A Stitch in Time Part 16

Part 16 – Tidying up loose Ends

It wasn’t as warm and sunny in 1920. And then Len realised that it was still very early morning. The sun was barely up. Grandad had timed it just right. They had time for Norman to go home with them and take the little ones and their Mum and all the bags before he set off for work.  Len and Grandad hung around the cottage but felt a bit in the way, as Bessie tidied things away and put the little ones down for a nap. They were a bit confused because, although it was early morning, they had already been up for hours. 

Eventually, they said goodbye and went for a walk round the gardens. It was bigger than a garden really, more like a park and it was possible to take a walk and still stay out of sight of the house. Or so they had thought. They came along a path, through some big rhododendron bushes, to find themselves quite close to the house. There, sitting on the terrace, reading a book, was Mrs Nesbitt. Even as they turned back, trying to disappear into the bushes, she looked up. 

“Who are you?” she said quite sharply. “What are you doing here?” 

Len didn’t know what to do or say; he just wanted to make a run for it and was really impressed when his Grandad said; 

“My name’s Stewart ma’am and this is my grandson, Len. We’re a bit lost. Actually, you may be able to help us. We’re looking for the home of Mr Arthur Nesbitt. “

Len caught his breath. What on earth was Grandad up to? What would he say next? 

The old lady sat up straight in her chair. 

“This is his home. And I am his mother. What is your business here?” she sounded sharp and rather uneasy. 

“Well ma’am, we met Mr Arthur Nesbitt a couple of days ago and when he heard we would be passing nearby on our way to Wickersley, he asked if we would call on you.” 

“Come here”, said the old lady urgently. “When did you see him? What did he say? Where was he? What was he doing?” 

Grandad stepped onto the terrace and Len followed him, looking round to make sure there was no-one else around. Len was sure Grandad had a good reason for talking to the lady who, when they got closer, wasn’t as old as Len had thought. ‘I bet she’s not as old as Grandma,’ he thought ‘ but she acts older.’ 

“For Heaven’s Sake, sit down man and tell me everything.” 

Len sincerely hoped he wouldn’t tell her EVERYTHING. For one thing, it would take ages and, for another, he wasn’t sure she was the sort of person who would believe in time travel machines. Grandad sat down on one of the chairs but Len stayed on his feet, standing close to him, He wasn’t very comfortable and would be glad to get away. 

As he looked round, he saw Norman walking across the lawn with an older man, probably his boss. Len hoped like mad that they wouldn’t look round and see them but, even as the thought was in his head, Norman turned and saw them. 

His face was a picture – surprised and then shocked as he realised they were talking to Mrs Nesbitt. He turned away and quickened his pace, talking to the man to stop him looking in their direction, and less than a minute later they were out of sight, behind some trees. Len breathed a sigh of relief. Grandad was talking to Mrs Nesbitt;

“From what he said, I think Mr Arthur left rather suddenly. He’d been doing something scientific. I’m sorry, I don’t know exactly, although he did explain it to me. But I’m just a working man, ma’am, begging your pardon and it was all too clever for me.” 

Len thought this was a bit rich considering the science Arthur had been working on was Grandad’s own invention.  Working on – interfering, more like. 

“Where did you meet him?” asked the old lady looking at them keenly. 

“At the railway station in Sheffield. We’ve just come up from seeing family in Tuxford and are on our way home. We could only afford the fare as far as Sheffield and then we’re walking the rest.”

“Where was he going?” now her voice was very sharp.

“I’m afraid I don’t know exactly. He said he needed to talk to someone about his ideas for the steel industry and that he was sure he was going to make his fortune.” 

Len was filled with admiration for Grandad’s ability to tell a lie based on the truth. This was exactly what Arthur had told them, not in Sheffield station but in a little house not five miles from here, a hundred years away. 

“Steel industry? I didn’t know he was interested in industry. Did he say anything about when he would be back?” she sounded much less sharp now and it was clear that she was worried about him. 

“Not exactly, ma’am. I don’t think he knew when he would be back but he said he felt bad about leaving without a word to you. He said he wished he had at least said a proper goodbye.” 

In spite of herself, the old lady was looking almost tearful. Grandad cleared his throat and then continued;

“He asked me, if I passed this way, to tell you that. And to tell you that he was well but would be travelling quite a lot and might not be able to communicate. He said not to worry, he would be back when he had made his fortune to tell you all about it.” 

There was a short silence and then Grandad stood up. 

“We’ll be on our way now, ma’am, now that we’ve been able to pass on his message.” and he turned back the way they had come. 

“No, wait, wait. I must thank you for coming out of your way to tell me. Here, here, take this.” and she fumbled in a little bag that was hanging from her chair arm, pulling out some coins.

“No ma’am, really, that’s not necessary.” 

“I insist,” she said, her voice sharp again. She was used to getting her own way. “Here boy” she was looking at Len, “come here.”

He walked nervously up to her. She had pulled a little lace handkerchief out at the same time as the money and she wrapped the coins in it and gave them to Len. He muttered thanks and went back to Grandad. They both nodded to the old lady and walked back along the path and into the cover of the bushes. They didn’t speak for quite a while and walked slowly down to the stream where they had played on the day of the picnic. It seemed a long time ago and Len realised that it hadn’t actually happened yet. 

“I feel better for that. I really wasn’t happy having that poor old woman waiting all those years without even a goodbye.”

Len leaned against his shoulder and the two of them sat for a while in perfect harmony. Later, they ate the picnic Grandma had packed for them, taking extra care not to leave any litter, then they strolled back to the cottage, where they gave the handkerchief full of coins to Bessie. They explained briefly how they had come by it and she smiled. She understood that Grandad had needed to try to set the old lady’s mind at rest. She untied the knotted handkerchief and gasped;

“Why that’s over five shillings, more than a week’s wage. I can’t keep all that,” but Grandad pointed out that money wasn’t the same in 2020 and it would be no use to him. She gave him back the handkerchief to give to Grandma as a souvenir. 

They said a last goodbye to Bessie and the children and made their way back to the potting shed. Norman wasn’t there, of course, he was off working with Mr Penny somewhere and Len suddenly really wanted to see him to say a proper goodbye. They had become good friends and Len knew he would miss him. 

Somehow, he knew they would not be coming back. They waited a while and then Grandad said;

“Come on lad, better get going.”

They brought the STITCH machines out of the potting shed and Grandad reset them to take them home. After one final look round, in case Norman was there, they each took hold of the handle of a machine. 

