“Hush!” said Ludmilla, placing a delicate fingertip to Chrysanthemum's delicate lips, “attend! See! is not that your famous local auteur, Alain Massie – I am reading his latest Bordeaux nouvelle, I am a fan – do you think he would autograph my copy?” and Chrysanthemum noticed a rather fubsy little man, with a Victorian air about him, in that casual-formal style of dressing which marked out a certain class of people, while Ludmilla started rummaging in her voluminous bag, pulling out her mobile phone, camera, lipsticks, tampons, all manner of make-up requisites, together with three or four books, DVDs, CDs and her MP3 player “oh! where is it?” she cried, “stupid cow! I have left it by my bed under Aunty Crist's stairs! shit! merde! calamity!” and Chrysanthemum seized her chance: “let me get it for you, dear heart, I have to go back to the house anyway, to collect a few things Goldy needs here . . . . .” and Ludmilla took hold of her, a hand on each side of her face, and kissed her fiercely on the lips – it felt to Chrysanthemum like a Cossack horde sweeping into an unprepared village, to pillage, loot and rape, and gruntled by the intensity of Ludmilla's assault on her, feeling utterly beholden, she knew at once where her future life lay: in Ludmilla's firm grasp, and she succumbed!
“It means a powerful patron,” said Chrysanthemum, grabbing at straws to keep her head above the water which threatened to drown her, “a rich and wealthy protector,” and Ludmilla laughed, “ah, you mean what we call in the Old Country a Berezovsky, like Marlon Brando in The Godfather, yes, now I understand, you believe True Thomas is inwolved in what I think you call 'monkey business', no? and some guy – a 'diamond geezer', yes? save him from the vicissitudes of life, no?” and Chrysanthemum's eyes rolled as she desperately fought to keep this conversation 'on message' which, if she was successful, would result in her spending the coming night wrapped in the jocund Ludmilla's strong arms and legs back at Aunty Crist's and she replied: “he may have become a Judas Goat, with someone using his prophecies to draw others from the shadows, malcontents, dissidents, as when he foretold the death of King Alexander III in a storm – he only told the Earl of Dunbar, and when he was proved correct, Dunbar was ready to become the Kingmaker and several potential heirs to Alexander were simply 'disappeared',” and Ludmilla laughed, a musical tinkle above the rumbling conversation in the bar, “so, it is not only in my country that people are 'disappeared' when they are a threat to the Leader, whether that is a Tsar or a Commissar, or a Pudenda – yes, I know exactly what you mean!”
“Did Thomas have a maecenas?” asked Chrysanthemum, desperately trying to hide her embarrassment, exonerate herself after her faux pas, bifurcate the direction everything had suddenly, unexpectedly, taken – through no fault of her own, she desperately hoped, but bitterly feared it may indeed have been – and improve her standing in Ludmilla's eyes, by demonstrating her own sagacity, but: “how the fuck should I know?” asked the Russian girl with the most heavenly accent and glorious eyes, “I don't even know what a maecenas is – or what one would use it for, unless,” and she stared directly into Chrysanthemum's eyes, as if into her very soul, “it's some kind of Dildo!” and Chrysanthemum wished the floor would open up and swallow her whole.
“Hush, hush, whisper who dares,” whispered Chrysanthemum MacGillicuddy, in that breathless chuchotage style she had adopted from Marilyn Monroe and remade in her own image, drawing Ludmilla Lermontova's attention to a tiny peccadillo committed by one of The Ship Inn's Hoochie-Coochie Girls, seguing a la dipsy-doodle between tables with plates of food balanced precariously on each arm and, to Chrysanthemum's way of thinking, committing an unforgivable error in showing all who cared to glance up the short sleeve of her tee-shirt that she didn't shave her alars, but Ludmilla only snorted and asked Chrysanthemum in more of a 'stage-whisper' that caused many ears to prick up and eyes to swivel towards them: “and I suppose you shave your legs and your pubes too, huh? pshaw, so petit-bourgeois, so Chav! and do you Vajazzle, Mademoiselle?” and Chrysanthemum blushed to her roots and the very tips of her ears!
