturity, came from a pre-industrial age and had shown signs of agitation when Isa opened the door of her pink Citroen Cactus, obviously wondering why he was being put in a box! Daphne climbed in the back, hiding well her trepidation at being once again a passenger with her otherwise sweet-natured niece who, behind a steering wheel, became a Gurrrrl-Racer and in a level tone she exhorted Isa to remember that she had a passenger who had never before seen, never mind been in, a motor car and that persuaded Thomas, not wishing to seem fearful, and he took the front passenger seat but when he realised that no horses were required he asked the inevitable: “is this witchcraft?” at which Isa laughed heartily and replied: “I've been called many things, Thomas, most of them unmentionable in polite society,” indicating with her thumb her aged aunt who glared back in return, “but never before a Witch! now, should I feel insulted or complimented?” Thomas had laughed and that broke the ice, he visibly relaxed, and even when he realised that this chariot indeed travelled without the need for horses, something which his imagination could not have conceived possible, he managed to gaze around at the very different scenes around him as Isa drove them to Earlston where Ludmilla Lermontova met them by the ruins of Rhymer's Tower; here, Thomas stood and stared at the tumble of stones which, he confirmed, had indeed been the site of his family home – “what became of it?” he asked, and Daphne assured him that the dismantling of the Tower had been simply the result of Time, rather than any destruction caused by Man; “and my family?” he asked, and was delighted when Ludmilla was introduced as a direct descendant of his: “my father, in his youth, looked very like you, sir,” said Ludmilla, and Thomas, for his part, saw in her a great deal of his beloved wife, and he became fretful at the thought of never again meeting his own young family, though Daphne assured him that the literary output of his later years and first-hand testimony regarding his activities, demonstrated that he would indeed return to his own Time; Thomas was very taken with Ludmilla, saying that he felt very privileged to meet her: “most men would consider themselves fortunate indeed, were they to live to see their own grandchildren, but to know that my own blood still runs in the veins of one who bears my family name, even though it be spelt differently, is an honour and marvel I can barely grasp, let alone describe,” and Ludmilla, for her part, spoke of how her ancestor, Mikhael Lermontov was one of Russia's greatest poets, being descended from one of Thomas's own descendants, including the rather infamous Maxim Lermontov who was a celebrated lover of Catherine the Great and often boasted of the origin of his given name! but Thomas was especially interested to hear that the birthplace of the Russian Poet had been changed to Lermontovo in his honour, “why,” declared Ludmilla, this village should be renamed in honour of you, Master Thomas,” and Thomas blushed, with a mixture of pride and modesty, and acute embarrassment; and he admitted that it did rankle, that none of his descendants had seen fit to maintain or rebuild their family home, but rather, had left it to rot! “why! everything is catawampus! did they not care or have any self-respect?” and at Isa's suggestion, in order to lighten the gloom which seemed to have settled upon Thomas at the sight of his Home tumbled to a pile of boulders, they all went into the adjacent café to await Teri and her passengers, over coffees and cakes! what a brainwave! Café Culture seemed to be an instant hit with Thomas, even more so than the Klub Night and Isa wondered if there was any way of introducing it to the Middle Ages?
And that was when they took a break from the interviewing – to give Gordon a chance to discuss the implications of the story Patience and Thomas had told them with his boss, DCI Bruce Bruse and to give the two 'Travellers' a diversion; the party went to The Salmon Inn where the astonishingly versatile WPC Isa Urquhart, her cousins Teri Somerville, who had witnessed everything that had taken place in the Interview Room, Jasmine Juniper-Green, Bunty and Dixie O'Hooligan, their Aunts Daphne and Maude, and of course Aunty Crist and everyone presently lodging with her, which included the party of Syrian Refugees and the two remaining Wise Men, and of course, as Guests for the evening, Thomas and Patience enjoyed an entertaining Kit Kat Klub Limerick Night, where, when Isa explained to Patience that, as a Minor, she was not allowed an alcoholic drink, Patience quickly riposted: “according to you, I'm two hundred and twelve!” to which Isa really was, and unusually for her, lost for words, until WPC Gertie Mountcastle – in civvies – stuck a pint of draught Irn Bru in Patience's hand and with a wink said, “and don't say I'm not good to you,” which had Patience chuckling all the way through the first turn; and needless to say, everyone took a turn and Patience got a standing ovation for what she admitted was her first ever Limerick:
“A silly young lass who fell out,
Fell in to a burn hereabout,
She got herself wet,
And she still hasn't yet,
Removed from her pinny the Trout – Look Out! - The Keeper's About!”