And then, just as Grandad was about to press the red button, there he was, running across the grass as fast as his legs would carry him. He threw his arms round Grandad and gave him a huge hug. Then he stepped back and turned to Len. Suddenly, neither of them seemed to know what to say. Len felt shy and happy and sad all at once. Boys of ten going on eleven don’t hug but this was a special occasion, so hug they did. 

Norman stepped back and brushed his hand across his eyes. Before the boys could get tearful, Grandad nodded at Len and he pressed the red button. 

There was no-one in the garden when they got back and they put the machines in the shed in silence.  Neil’s tape recorder was on the bench and Grandad looked at it.

“We’ll listen to that tomorrow. You can call Neil over and we’ll have a listen together. It’s a good end to the story, I’ve already heard it. Don’t be too upset, lad.  We’ve had an adventure and a lot of fun. You’ve made two new friends and so have Grandma and I.

There will be more barbecues this summer I’m sure, well, if the weather stays fine. And we’ve learned a bit of history too, real history, not just book learning. I don’t know about you, but I’m going to do a bit of reading and see what else we can find out about how young Arthur got on. You never know, he might have great grandchildren living nearby, just like Norman has.” 

Len nodded. He would miss Norman, but he knew his story was a good one and he looked forward to hearing the second tape. He still had Neil to talk to; to play with and, if his parents could be persuaded, to travel in time with him. He might even be able to come and stay at Len’s house for a few days too. The more he thought about it, the more he realised that there was quite a lot to look forward to. 

Grandad put his arm around Len’s shoulder and they walked back to the house. Grandma’s voice drifted out from the kitchen;

“Cup of tea?” 

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A Stitch in Time Part 15

Part 15 – Adventure’s End 

Grandma and Grandad had obviously been talking overnight and, in spite of his promise to get them all back to 1920 in time for Norman to go to work – and he had to be there for 07.30 – everyone had a lie in and it was eight o’clock the next morning before everyone was gathered again at their house. 

Norman and his Mum were a bit worried that he would get into trouble and possibly even lose his job but Grandma smiled and said;

“Wait and see.” 

She wouldn’t say more but she obviously had an idea to make everything alright. They waited until Neil’s parents arrived before discussing things any further. As they sat round eating breakfast, some at the big table, some on kitchen chairs, some on the floor and, in the case of the two smallest ones, on people’s knees, Grandad explained; 

“Although we have always gone at a certain time of day and arrived years earlier but still at the same time of day, we don’t have to. It’s just easier. It gets a bit tricky to fine tune it to the minute but I’m pretty sure I can set the machine to get you home about daybreak.” 

He beamed at them.

“So, we’ve had an idea. Here’s the plan – Big Ben, Richard and the boys can go down to Richard’s garage and have a look at some cars and engines and the like.” He smiled as he saw Norman’s eyes light up. “The women folk can take the little ones up to the playground in the village. Bessie can go with them or, even better, stay here and have an hour of peace and quiet sitting in the garden. And I will go and prepare the STITCH to take everyone home to 1920. We’ll set off straight after lunch.”

He looked round, to see how everyone liked his idea. 

There were, of course, a few questions but, in the end, it was agreed as a plan; the table was cleared; the pots were washed and everyone was ready. There was one small alteration, as Grandma insisted on staying behind to get lunch ready and Bessie said she would help. 

Soon it was quiet again, as everyone who was going out had gone, Grandad was busy swearing to himself in the shed and it wasn’t time to get lunch ready yet, so Grandma and Bessie were sitting in the garden enjoying the sun. Suddenly, a voice called from over the fence. 

“I suppose you think it’s alright making all that noise last night.” It was nasty old spiteful Mr Nottage. 

“Yes,” said Grandma, “I do.” 

“Well I shall have the police on you if it happens again. You see if I don’t.” 

Grandma got up and walked slowly across the garden. Even though there was a fence between them, Mr Nottage started to back away. 

“You are a very nasty little man.” said Grandma quietly. “You think you can nosy into everybody’s business. You think you can tell people what to do. You think you can threaten people and they will be frightened. You are wrong. Leave us alone – OR I WILL HAVE THE POLICE ON YOU!”

 She wasn’t shouting but he knew she meant it. 

And she turned away and walked back to her chair as if that was the end of it. Mr Nottage stood there for a moment, as if he was going to say more. Then he hunched his shoulders and went back up the garden to the house. He didn’t quite run. 

“He’s not very nice, then.” said Bessie.

“He’s a mean little man who hates to see anyone having fun.” huffed Grandma, “and I’ve had enough of him.” 

“Good for you,” smiled Bessie

Grandma smiled too. 

“Cup of tea?” she said.

Shortly after that, the phone rang and Grandma went to answer it. 

“Yes.” she said. “Yes. That’ll be fine. Yes, I’ll see to it.” and she put the phone down.

Bessie looked at her questioningly.

“Not the police, I hope?” she said, a little nervously.

“No.” Grandma said briefly. “You’ll see.” 

About an hour later the various members of the two families came back. Last of all, came Big Ben, Richard and the boys, carrying huge brown paper bags. Bags that smelled delicious. 

Grandad came back into the house, rubbing his hands. 

“Don’t tell me it’s fish and chips.” he said gleefully. And it was. 

Full of fish and chips, the two families started to get things ready for departure. Grandad had put the STITCH machine on the picnic table. Grandma, Lizzie and Len’s Mum had packed some bags for Bessie to take back (She didn’t know it, but there was food and knitting wool, towels and sheets, sewing things and sewing patterns. Things she would be able to use.) Neil and Len had been talking to Richard and he had found out a really old car maintenance handbook for Norman to take back and study. 

Then it was time to go. Everyone stood around not being the one to say goodbye, but, eventually, Grandad cleared his throat;

“I will take Norman and little Joe with one machine. Len will take Bessie and Alex with the other.  That way there is no worry about overloading one of them. We will go to the potting shed in time for Norman to report in to the Head Gardener and Len and I will help Bessie home with the children and all this luggage. Because we are going back to earlier in the day, I don’t want to make a mess of it and end up with us getting back here before we set off, so to speak. So Len and I will stay into the afternoon and be back before teatime.” 

He looked round at the suddenly solemn faces around him. No-one said a word. 

“Right then, time to be off.” 

They gathered round the two machines. Everyone had another hug and said goodbye again. The parents made sure everyone who wasn’t going stood well back. This time there would be no accidental hitch hikers.  He nodded at Len and they pressed the red buttons.

A Stitch in Time Part 14

Part 14 – All Very confusing.

Grandma, Neil and Len saw them all disappear. They looked at each other in shock.