Aunty Crist sat down after the last quartet had left the room; she felt more exhausted than ever before, yet light with an elation rarely experienced outside of the bedroom – there was that faint tingling in her left alar, and absently her right hand found the opposite oxter and gently rubbed until the tingle faded; she looked down at the parchment in her lap, still elated from the meeting with Dr Clotilde Kranklemittel of the National Library of Scotland, who had confirmed the date of the animal-skin, the ink, and had even photographed the finger-prints which could be separated the blur of other hands and labelled them L1,L2 and L3; it was clear from Clot's report (and she would always be Clot to Crist, ever since that snowy night in Michaelmas Term when they had first made love in a long-forgotten oubliette deep under Edinburgh Castle, far more years ago than Aunty Crist cared to recall) that the script dated from the 13th Century, was unlikely to be a rescript for there were indications that it had been written in some haste, as if the thoughts in it's authors head were tumbling over one another in their desperation to flow out through the ink, rather than with the care of a copyist; the provenance could be traced through the different generations of the Lermontov family back to the Thomas Learmonth who, as a young man, had made his way to Russia in the hope of making his fortune and had stayed, in the Court and the bedroom of Catherine The Great, quickly becoming one of her many lovers and founding the family who still bore his Christianised name; and although it had been a tad handwavy to follow it's existence over the centuries before that, nonetheless, it was believed to have been alluded to in certifiable references in various charters, but the crunch seemed the be in three groups of consonants, in the same flowery hand as the rest, which, at first, were thought to be three purely decorative flourishes at the end of the document, which was a common enough practice, until Dr Morag McCorquodale, Clot's expert on calligraphy had separated them into distinct letters and in an attachment had spelt them out in Roman Type: BRN WSTWTR, TMMY SHNTR, and TVSH DLWHNN and when Cristobal first saw them, her mind immediately supplied the missing vowels – EIE EAE; A AE; AI AIIE – and read the names: Bernie Westwater, Tammy Shanter and Tavish Dalwhinnie! “now how on earth, dearest” she asked Clot, herself a cousin of Crist's, being an Aunt of Pru Montelimart and whose assistant Morag (another niece) had gone out on the search with the three eldest Montelimart girls, “could the names of the three missing members of the family have found their way onto a document dating from the 13th Century?” which was when Clot's other niece, Jasmine Juniper-Green, looked up from her examination of the OS map of Melrose and environs and said: “it's a simple matter of a quantum collision, they have passed through a portal and it is very near here, albeit in an alternative universe, in which all time is simultaneous,” and she pointed to a spidery web of Ley Lines which intersected on the Middle Eildon: “Morag noticed a reference to 'a tavern on the hill' but then saw that the 't' could actually be a 'c' and as there is no record of there ever being a tavern, or inn, or such on any of the three hills, realised that it meant 'a cavern in the hill'!”
And having told the story of Rusty and Dusty, we must now rewind our clock to yesterday afternoon and return to the Back Room of The Ship Inn, where the excited gathering, had all eyes and ears focussed on a familiar figure in her Police Scotland uniform, which her familiar figure filled perfectly: the efficient WPC Isa Urquhart laid out the known facts dispassionately and with a thoroughness that impressed her audience: “CCTV cameras picked up the missing ACC Duncan Doubleday's car in Peebles, prior to the crash near Fairmilehead, before that in Galashiels, and before that in Melrose – they also picked it up earlier in the day travelling from Edinburgh through Lauder on it's way South, but it gets lost after reaching the Melrose Bypass, and heading West and there is a gap of about two hours before the return journey and this gives rise to a suspicion that he was visiting a location somewhere in the vicinity of the Eildon Hills and I understand that Aunty Crist has a crucial contribution to make,” at which point. Cristobal stood and was seen to be holding a manuscript in her hand; “by the luckiest of chances, I happen to be working with a Russian student, Ludmilla Lermontov, who is a direct descendant of the famous poet of whom I presume you are all aware,” and a rumble from the gathering indicated assent; “well,” continued Aunty Crist, “by the purest of chances, Ludmilla,” and here, the Russian student stood and took a bow, “Ludmilla happened to have in her possession this manuscript dating from the 13th Century, written in a form of