and it was unanimously agreed by the audience and performers alike that young Patience should receive a special prize of two 2 Litre bottles of Irn Bru and a bar of Cadbury's Fruit and Nut Chocolate, and it was no surprise when Isa was declared the winner of the Monthly Contest for her combination of Limericks and Sally Bowles, for, no matter how many times she wears the stockings and suspenders, she always brings something new to each performance; and so it was a happy group that rolled back to Aunty Crist's – for it had been agreed that Thomas and Patience were well enough to be discharged from the Hospital after passing all their isometric tests with flying colours and were not required back until the next morning, when they were to be taken on a visit to various places they would have known well in their previous, former, earlier, no one could agree on the wording, lives; and so on their first night away from The Cavern, the two Time Travellers revelled in hot foaming baths, fluffy towels and cosy pyjamas, with mugs of hot cocoa and beds warmed by electric blankets so that soon after their heads had snuggled down upon their pillows, snores could be heard from the bedrooms on either side of Aunty Crist's own room, and it was agreed that they should be allowed to sleep until they awoke naturally; and from their years spent in The Cavern it might have been anticipated by their Hosts that they would both wake at dawn and that the whole house would awake shortly after, roused by the smoke alarms which had been triggered by Thomas trying to light a fire in the electric oven and short-circuiting the house! or, as Maude said, on learning of the reason for the Alarum, “without wishing to derogate the isonomy of my inflammable gogo – the one you gave me at Hogmanay, Daphne, Dear Heart, and you know how much I cherish Diversity – I should have liked to enjoy a further hour's slumber after all of yesterday's excitement but, alas and alackaday, it is not to be, and on International Women's Day at that!”
There was a Colleen from Kilkenny,
Who swore blind she hadn't had any;
When she took off her vest,
And was put to the test,
It was clear that she'd surely had many;
As denuded she lay on table,
An autoschediastic babel,
Without a chicane,
Or another to blame,
She admitted, that “yes,” she was able:
Her first was a fine lad named Benny,
Then Simon and Peter and Lenny,
Gordon, and Stephen and Seamus and Sean,
Fingal and Fraser and Joseph and John,
And her youngest is sweet natured Jenny!
She hailed from Limerick City,
And had one, tattooed, on her Titty,
But although it was good,
Her Old Man thought it rude,
So she had it replaced with this Ditty:
My Love is a Restaurateur,
My Perquisites, washed down with Beer,
Are served with Panache,
With Brio, with Dash,
And sustain my commodious Rear!
She once knew a choux chef named Leo,
Who baked a fine brioche with brio,
But she jettisoned him,
For his true name was Jim,
And the rupestrine toad was a Keogh;
She then soon took up with a charmer,
Whose mesmerism failed to alarm 'er,
But when 'e got his 'ands,
On her delicate glands,
She shot 'im, before 'e could 'arm 'er!