“Well,” said Grandma calmly, “We’d better go and see if everyone’s alright. Are you ready Len?” 

He nodded. 

“Do you think they’ll be alright?” he asked. 

“Oh, I think so. We had four adults on each machine when we went for the picnic didn’t we? So I’m pretty sure it can handle two grownups and three children. Ready now?” 

3

2

1

Go! 

Two fingers pushed two red buttons. And there they were in their own back garden. 

It was like a circus. Neil’s Mum and Dad were hugging Neil and asking him all sorts of questions. His Gran was standing staring at Norman’s Mum and she was staring back. Len’s Mum had picked up one of the little ones and Dad had picked up the other one, who had already fallen down again and was crying quietly on Dad’s shoulder.  Grandad was looking round, not really sure how it had happened. The noise was deafening. 

Eventually things quietened down and Grandma said brightly;

“Tea?” and went into the house. 

It took quite a while to sort out who was who and Norman found it hilarious when he sat on Gran’s knee and she called him Grandpa. Fortunately, the two dads had already got the barbecue going, so they started cooking straight away. Grandad and the three boys carefully put the STITCH machines away in the shed, locking the door behind them just in case and then went in to wash their hands. 

In the garden there was a little swing and a slide that had been for Len and his cousins when they were smaller. Norman’s sister, called Alex, was in Heaven and had to be dragged away when it was time to eat. His little brother, Joe, was just as bad, except he couldn’t decide which he liked best, cuddling up to Grandma, who seemed to be his special friend, or being pushed on the swing by Grandad.

Soon the food was ready and the children from 1920 couldn’t believe their eyes. They had never seen such a feast. It was just chicken legs and sausages, burgers and salad, with soft drinks and buns to finish but this was more food than they had ever seen all at once. It was all spread out on the garden table, along with ketchup and pickles enough to feed the street. Until then, neither Len nor Neil had ever realised how lucky they were to always have enough to eat and a comfortable place to sleep. 

Norman looked as though he was going to eat every single thing he was offered but even he was full at last. Little Joe was running around with a sausage in each hand and Alex opened her mouth so wide to bite into a burger Gran said her head would turn inside out. But there was always room for a piece of cake. 

Once she had got over the shock, Norman’s Mum seemed to take everything in her stride and was happy sitting in a garden chair, eating a burger and watching everyone having fun. She and Gran sat next to each other and Gran eventually said;

“My Dad used to tell me that you were the best Grandmother in the whole world.” Bessie smiled. “He said you were the best cook too. He said every meal was special at your house.” 

The two women sat side by side, watching the children play and thinking their own thoughts. Bessie had to be persuaded to have a piece of cake; she was used to there not always being enough to eat and her family always came first. At one point, she and Grandma disappeared into the house and were found some time later discussing recipes. She was astounded by the modern kitchen and especially loved the fridge freezer, which she saw as a Godsend. 

“Why don’t you stay here tonight?” asked Grandad suddenly. “We can take you back early tomorrow morning, in time for Norman to go to work. That way, I can be sure the machine is fully charged.” 

The three boys looked at Norman’s Mum, pleading with their eyes.   

“These three can share the big spare bed at my house.” said Gran. 

“Bessie and the two little ones can have Len’s room if he’s not going to need it.” said Grandma.

She smiled and they knew that meant YES. 

Quietly, Grandma took Big Ben on one side and he disappeared into the house, coming out a few minutes later with his car keys in his hand. He was going to the supermarket for extra supplies for the morning, since they had four more mouths to feed for breakfast. Grandma had quickly written him a list and he had shopping bags ready. 

When he heard that Big Ben had a car, Norman’s eyes nearly popped out of his head and the next thing anyone knew was that all three boys were in the car, going to the supermarket too.  It didn’t take long and the boys hadn’t even gone into the shop because Norman was so interested in the car. He sat in the driver’s seat, pretending to steer. 

Of course, he had seen cars before, but only one or two and he had certainly never had the chance to ride in one. When they got back, Richard came round onto the drive and they opened the car bonnet so Norman and the other two could see inside. Richard was a car mechanic, specialising in veteran cars and he explained a lot to them. Norman, especially, was fascinated and was asking all sorts of questions. Richard was explaining that he had a vintage car that he was working on round at his garage at the moment, but it was too late at night to go round and see it, unfortunately.  

It was getting dark by now and the two little ones were becoming tetchy with tiredness. Bessie was used to early nights too and she and Grandma took the little ones upstairs. When Bessie saw the bathroom, her eyes lit up, so they gave Joe and Alex a bath and put them to bed with old tee shirts of Len’s as night shirts. They were huge and baggy but the children didn’t seem to mind. It didn’t take two minutes before they were asleep and the two women went back downstairs to sit in the now quiet garden for half an hour. 

Even though Gran only lived on the next street, Richard took the boys round to her house in the car, before he and Lizzie went home, promising to be there bright and early the next day. Norman was in Heaven. 

As soon as they had all gone, Bessie went to bed. Grandma, Grandad, Mum and Dad cleared away most of the rubbish from the garden, checked that the barbecue had properly gone out and then went in to bed.  (After Grandad had gone back out in his pyjamas to the shed and put all the STITCH machines on charge.)

Round at Gran’s, the three boys, with Norman wearing spare pyjamas belonging to Neil, lay in a big double bed talking over the last few days. It had been pretty exciting all round and they had lots to talk about. Norman knew now exactly what he wanted to do for a job. No more gardening for him. He was going to work in a garage, like Richard. His mind was racing with ideas about cars and engines. 

Neil, on the other hand, was thinking about gardens, plants, trees, vegetables, everything to do with gardens.  He was starting to think that this was the life for him. And Len? For him it was time machines and the whole of time and space waiting to be explored. 

A Stitch in Time Part 12 and 13

Part 12 – The Old Lady 

They turned back to Norman, who sat back down on the wall. Grandad glanced at him questioningly.

“The old lady is very poorly. She hasn’t got long, according to Irene, the nurse.” He looked slightly embarrassed. “She happens to be a friend of mine, the nurse, in fact, we’re walking out together. I’m hoping we can get engaged before I go off. I’ve got the ring, if she’ll have me.”  He grinned, patting his pocket, then looked serious again.  “Anyway, I took him in to see her. The house is being used as a nursing home and Mrs Nesbitt has just a few rooms in one wing now.  Her sight isn’t as good as it was, which might have been a blessing, as the first thing she said was that he hadn’t changed a bit and that might have been a bit hard to explain otherwise.