Middle English with distinct features of Old Scots, which purports to be in the hand of Thomas Learmonth, commonly called 'Thomas The Rhymer' and it contains a number of predictions of events which took place in his lifetime, and beyond – right up until the present day; we have verified those which have already occurred, including the discovery of the Americas by Columbus, beheading of Mary, Queen of Scots, the English Civil War and the Sinking of The Titanic, and more recently, the two World Wars and The Holocaust – and perhaps more trivially, but nonetheless astonishing for that, the winning of the Grand National in 1967 by Foinavon; this, you will agree, I am sure, is a momentous discovery; the manuscript has been handed down in the family through the generations – during the uncertain times of the Revolution, it was hidden for safety, baked in a challah - but this is the first time that it has been extensively studied and translated, and I believe that it contains veiled references to our beloved nieces, Bernie Westwater and Tammy Shanter and also Tavish Dalwhinnie! if authenticated, which I am certain it will be, not only does it confirm the potency of Thomas Learmonth's ability to forecast future events, but it may enable us to discover the whereabouts of our missing relatives!” the stunned silence was followed by a roar of excitement and a babble of questions which Aunty Crist shushed with her hands: “patience, my friends, may not be a virtue in our family, but you will need to bite your tongues, or haud yer wheesht a wee whilie, tae gie's time tae dae wir werk, and in the meantime, Isa has a list of locations which she wants searched; the police do not have sufficient man or woman-power for this so our services have been volunteered; rightie-ho, it's time to 'Woman Up' as they say nowadays, so grab a map from Isa, stick it up yer oxter, yer jouk or yer alah – depending on your preference and head off in fours, and keep in telephone contact with Goldy Brevity who is going to hold the fort here as our base, give her anything you find, no matter how nugatory it seems, for every clue may help us resolve this mystery and return your cousins in one piece; oh, and Rusty is keeping a pony keg on tap for refreshments so Guid Luck!”
On the day of the Dumbiedykes Clan Gathering, Rusty Irons and Dusty Douglas were fair run off their feet, meeting the requirements of the thirsty and hungry folk crammed into the back room of The Ship Inn, as well as their thirsty and hungry customers in the front bars; Dusty, the blonde, busty, blowsy barmaid, Rusty's live-in helpmeet and acknowledged paramour, chattered away continually with her employer and lover all day long in that exclusive polari only comprehensible to others in the trade and of their sexual orientation about the things she wanted them to do on payday, when they would be off duty and free to indulge themselves: “in every possible way,” she murmured flirtatiously, batting the eyelashes that turned Rusty's insides to water; and all the while, time moved relentlessly on – the drinkers demanded refills, the chef threatened to walk out if he did not get the promised KP, and the Gathering in the back room became noisily vociferous to the extent that some of the regular punters in the front bar kept requesting the volume on the large-screen turned up so they could hear the commentator of the Old Firm game over the shouts and arguments issuing from back to front; and when at long, long last, the crowds had left and the waiting-staff helped them set the House up for the morning trade and the two lovers retired to their sweet little bedroom overlooking the Square, they continued their discussion of their hopes and plans all through a night of strenuous sexual shenanigans, barely sleeping at all, until the Town Clock chimed the waking hour and they talked through their shared shower and a snatched breakfast in readiness for Opening Time, and when all was satisfactory the pair took a coffee out back in the Beer Garden and realised that their discussion had begun twenty-four hours before and had not yet reached any sort of conclusion, at which point Dusty hailed up a red-painted finger nail to Rusty's lips to indicate that she required her to pause, mid-sentence, and produced one of the spontaneous rhymes which Rusty so loved and which were a feature of Dusty's presence in the Pub's bars, often demanded by the regulars, but this one concerned just the two of them, and it went:
“Rusty and Dusty bizbabbled yin day
o the desiderata they'd buy wi their pay;
noo, the haunds o the dial
turned roon a hale diel.
But their whilom wis past an they'd na walked yin mile,”
which had such an effect on Rusty, that she immediately went down on one knee, heedless of the damp flagstone, took Dusty's soft hand in her own, and proposed a Marriage which Dusty, who had never expected to see the day, immediately and delightedly accepted!