She was only a zaftig factotum
But she took her prophylactic with glee,
And the girls in the band
Queued to shake her right hand,
And with brio to feed her with brie,
“But what on Earth does that mean, Aunt Maude?” asked DCI Brevity and she smiled enigmatically and looked straight at Thomas before replying: “I do believe Master Thomas of Ercildoune has the solution at his tongue-tip!” and Thomas laughed and grinned broadly at Maude, “you are, Madam, if I may say so, exceedingly like my wife, both in aspect and humour – she is a Lyttleton too, I suppose you know, and I am used to this whimsicality; yes, I have indeed been a somnolent popinjay, and oft have I blown my own trumpet in the kitchen garden while the women labour and indeed in dry weather they do water the cabbages as you suggest; but as to the Time Difference, I cannot guess, although in what you call 'The Other Place' the sun travels from West to East, and indeed, I wonder if Miss Patience has ever noticed that the world as we view it from the Hillside, is reversed?” and the girl looked startled: “no, I never did, are you sure” and Thomas said, “did the river flow from East to West? Left to Right?” and she blushed to her roots: “I do not know, I confess I never paid any attention to it,” and Thomas continued: “and the shape of the land, did it not seem different to you?” and, her colour receding, she said more confidently, “oh, yes, but surely it was a very long, long, time ago, when men painted themselves blue and fought sabre-toothed tigers and elephants and trees take a long time to grow and of course everything looked different, there were no houses, Thomas, no houses, we just lived in a Cavern, how different can that be, how would I tell if anything else was the same or different, the whole world was upside-down and your trenchant tone which seems to condemn me for my ignorance hurts!” there was a silence, and then she continued: “how can the time be different? well, if Thomas is right – and I have no reason to doubt him, nor to jeopardise the camaraderie between us which is all I have to hold on to, but if it is true that the World, or our part of it, was back to front, why should not time be different? you say that we, who have been there for years, are no older now than when we were snatched from our lives, and while your relatives disappeared here just matter of days ago, in 'The Other Place' they have been with us for a matter of weeks or months; oh, a day or a month makes no odds, but then it sounds like a dream – for a dream can be as fantastical as the mind of the dreamer can make it, or maybe a nightmare, and maybe that is what I am living, a nightmare in which I can never wake, and real as you may seem, you are all conjured up by a brain nearly drowned because a foolish girl ventured out across the swollen river, practically forced the ferryman to take me, no, be honest, I did force him, paid him double-fare and told him that if he did not carry out his licensed duty I would report him to my father and have him dismissed for Dereliction of Duty – but I know his wife, she is a sweet natured woman and they have three adorable babes, I would never have reported him, and now I cannot, for perhaps I am still drowning, I have no other evidence by which to judge: are you real, I have read something of Descartes' work on solipsism in one of my father's florilegium, and also Bishop Berkeley – I'm no dunce, so I ask again: can you prove you are real and not the figments of a drowning girl's mind, please, I beg of you, for I fear I am either drowning still or going mad and this is my punishment for my selfishness and cruel words and that will never see my home and my family again!” which was when Isa's telephone rang and she took a quick call, mouthing the name 'Moonbeam' to her listeners; her eyes widened in surprise and she looked from face to face, before saying: “preliminary Tox Screening shows significant traces of arsenious poisoning in both of you, Thomas and Patience; you have been slowly poisoned with arsenic, not enough to kill, but certainly enough to confuse and disturb your judgement; Professor Moonbeam wants to conduct further tests and also ask you about your general health – we don't yet know if it was from a natural source, the water, soil, or plants, or rather, deliberately, from the food which was left in The Cairn!”
Which was when DI Gordon Brevity re-entered the room, looking confused and flustered, which was quite uncharacteristic of him: “I have just received preliminary DNA results from Professor Moonbeam, of course full results will take a little longer, but these show: firstly, that you, Patience, are indeed the daughter of Sir Walter Scott and his wife Charlotte Charpentier (we have samples of their hair, from lockets each owned, with a lock of the other's hair0 and, secondly, that you, Thomas, are indeed Thomas Learmonth of Ercildoune, from a lock of your own hair which was wrapped in a piece of cloth and rolled in a manuscript copy of some of your writings, and a finger- and thumb-print match from the same document, also held in the National Archives; I must therefore apologise if you have been given the impression that we do not believe your accounts of your time spent in – how can I put it?” and Daphne interjected: “I think, Gordon, we should simple refer to it as 'the other place' just as The Commons refer to The Lords, which might even be an appropriate analogy, for they are two bodies which operate simultaneously with only the most tenuous of links one with other,” and Maude then said: “I am especially curious about the passage of time during your stay in that place, Thomas, and you Patience, for you say you were there longer – so can I ask for an approximation of how long our nieces Bernie and Tammy were with you, and also Tammy's father, Tavish?” and Patience said: “although I had little to do with them, for being close friends they spent most of their waking time together, but I would say they were there for a couple of months, and Tavish came later, perhaps six weeks ago,” and she looked at Thomas who agreed on those rough estimates; the peerless WPC Isa Urquhart quickly checked the dates in her head and said: Bernie disappeared from RIE just ten days ago, Tammy from there the following day, although the signs from the Tower where we suspect she was held might indicate a slightly later disappearance, say a week ago, and Tavish the following day, here in Melrose – and we believe that ACC Duncan Doubleday disappeared without trace just after Tammy, and Tavish's twin brother Pherson, just yesterday, at about the same time as you both appeared here,” and Maude, who had been making notes, said: “a somnolent Popinjay demonstrates his rodomontade in the parterre, while Marie Lloyd sits among the cabbages and peas!”