I stood with Irene while he talked to her. She was so happy. Her hands were fluttering and she was trying to touch his face so he took them in his and held them to his cheeks.  She kept saying he was her handsome boy and how she always knew he would come back to her. He was a bit puzzled when she talked about the man who came with a message but he didn’t ask for more detail. I don’t know who that could have been, do you?” Grandad and Len shook their heads. 

“She cried a bit and made Irene come and tidy up her hair so she looked nice for her special boy. 

When she asked him where he had been for so long, he told her he’d been working away, which is true enough in its way I suppose.  He said he was a successful industrialist and happily married and would bring his wife and children to see her next time. She thought he meant he was coming home to stay and started talking about plans. He let her believe it.” He paused. “There won’t be a next time, of course, will there?” 

“No. I only gave him what he needed to get back to where – when – he wanted to be and I don’t think he is capable of building another machine, even if he could get hold of the parts. No, as far as I can see, he’s stuck in 1820. We won’t be going back for him anyway. As for his wife and family, it will be true one day, I think and if it made the old girl happy, it was just a fib really. How did he say goodbye?”

“Well the old lady was getting tired. Irene said she need to sleep. I think he realised now was a good time to go, so he gave her a hug. You know, it didn’t seem to come very naturally to either of them, although I thought she would never let go. I still give my mum a hug, old as I am. Anyway, he settled her back in her covers and she soon drifted off to sleep, still smiling. I think it hit him harder than he had expected.” 

He stood up and Grandad and Len did the same.  

“And now, I think it’s time for us to get off too.” 

Grandad suddenly looked older and a bit tired. Thinking about the old lady waiting all those years must have upset him a bit.  Len offered to help carry the STITCH machine with Norman and they set off across the park to the potting shed. It didn’t take long but it was heavy and Len was grateful when they arrived. He looked around. It didn’t look much different but he was getting a bit confused, he’d been there at so many different times. 

Norman shuffled his feet. 

“Time I was going. There’s a young lady waiting for me,” he said, grinning. “Wish me luck. I’m glad we managed to meet again, although it wasn’t a complete surprise, for me at least.” And he winked at Grandad.” It’s been a pleasure knowing you both. Have a safe trip.” 

Len still felt odd, seeing Norman as a grown man when he was still only a boy himself but he smiled and held out his hand to shake. Norman grinned and shook it heartily. Meanwhile, Grandad had been fiddling with the STITCH to re-set it for 1920. He grabbed Len’s hand and the last thing Len saw was a smart young man in uniform giving a salute.  He started to wave and Grandad pressed the red button. 

Part 13 – The Last Lap

The potting shed certainly looked smarter now and they could hear voices from inside. Len and Grandad walked round to the door and peeped inside. There was some scuffling but Norman, the Norman Len was used to, was alone, busy cleaning giant plant pots with a wire brush. He grinned as they walked in and said,

“It’s alright, Neil, you can come out.” And Neil crawled out from where he had hidden, in case it had been someone he didn’t want to meet.  

Since it was another lovely Summer day, Grandma and Norman’s Mum were going to come over with a picnic lunch soon, so Len and Grandad helped out with Norman’s jobs while they waited. They all had plenty to tell each other. 

Norman went first. Apart from being a bit nervous being out on his own at night, he had time travelled back quite easily. No-one had seen him arrive, so he had hidden the STITCH as best he could by the big tree and he had run as fast as he could for home. It was really dark by the time he arrived and he was greeted with relief by Grandma, Neil and the rest of his family. He was glad to see them too, not being used to going out on his own in the dark. They had been a bit dismayed when they learned that Grandad and Len were staying overnight in 1820 and he had quite a lot of explaining to do.  Like him, they didn’t see why Mr Nesbitt could possibly want to stay back there in 1820. 

Then there was quite a puzzle about what Grandma and Neil should do. Grandma said they should be getting back to 2020 to tell everyone what was happening but Neil clearly wanted to stay. Norman’s Mum had offered to let them stay at the cottage but there wasn’t really enough room.  What’s more, both Len’s and Neil’s parents would be worried sick if no-one came home. They were bound to be wondering what awful accident could have happened.  

Seeing both Neil and Norman desperate for Neil to stay, Grandma had reluctantly said yes, checking that Neil had his mini if he needed it. Grandma had then used the second STITCH to get home to 2020.  Very early the next morning, as it was just getting light, Neil and Norman had walked down to the big tree at the side of the lane and collected the first STITCH machine. They had had a bit of a scare when they saw Leggett, the gamekeeper, walking in their direction, but someone had called him back and they had managed to get away before he saw them. 

When they got back to the cottage, Grandma was already there, with a huge packet of bacon and a dozen or more bread rolls.  She had charged the power pack on the STITCH machine overnight, so they would all still be able to get back later today.  The whole family, except Norman’s Dad , who was working away, sat down to an enormous breakfast of bacon sandwiches, with ketchup, which they tried for the first time. Len thought sadly of his own mean breakfast of stale cheese back in 1820 and couldn’t help feeling a little bit envious. 

Norman had reported to the Head Gardener for work as normal, only to be told he (the Head Gardener) was going across to another big house a few miles away to visit his friend who was Head Gardener there and buy some saplings to plant in the garden here. Norman was to do some weeding in one of the big flower beds and then get on with cleaning out some really big old plant pots ready to use the following day. As soon as he had gone, Neil went out to help him, so they had got the work finished in double quick time. Neil had loved the work and said he thought he would like to be a gardener when he was older, but Norman wasn’t so sure. He didn’t know what he wanted to do but it probably wasn’t gardening. 

And then Grandad and Len had appeared from behind the potting shed, causing Neil to dive for cover in case it was Leggett or someone else from the Big House. 

After they had hidden the STITCH again, Len told his two friends about what had happened in 1820 after Norman had left, including the stop off in 1940. Norman had looked at Grandad at that point and said; 

“I’d better keep a note of the date, then, so I don’t forget to be there!” He grinned at Grandad but Grandad didn’t tell him much of what had happened because he thought it should be allowed to happen naturally. (But he did write the date and time on a scrap of paper for Norman to keep.)

Len happened to be looking around when he saw a funny look on Grandad’s face.

“Quick!” he shouted “Get out. Fast as you can.” And he made a dash for the door.

The two boys looked at each other in surprise and slowly started to follow him. And then the smell got to them. Someone had farted. Grandad was looking innocently at them as they gasped and ran for the door.

“Take big breaths,” he said, “It won’t last as long.”

They fell over each other getting out and gasping for air and then the three of them lay on the grass, laughing as Len told them about calling Grandad Pooart and now they knew why. Grandad poked his head out of the door.