And oddly enough, at just about the same moment, although some seven hundred and thirty years later, give or take, and reckoning in a quantum way, which sees all time existing simultaneously, although in different, but parallel universes, and just as The Eildons had acquired the alpenglow of the setting sun, the friends and relatives of Bernie Westwater and her best friend and lover Tammy Shanter, and not to mention Tammy's father, Tavish (although that fact is not kicked about much outside of their own immediate circle, which naturally includes many of those present) were gathered in a back room of The Ship Inn, in which they were kept supplied by the barman*, their old friend, Rusty Irons, who, everyone knew, was secretly in love with Aunty Crist and that Aunty Crist secretly loved her in return, and that occasional secret trysts were known to have taken place, because in such a secretive town as Melrose, every wall had ears and every window eyes, and no 'secret' was ever truly secret, with the food and drink naturally required by such a gathering, and this particular group all the more so; and after Aunty Crist, in the chair, had called the rabble to order, Tabby Shanter, wife of Tavish and mother of Tammy, and herself a officer of MI5, concisely recounted the saga which had nominally begun with the attempted murder of Bernie Westwater at Waverley Station and included the mysterious disappearances of Bernie herself, Tammy, Tavish – after he had been shot on a bus outside the BGH – of Duncan Doubleday Assistant Chief Constable (Edinburgh and Lothians) in Police Scotland, and at around the same time, and perhaps connected, of Councillor George Gill, Convenor of COSLA – the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities; “now we don't,” said Aunty Crist, “have time for any of the twee reminiscences that we, as a family, are so fond of, so I must ask all of us, to stick to what is strictly relevant,” which was just when Justice of the Supreme Court, Lord George Linkumdoddie and his close friend known to all as The Major popped their heads round the door and as with one voice said, “hello, darlings, are we in time?”
(Editor's note: *no-one in their right mind would ever refer to Rusty as a 'barmaid' unless they wanted to risk a punch up the bracket, or their lights punched oot!)
“Alexander III had ten years between his marriages, and it is well known that during that time he was the most profligate of Kings that Scotland ever had,” said Tavish, “and I have good reason to believe that he was the first member of Royalty to also be a member of Sir Parlane MacFarlane's Ring of Gold, one of the Unco Guid, who dictate what standards of behaviour are expected from others, though not necessarily living up to them themselves, but his second marriage changed all that and he became a loving husband until his fatal ride, alone, to meet the Queen at Kinghorn in Fife,” at which Thomas grew pale and seemed to shiver, and in a strained voice which seemed to twang with emotion, he asked Tavish, “you speak as though the King is dead, when did this happen? although not a courtier myself, I did meet His August Majesty one year when The Court made a Progress to Melrose Abbey, and it grieves me to now be told that he is no longer – who then is my Liege now?” and this made Tavish regret the casual way he had spoken: “I regret my tone and the words I spoke, Thomas, I am no Sooth-Sayer, who can foretell the future – I speak of what, in our time, that is me and the others here, is ancient history, just as you, in your own lifetime, may care to think of us as being descendants of yourself, your kin, and other fellow Scots alive then,” but that did not make Thomas any happier, and there were tears in his eyes when he made a glance that encompassed us all: “although I have not spoken the thought, I have been aware that the things you have told me of before, mean that you probably know the date of my own death, and that is something that I do not wish to be told, I do not think I could live with that knowledge; even though I know it comes to all of us and that it is like passing through a portal which will bring me into the presence of the Lord God and his son, Jesus of Nazareth, and I will meet my own father and mother, in a bower of foliage with such flowers as have never been seen in our lifetimes, yet it is a date that I would not hear, do you understand me?” and Bernie spoke for all of them: “my dear friend, Thomas, the last thing any of us would wish to do is cause you any distress or unhappiness, and we would not dream of telling you of things which have yet to occur in your own lifetime after you return to your home, which I feel is coming soon, unless you expressly wish it, but we do want to tell you about things which lie well into the future and will confirm your Gift of Foresight, which the ballads say you received from the Faery Queen – as there is no Faery Queen, perhaps you would permit my friends and I to give you that gift?” and she sat back, shaken with the emotion of speaking of these things, and Thomas gazed upon her face with a blank expression which hid the furious helter-skelter of his own thoughts, the memories of the family he had not seen for many years, the confusion which his friends here had brought to him and which seemed to threaten his Faith and his previously sure and certain belief in the Hereafter; which was when Tavish spoke: “the gift of aeromancy, foretelling events by a study of the weather is, if I recall rightly, connected with your prediction of the death of your present King, Alexander III, in a great storm, and one which you only communicate to the Earl of Dunbar,” Thomas looked keenly at Tavish; “and it proves to be correct?” he asked, “yes,” and then Thomas asked, quietly, “in what year?” and Tavish, equally quietly replied: “1286,” and Thomas, shivering, although the Cavern was warm, asked: “on what date?” and Tavish told him: “the twelfth of March,” and Thomas cried out: “beware The Ides of March!”