And, upstairs, in the Maternity Ward, lying on crisp white sheets, her red hair fanned out on the pillow, Sarsparilla Balquhidder felt her baby, clamped on her left nipple, suck greedily and swallow, a rhythm which matched the pulsations of his mother's heartbeat and Rilla opened her eyes to see husband, Inverary, a smile as broad as her own, standing at the foot of the bed: “and how are we today?” he asked, his eyes never moving from the scene which so obviously delighted him, “we are happy and filled with contentment,” his sweet young wife replied, glancing down at her bosoms, “but there's no-one at the other pump, and it's full to bursting,” and as she locked eyes with Rary, he checked that the curtain was across the door-window, took the couple of steps which brought him to the right-hand side of his wife's bed, sat down and inclined himself towards her and found that, as soon as, indeed, almost before, her nipple came between his lips, the sweet and tasty milk had begun to flow and, as he sucked, in time with the rhythm of his darling's body, he felt a contentment which had been absent for the past few days; after a while, her voice nudged him from the dream which he could have sworn was absolutely real – a cavern underneath the solid hills just outside the walls of this very Hospital: “I've been thinking about his name, darling, did you hear about those two Dalwhinnie brothers who went missing?” and Rary grunted, slightly disengaged from his wife's nipple: “we can't call him Dalwhinnie,” and Rilla chuckled, “don't be silly,” she said, “they were named after their two Grandmothers' Maiden Names – MacTavish and MacPherson, and I thought we could do the same with him, well, just one of the names obviously,” and he mumbled: “Maclehose and McLevy, which would you prefer?” and she asked back, “what would they be shortened to?” and he thought for a moment: “Hose or Levy, so I don't suppose there's any contest, Maclehose it is,” and Rilla gasped: “we can't lumber him with Hose! that would give him such a hard time!” and he pondered, “but Levy would sound a bit Yiddisher, wouldn't it,” and she snorted, “his Great Great Great Grandfather was James McLevy, the famous Edinburgh Detective, so I don't think he'll have any worries there, do you? you're not being anti-Semitic are you, Rary?” and he filled his mouth and swallowed before speaking again: “not a bit of it, Sweetie-Pie, McLevy it is, McLevy Balquhidder and I'll give him Boxing Lessons!” and there was definitely a self-satisfied and maybe even roguish smile on the face of the baby boy as he sucked with renewed vigour at his Mother's breast; and Rary asked: “when will he be circumcised?” and Rilla smiled back, “on the eighth day, Rabbi Burns is going to pop in later to make the arrangements, and my folks are coming in with him,” and Rary grinned, he was very fond of Charlie and Golda Davidov – they had met at the United Nations where he had been a Truchman, interpreting for Russian speakers and she had been on the staff of the British Ambassador, he was a classical pianist, noted for his playing of Bach Nocturnes, and she a talented a capella singer; and although he had been portrayed in the media as a rabble-rouser during the campaign for Scottish Independence, in the lead-up to last year's Referendum, Rary knew, from family gatherings, that Charlie's fondness for his nieces, Roxy and Trixie Davidova, who were on opposite sides of the Scottish Political Spectrum (Roxy as Leader of the Unionist Party, Trixie of the Socialist Party) and, of course, another niece being Ginger Goldfish, Leader of the Independence Party and First Minister, that Charlie's own politics never interfered with his relationships, with individuals, be they strangers, casual acquaintances, friends, family or whoever.
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