“You do make a fuss.” He grumbled but he was grinning as he came out to sit on the grass with them.

Soon, they heard voices and looked out to see Norman’s little sister and even littler brother running across the grass towards them, with Grandma and Norman’s Mum walking behind them. The little boy looked just like a tiny Norman but the girl looked like her Mum, with blond curls and a smiley face.  She was holding her little brother’s hand and pulling him along but he was still not very good at walking and kept falling down. Each time he fell, she would wait, hands on hips, for him to get up and then grab his hand and set off again. 

Grandma looked very relieved to see them and gave Grandad and Len big hugs. As usual, she had heaps of food for them and they spread it all out on the grass.  Although cheese pies were very nice, Len couldn’t help thinking wistfully about those bacon sandwiches that Norman and Neil had had and, when he looked up, he saw Grandma smiling at him. She knew just what he was thinking and reached into her basket. 

“Is this what you were fancying, Len?” she smiled and pulled out two fresh bread rolls, full of bacon and ketchup, wrapped in a tea towel and still warm.  One each for him and Grandad. Just perfect. 

It was Grandma’s turn to bring them up to date. When she had arrived home alone, the parents had not been very happy and there had been a lot of talk about using the spare STITCH in the shed to come and collect everyone. Surprisingly, Neil’s Mum and Dad had been a bit more relaxed about it, partly because of his Gran, who was totally unfazed by it all and kept saying;

“Our Neil? He’ll be alright, that one. He always bounces back; you just wait and see.” 

She had managed to convince them that everything would be fine and, after an awful lot of talking, they had agreed and everyone had gone to bed, except Len’s Dad, who had rushed off  to the supermarket before it closed for bacon and bread rolls, knowing that Grandma wouldn’t ever go anywhere without loads of things to eat. 

She had gone pretty much straight to bed (after putting the STITCH on charge.) because she wanted to be up early enough in the morning to help out at the cottage. After that it had been pretty plain sailing, getting everything together and using the STITCH but she was under strict instructions to get everyone home by teatime today – or else! And just in case anyone – she looked pointedly at Len here – anyone wanted to stay longer, she was to tell them that the parents were planning a huge barbecue for them all. Of course, they had to explain what a barbecue was and Norman looked pretty fed up when he realised he would not be there to enjoy it. 

The three boys went back in the potting shed, checking that the air had cleared, and helped Norman get his work done while the adults and small ones stayed out on the grass, chatting and generally relaxing. At about 4 o’clock, Grandad and Grandma started getting the three STITCH machines ready to go home. As before, Grandma and Neil would take one but this time Grandad and Len would have one each. Grandad made Len practise at least five times before he was satisfied that he would be OK operating it on his own. 

Finally, it was time to go. Neil gave Norman’s Mum a huge hug and promised he would never forget her, then he went and stood beside Grandma, ready to go. Len did the same, a bit shy because he didn’t know her as well as Neil now did, having stayed the night.  Grandma and Grandad shook her hand and then went to their machines. Norman said goodbye to Len and Neil, hugged Grandma and Grandad and went back to his Mum. That was it, they were ready to go. 

And that would have been the end of the story, if it hadn’t been for Norman’s baby brother, who ran forward just at the wrong moment and fell down, grabbing Grandad’s leg as he fell. And just as he grabbed Grandad’s leg, his sister caught his hand. And just as his sister did that, Norman grabbed her other hand. And as Norman grabbed her, he was still holding his Mum. And just as they were all holding onto each other, Grandad pressed the red button. 

A Stitch in Time Part 11

Part 11 – Sorting Things Out.

What with Norman leaving and Len having to share a bed with Grandad and having to spend the night in most of his clothes, Len didn’t think he would sleep very well, but he was wrong. They had walked a lot of miles that day, far more than he was used to, and he was tired out by the time they got back to the house.  

Arthur showed him into a small room with a bed in it, and not a very big bed at that. He looked round for the bathroom, but there wasn’t one. No toilet either. Grandad took him on one side and showed him the chamber pot under the bed. He had to explain what it was for. LEN WAS APPALLED. No wonder Norman wanted to get back to civilisation. And no wonder it was such a smelly place. 

“Where do they empty it all out?” he asked

“You don’t want to know. Just be grateful next time you use the bathroom at home.” 

(What Len didn’t know was that things weren’t all that much better in Norman’s little cottage, at least as far as toilets were concerned.) 

Finally, he snuggled down under the thick blankets and eiderdown and was asleep in no time at all. He didn’t even stir when Grandad came to bed and had to push him over to the other side so he could get in. 

No shower the following morning, just a quick wash, what his Grandad called a “lick and a promise”.  Breakfast was mainly yesterday’s cheese sandwiches that were going a bit stale and a couple of cups of really strong tea with no sugar in. Not everything about adventuring was great, he thought to himself. Arthur had gone off to work with a promise to try and finish early and come home to help, so Grandad and Len spread the diagrams and tools out and set to work. 

By the time Arthur reappeared, having called at the pie shop on the way back, it was nearly done. The pies smelled wonderful and the three of them sat down with more tea and a pie each, thoroughly happy and with gravy dripping down their chins. Arthur told them about Mr Walker’s sister, Susannah, who was becoming a friend and for whom he clearly had a soft spot. They lived at Clifton House, up the hill on the other side of Wellgate, the street where they had first met Mr Gilbert, and were very wealthy and important people. The house was magnificent. 

Len caught Grandad’s eye but didn’t say anything. They both knew that Clifton House was now a museum and its gardens were a public park. But that, of course, depended on just when NOW was. 

By mid-afternoon the work was all done and Grandad was confident it would work, since he had added some improvements too.  Arthur had been quite helpful and Grandad told him so. Arthur was rather surprised by the praise and appreciation and Len got the impression that not many people had been kind to him in the past.

Getting ready to go, they draped a cloth over the STITCH machine, so it didn’t look too out of place and set off back up the hill, Arthur and Grandad carrying it between them. When they got to where they had left Norman the night before, Len looked around. It was a lonely place and he was impressed again with how brave Norman had been up here in the dusk on his own. He resolved to tell him so the next time he saw him. 

They put the machine down at the side of the road, near the big tree. It was just a lane really but quite busy, as it was one of the main roads into town, and they had to wait a few minutes until there was no-one about to see them go. Len expected Arthur to say goodbye at this point but instead, he took hold of one of the handles, as Grandad took the other. 

“Come on, lad. Look sharp before a crowd gathers.” muttered Grandad. Len grinned, as there wasn’t anyone to be seen in any direction. He glanced at Arthur and then at Grandad. 