After balconing around the Scott Monument in a snowstorm, and repeating that circumnavigation at each level – yerking himself upwards in defiance of gravity and of the elements – Young Reekie perched on the very summit for the nonce, just long enough to take a selfie and post it on Twitter, when he received a text from his Daughter Isabel, “come awa doon, Dad, yer 71 no 17, yer Grandweans need a Grampa wi his feet on the grund, no a lump o strawberry jam on the pavement,” and, with an abject sense of the embarrassment he had brought on his family, blushing to his roots in shame, he descended by the interior spiral staircase and slunk towards Waverley Station for the last train to Tweedbank from where he would catch a bus to Melrose and join the gang in the Ship Inn in time for “Last Orders”!
Which was when one of the other bacchants glanced out of the window and let out a whoop; all eyes turned, first towards Goldy Brevity and then in the direction she was pointing, towards the window, beyond which could be seen the white of a snowstorm; “huv ye na seen snaw afore?” asked Owd Boab, a long-retired shepherd, who was seated on a great chest in the corner, while his great-grandson slept oblivious nearby, his favourite adder stone held in his soft hand: “why ah mind the nicht ah wis trapped upon the Three Brethern wi twa hunnert yows, an the snaw wis knee deep in eleeven minnits, we aw hud tae huddle close fur warmth and we wis covered in aboot a quarter oor, we steyed lik thon fur three days till Auld Rab dug us oot, man, ah tell ye, that wis real snaw in them days!” which was when Auld Rab, who had been quietly reading his newspaper, piped up: “ha, Boab! yer a bairn, ye wisnae aboot in the great storum o '37 when the snaw covert up ma hoose, an a hud tae dig a tunnel aw the wey past Bowden an up the shoulder o Cauldshiels an doon intae Melrose, man THAT wis Snaw!” and a thin reedy voice came out of a chair, facing the fireplace, and Auld Reekie, pipe still stuck between his teeth in contravention of the No Smoking Laws, puffed and spoke without ever taking the pipe from between his teeth: “Ah wis shepherdin up Langshaw in '28 jist a boay mind, when the snaw fell sae thick and fast, in a hauf oor 'twis ower the Tower an we hud tae dig tunnels atween aw the cottages, there wis nae daylicht fur a munth, we hud a wee openin doon by Langlee an anither up ahint Earlston, an they wis the only wey in an oot, an we'd a relay collecting messages fur aw the fowk that coodnae manage oot theirsels, an when the thaw cam, the Tweed wis a mile wide in places and sae deep that sumpuous steamboats even cam up fae Berwick wi sicht-seers tae view a aince* in a lifetime spectacle, an we wis aw took tae Buckingham Palace tae see the King an Queen an gien medals fur wir bravery, an ah still wear mine, though tae us North Britons, whae're natterilly cryophilic, a pickle snaw's nae hardship” and he waved a medal on a ribbon and Goldy took it from his outstretched hand and studied it before handing it back, and she turned and said: “it's absolutely troo – he dus hae a medal, wi Mickey Moose on yin side an Donal Duck on tither!” and the assembled customers gave Auld Reekie a cheer for telling the tallest tale and he was given a free glass of his favourite tipple by Rusty Irons, the resident barman.