“He’s coming with us on this one.” 

Len shrugged and took hold of the handle, closed his eyes, waited for nothing to happen and opened them again. They were still at the side of a road, but it didn’t look like Norman’s time at all. The road was wider and had a tarmac surface, not just a dusty lane anymore and the huge old tree was a broken stump.  Len was puzzled, was this really 1920 or had they accidentally arrived in a different time?  Then a lorry went past, an army lorry and Len knew this wasn’t 1920. Without a word of explanation, Arthur and Grandad set off up the hill and, when they got to the top, Len could see the wall that surrounded the big house. 

Standing leaning against the gate was a familiar figure, it looked like Eric, Norman’s big brother, waving a scrap of paper at them.

“Hello Len.” He said with a big grin, “Don’t you know me?” 

And then Len gasped with shock. It was Norman, not Eric. They had come back to a time when Norman was a grown up. A grown up in a smart blue/grey uniform. Before Len could say anything, Norman turned to Arthur, 

“Come along sir, I’ll take you in.” and with a brief smile and a wave at Len, he walked with Arthur up to the big house. Len turned to Grandad and put his hands on his hips. 

“What’s going on? When is this? This is not when we were supposed to be coming to. Why did we come here? How are we getting back?“  He was actually quite angry, mainly  at being kept in the dark.  It wasn’t like Grandad to be secretive with him. Grandad sat on the wall and patted the place next to him. He sighed and started to explain. 

“When I was talking to young Arthur about staying back then, you know, in 1820, I kept thinking about his poor old mum, waiting all those years and him never going home and her never seeing him again and I kept thinking how I would feel if I never saw you again. Well, “ he said, rubbing his hand across his eyes, “It didn’t seem right to me and I told him so.  

So Arthur has agreed to come back just once to see her before she dies, which, by my guess, is quite soon. I couldn’t remember the exact date so I hope we haven’t missed her. (It’s a good job your Grandma did all that research or I wouldn’t have had a clue.) He insisted on coming back later rather than sooner, so that’s what I’ve done. I’ve set him up with a mini to get him back to 1820, and he has promised to destroy it as soon as he gets back. Then you and I are using this STITCH to get back to 1920, to see Neil, Norman and Grandma, with any luck, and then, my lad, we are going home to our NOW for a nice cup of tea and a bath.”

He sighed. “As for when this is, it’s 1940. Norman is a mechanic in the RAF on home leave before being posted abroad. “ He looked sheepishly at Len. “Do you remember when Neil brought the tape round to our house, we only listened to one but there were two tapes? Well, Grandma and I listened to the other tape that Norman made, so we had a bit of an idea about what was going to happen. That’s why I didn’t try too hard to get Arthur to come back to 1920 with us. “ 

They sat quietly thinking for a while and Len really did have quite a lot of thinking to do. Norman as a grownup had been quite a surprise. He was just about to ask Grandad if Norman would survive the war alright when he realised, yes, of course he did, or he wouldn’t have been able to leave the tape. This time travel was all very well but it led to some quite complicated thinking. 

“Why didn’t you tell me?” 

“I don’t know. I think I just thought the fewer people, the better.” 

Len nodded. He still felt a bit annoyed but he could see the point. Keeping track of who did what when wasn’t easy. 

Possibly an hour had gone by and Len was starting to feel hungry yet again, when they heard quiet voices behind them.  Norman and Arthur were walking back up the drive towards them. Arthur looked as if he might have been crying and was very subdued. 

“I’ll get straight back, I think, if you don’t mind. There’s nothing for me here. ” he muttered. He turned to shake hands with Norman, then Len and, finally, with Grandad.  “I owe you a lot. You helped me find my place in this world, even if you didn’t mean to, and you helped me make peace with my mother. I’m not sorry I stole your machine, although I do apologise for the trouble it has caused you. I won’t forget you.” and before anyone could answer, he turned away and walked quickly down the hill. As he drew level with the stump of the old tree, he put his hand in his pocket, straightened his shoulders and, without breaking step, disappeared forever.

A Stitch in Time Part 10

Part 10 – Returns 

Mr Nesbitt had gone straight into the next room, the one that might have been a kitchen, but Len, Neil and Grandad just stood and stared at the STITCH machine. Grandad walked across to it, pulling out his screwdriver as he did so. He pulled off his rucksack and placed it carefully on the floor, telling the boys to take the things out of it carefully and spread them out on the sideboard where he could see them.  The boys watched in silence as he started to open it up. 

At this point Mr Nesbitt came back into the room. He seemed to have calmed down a lot and Len couldn’t help wondering what Grandad had been saying to him on the walk through the town. 

“My landlady leaves me a meal at night but I’m afraid it won’t be enough to go round all four of us.” 

“We’ve got some food with us.” Len told him. He heard Norman breathe a sigh of relief. 

Leaving Grandad working on the STITCH machine, the two boys took Norman’s rucksack back down the hall and into the dining room, which was quite small and seemed crowded with the spindly furniture and a fancy fireplace, although, it being midsummer, there was no fire. The table was set for one but Mr Nesbitt told them where to find plates and so on and they spread the food out ready to eat. 

As Len walked through into the other room to get Grandad, he looked out of the window. It was still light but he realised it must be getting quite late. As if reading his mind, Grandad turned round. 

“I’m not going to get this repaired and fit to use tonight anyway. But I’m loath to leave it here and come back for it tomorrow.” He said as he walked through into the dining room. He was looking at Mr Nesbitt as he said this. 

“In case I run off with it again, you mean.” He somehow managed to look both ashamed and defiant at the same time. “I won’t. But you can stay here tonight if you wish. There’s a spare bedroom upstairs or one of you can sleep in the chair in here to guard it. But it’s safe enough.” He looked Grandad straight in the eye. “I won’t steal your machine again. And anyway, “he laughed, “it’s no good to me as it is. The damn thing dropped me out on the moor and then wouldn’t do a thing. I had to walk miles into town to find help. You can imagine my shock when it finally occurred to me what had happened.”

“Were you scared?” asked Norman.

They sat down and started to eat. Mr Nesbitt had a bottle of wine, which he offered round. When the boys refused and took a bottle of lemonade out of Len’s bag, he offered them beer instead, explaining that no-one would dream of drinking water, it just wasn’t safe to drink. 

“It’s one of the ways I’m going to make my fortune. Clean, bottled drinking water. Carbonated. It’s all the rage in London right now and I’m going to set up a factory here” Mr Nesbitt told them. He added, rather shyly, “I’m Arthur, by the way, to my friends, if you want to call me that. Although I don’t have many friends really. Mother sees to that. She’s very possessive, you know. This is the first time in my life I’ve felt free. “ 

Not knowing what to say to this, they ate in silence for a minute or two and then Arthur resumed;

“Was I scared? Yes, of course, a bit. But I was excited too. I hid the machine as well as I could and set off towards where I could see the smoke of the town. The first person I met was a preacher, Mr Gilbert, is that who told you where to find me? I thought so. Anyway, as soon as I saw him, I guessed what had happened. I mean that I had somehow gone back in time. He’s quite a famous man in the Methodist Church, or, rather, he will be. I’ve seen a picture of him in the chapel in Wickersley. And of course, the way people were dressed made me think too. I was trying to invent a plausible story of how I came to be here but he was so eager to help, and to save my soul, that he hardly asked any questions at all. 

Fortunately, it had started to rain and we were both soon soaked to the skin, so he took me in, offered me food, clothes and a bed and that was the start of a whole new life for me.” He paused as Grandad looked about to speak but he obviously changed his mind. “He has been very kind to me and we spent a good part of the second day I was here discussing scientific matters, so he said he knew the very person and took me down to meet Mr Walker – the gentleman I was with when you found me. 

He’s a very influential man around here although a very poor businessman, it has to be said. But it soon became clear that my scientific understanding is far greater than his and, when I had made a few suggestions about iron processing and the need for mass produced steel, he recognised this and offered me employment. The firm makes cast iron cannon for the most part but, since there are no wars at the moment, sales have gone down and they are branching into cast iron for bridge building. It’s fascinating.  But, quite frankly, steel is the future, if only it can be produced in large enough quantities.

As soon as I could afford it, I found these lodgings and left Mr. Gilbert, although I join him for dinner each Friday evening and we talk long into the night.“

He looked round the table and smiled a tight little smile. “This may not seem like much of a life to you but for the first time I have a friend in Mr Gilbert and I may have another in Mr Walker. This is my life now and I can assure you I will make a success of it.” 

“I know you will, lad,” said Grandad. Len, Norman and Arthur all looked at him in surprise and he continued, “I had the feeling the very first time I saw you that I’d seen your face before but things were a bit tense at the time, as you might remember, since you had just stolen my time machine, and I pushed the thought out of my mind for the time being. 

But I have seen it before, years and years ago, when I was an apprentice in the steel works. I was an office lad as part of my training and one of my jobs was to deliver and collect documents and accounts to the meetings in the boardroom. Well, on the wall in there you could see portraits of the founding fathers of the works; Samuel Walker, Joshua Walker, Henry Walker, who I believe was the gentleman we met briefly this afternoon, and Arthur Nesbitt. In other words, you. 

So it seems you will get your own way and will stay here, make a future for yourself and a successful one, at that. But I must take the STITCH machine back with me, as I’m sure you understand.”

Arthur was nodding but smiling too. Norman couldn’t help thinking what a nicer person he was here than he had been at home.  He seemed younger too and Norman realised that he was probably only a year or two older than his brother Eric. 

“But, about staying the night…” Grandad was rubbing his chin thoughtfully, “I don’t know. We’ll be missed if we aren’t back soon and I don’t want them worrying about us.  We could go back and return in the morning but, well, I’m sorry lad but I don’t quite trust you yet. If we could get a message back to say we’re fine and will be back tomorrow…”  

“I’ll go back.” said Norman suddenly. “I know you’ve set our machine to go back to my time, I could go if you like. All I would have to do is press the button. And you’re mending that one, so you could use that to get you and Len back. You’ve got all the parts you need, haven’t you? “  

He nodded in the direction of the other room. 

Len stared. Go back? And miss the adventure? What was he thinking of? But he caught a look from Grandad and didn’t say anything. 

“It’s a brave offer lad but are you sure?” 

“Yes, yes I will be fine. At least, would you walk part of the way back to where we hid the machine? It’s a long way and it might be dark” 

Len thought that was really brave and clearly Grandad did too because he smiled and ruffled Norman’s hair, just like he did Len’s sometimes. 

It was agreed. All four of them would walk back up the hill out of town and Norman would use their STITCH to get back home to 1920 and tell everyone what had happened and what was planned. Then Grandad, Arthur and Len would spend the night in Rotherham, finish repairs to the stolen STITCH and go their separate ways the following day. 

They left the pots on the table for the landlady to clear up later and set off straight away. As before, Grandad and Arthur walked in front, talking intently and the two boys dawdled along behind. It was then that Norman explained why he had offered to take the news back home. 

“It’s not really that I’m very brave. In fact, I’m more scared here than I have ever been in my life. I’ve never slept away from home before and I don’t like that house.  It smells funny. And I don’t feel right in that old fashioned, horrible, mucky place – it’s not what I expected at all- and you can’t drink the water and I want my mum.” He finished all in a rush, looking at Len to see how he would react. 

But Len understood straight away. It was alright for Len; he had his Grandad; he had time travelled before – twice – but Norman had never been further than walking distance from his own front door.  He nodded to show he understood and told Norman how brave he thought he was going home on his own.  If anything, it made them even better friends than ever. 

Soon they came in sight of the big tree near where they had left the STITCH machine.  Norman asked them to stop where they were and he ran on, turning to wave reassuringly when he saw it was still there and undamaged. They saw him kneel down at the side of the road, pull back the canvas, lean over into the ditch and then he just wasn’t there anymore. There was just an empty space where he had been. 

Len thought it suddenly seemed a lot darker than it had before. 

A Stitch in Time Part 9

Part 9 – Not as Easy as They Thought

They had been walking for quite a while and, realising that they had fallen behind, the boys increased speed and got closer just in time to hear Mr Gilbert say intently;

“Tell me, Mr, what’s your name now? Are you saved? Have you confessed to the lord? Have you turned to God?” 

Clearly embarrassed, Grandad muttered something they didn’t catch but Mr Gilbert clearly did. 

“Well, my dear sir, you must come to Bradgate later this afternoon, where I shall be preaching and we must hope you will see the light as so many have before.” 

Before Grandad could answer, Mr Gilbert let go of his arm and pointed at a big, noisy industrial building across the road. 

“This is the Effingham foundry, “he said “And there I believe you will find my protege.  I wish you well, Mr er, yes, I wish you well. Until we meet again later today, sir, God bless you.” and he raised his hat, turned away and walked briskly off without a backward look. 

Grandad turned and looked at the boys, who were giggling at his discomfort. 