(Editor's note: pronounced yince)
The sombre WPC Isa Urquhart put down her telephone and turned to Trainee WPC Gertie Mountcastle, a serious look on her normally humorous face: “it wisnae Cat Cubie, Gertie, it wis Peter Sloss wha named the Storum Gertrude, he's the tap Herald at the Scottish Weather Centre, an he names the Storums” and Gertie turned a baleful face towards her cousin and mentor: “Peter Sloss? that bacchant? but he wis wi us in the pub just twa days ago and he never mentioned onythin, though ah mind he ca'd the wee space atween the sources o Clyde an Tweed 'the Isthmus' which ah thocht wiz stretchin the term a tad” and Isa looked back, straight into Gertie's eyes: “no, but you beat him at Dominoes an won the Cup” ” and Gertie gasped: “the wash-baw! so it wis Vengeance!”
“Fuck me,” said Trainee WPC Gertie Mountcastle, throwing her copy of The National to the floor and washing down her swearing with a gulp of 80/-,: “am no usually an obstreperous yin, but ah could fair throttle the geezer wha thocht o cryin a Storm 'Gertrude' – ah mean tae sey, WHY fer fuck sake?” and the fastidious WPC Isa Urquhart wiped the beer rings from the table with a napkin before saying: “it'll be that Cat Cubie, I betcha – likely it's the zenith o her career, namin Storms – she used to be a bit o a bacchant, but she aye said she knew he wiz gonnae get the top job, abdy wants it but she claimed predestination: she telt me once that she crossed a Gipsy Fortune Tellers hand wi silver at Gullane and she said it wiz in Cat's palm, her stars, and in the cairds: she'd reach the pinnacle and get the namin storms joab; mind you, Gertie, her short skirts wouldnae be a problem and mind that night you clicked wi the fella she'd been flirtin wi? she looked daggers at ye, so methinks we need tae pey her a wee visit,” and Gertie nodded into her empty glass, “efter anuvva pint, methinks and as soon as this pub closes, and the Storm passes, the revolution starts!”
And as they reached the forlorn figure, it was the compassionate WPC Isa Urquhart who recognised the retired priest, Father Mungo Macmenemy and the cousins gathered round him, offering him the shelter of their umbrellas and heedless of the hostile stares from the old men at the Club's windows: “forsooth,” cried Ginger Goldfish, “what brings you out here in such inclement weather, Father?” and the old man raised his rheumy eyes and recognised the girls: “ah, me darlins, sure now it gives an ould fella great spiritual sustenance to encounter such sweet souls, for life in the bathyscaphe ain't what it's cracked up to be” and it took no great effort to persuade him to accompany them up the High Street to the Market Square and into The Ship Inn – the regular drinking den for local worthies, rugby players (easily identified by their upper arms, each the girth of an ordinary man's chest) and outcasts from the Hotels that preferred to cater to cleaner customers; and why, you may well ask, do the rugby buffters not drink at their own Club? the answer being that the bar there tends to be thronged with members and supporters and while the retired colonels and admirals and the odd Lord or two may cheer on the boys in yellow and black on the field of play, they don't want to be bumped into by the hulking brutes in the bar, any more than the old priest who'd been blackballed after his accusations had reached the ears of Supreme Court Judge, Lord Jock Linkumdoddie and he'd begun to investigate them; and Teri noticed a curious elderly patron whose eyes travelled between Father Macmenemy and herself, until he summoned the courage to ask: “is this an ecumenical diet, with a Presbyterian Minister in conclave with a defrocked Roman Priest, famous for his jeremiad moans and groans,” and then he spotted Ginger Goldsmith arm in arm with Roxie Davidova and her twin sister, Trixie: “now don't tell me we're going to have a Coalition in the Scottish Parliament, with the leaders of the Primary Colours in cahoots?” which was when the insouciant WPCs Isa Urquhart and Gertie Mountcastle put their hands under his oxters and Isa whispered her siren song in his ear: “would you rather go home to Mrs Ranfurly in one car, or two?” and Mr Ranfurly conceded that he would rather stay on his stool until closing time and would abide by convention and say no more about Religion or Politics till then, so Isa bought him a glass of malt and the girls left their old Music Teacher to his memories!
The pugnacious titan, proscribed for continually bleating “when we, when we, when we,” about his former glories, stood outside the Working Men's Club and wept!
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