“That’s enough of that.” He said grumpily and turned back to look at the Foundry. It wasn’t just one building, but several, all set around a large open space. In the middle was a big brick building with a cone shaped roof and several chimneys. 

The floor all around them was muddy; the air was thick with smoke and through a nearby door they could see men pouring what looked like molten metal from a ladle into a mould. From another building came the sound of hammers beating on metal. The whole place was dirty, noisy and somehow felt dangerous and neither of the two boys felt at all comfortable. They didn’t know what they had expected in 1820, but it wasn’t this. 

There were several men in dirty work clothes scurrying to and fro and Grandad walked up to one of them. It was noisy so Len and Norman couldn’t hear what was said, but Grandad nodded, looking at where the man pointed before going on about his business. He waved them over and the three of them walked together round one side of the building, where there was a door marked “Office” 

The problem was, they hadn’t really thought about what they would do when they found Mr Nesbitt. The boys realised they should have made a more detailed plan. Mr Nesbitt was unlikely to have the STITCH with him and getting that was equally as important as rescuing Mr Nesbitt himself. After some discussion, they decided that all they could do was find him and then deal with how they were going to get him and the machine back home. 

Grandad knocked on the door but no-one answered. He knocked again, louder, and then pushed the door open. The room was quite large and had several big desks and cabinets. There were wooden shelves full of books and papers, there were rulers and diagrams on the nearest desk. And there, standing by one of the desks, talking intently and examining a sheet of complicated looking figures with a slightly older, well-dressed man, was Mr Nesbitt. He turned as they walked in, did a double take and then gasped. 

“Oh no. Not you. Get out. Get out! I won’t have you ruining things!”  

Clearly Mr Nesbitt wasn’t very happy to see them. 

“I’m sorry to disturb you gentlemen, “said Grandad politely “I wonder if we could have a word with Mr Nesbitt for a minute or two. Won’t take long,” he smiled hopefully. 

There was a pause and then the older man said; 

“Well Nesbitt, I can see you have things to do and I have dinner engagement this evening with Viscount Halifax. Must go home and get changed. Why don’t you deal with these, er, people “he was looking doubtfully at the two boys, whose clothing must have looked extremely odd to him “and we can talk again in the morning. Your ideas on steel making are going to cause quite a stir, I can see and we need to think long and hard about things. Please read the drawings and add whatever you feel appropriate.” 

He smiled again, picked up a tall hat from the desk and made for the door.  He nodded politely at Grandad.  Len and Neil moved out of his way and watched as he left. They turned back to see Mr Nesbitt sink onto a chair behind the nearest desk. He had his head in his hands and looked completely fed up. 

“Mr Nesbitt, sir, it’s me, Norman. You know, the gardener’s lad. Don’t you remember me? We’ve come to rescue you. “ 

“Rescue? Rescue? “his voice was getting louder, “I don’t want to be rescued. It’s wonderful here. I can do what I like without Mother making a fuss.  I’ve already found myself a job and I know more about iron and steel than any of these fools do. I can run rings around them. I’ll be a rich man in no time at all.  I don’t want to go back. I can’t. I won’t.” and he banged his fist on the desk. 

Len was staring at him. 

“You want to stay here? But it’s dirty and smelly and horrible and you have that lovely old house and everything.” 

“I don’t care,” he answered sulkily. “I can make a life for myself here. I’ll take my chances. You can’t make me go back and I won’t. Now go away and leave me alone.” 

Across the yard a loud hooter went off. It was time to finish work for the day. 

Mr Nesbitt was tidying his desk, avoiding looking at Grandad or the boys. 

“Look lad, we can’t leave it at that.” 

Mr Nesbitt glowered up at him, then got up, took a hat from the hat stand and prepared to leave. He hesitated, looking at Grandad. Their arrival had obviously taken him completely by surprise.

“We need to decide what’s to be done, I can see that, but we can’t leave my machine here, even if you do want to stay. But if I take it, you’ll be stuck here for the rest of your life. Are you sure that’s what you want?”  

They all walked out of the office and Mr Nesbitt closed and locked the door behind them.  He and Grandad walked along with Norman and Len behind them, scuffing their feet on the dirty cobbles and wondering what was going to happen.  This was not a nice place in comparison to the lovely house and parkland back in Bramley and yet Mr Nesbitt seemed to like it. 

Grandad was talking seriously to Mr Nesbitt, who was no longer arguing but seemed to be listening careful to what Grandad had to say. They turned a corner into a narrow street of small neat houses and Mr Nesbitt took out a key. He stepped up to a blue painted door, unlocked it and then stood to one side to let Grandad, Norman and Len go in. He followed them and hung his hat and coat on a hook on the wall. 

“I really don’t know what to do.” His voice was quieter now and he seemed less angry. “I truly don’t want to go home. I’ve never been happy there, under my mother’s thumb all the time and nothing useful to do except be a country gentleman. It’s boring. Here there are challenges. There is a budding industry using the beginnings of a science which to me is familiar. In terms of progress and development, I know what is going to happen and I can use that knowledge to make a career for myself. I am not comfortable being a gentleman of leisure, whatever my mother may think.” 

Grandad was nodding. He clearly understood what Mr Nesbitt was saying better than the boys did. 

There was a door on either side of the hall. To the right the door was open and they could see into what appeared to be a small dining room, with spindly legged chairs and a table. The door on the left was closed. At the end of the hall were another two open doors, one leading into what might have been a primitive kitchen and the other looked like an office or study. At the end of the hall was a narrow staircase, presumably leading up to the bedrooms. 

 He walked down the narrow hall into the small study and there, on a sideboard by the wall, was the STITCH. 

A Stitch in Time Part 8

Part 8 – Getting the All Clear

As usual, they had all closed their eyes and, as usual, nothing happened so they opened them to find themselves back in Grandad’s garden. Each adult did a sneaky headcount to make sure everyone had arrived safe and sound and then pretended that they knew all along it would be OK. 

Richard, Lizzie, Neil and his Gran said a polite thank you for a lovely day and set off home. It was clear they had a lot to talk about. Len, his parents and his grandparents spent quite some time in the kitchen, clearing away leftovers (and cheekily eating a few when they thought no-one was looking.) They didn’t talk much about the day and they were all tired out, so it was showers and bed all round. 

Len’s dreams were full of adventure but when he woke up all he could remember was lots of sunshine and laughter. Downstairs there was cereal, toast and juice for breakfast and, once they were all sitting down together, the big discussion began. In the end it was agreed that Len could do at least one more trip with Grandad and Neil would go if his parents agreed. 

The next thing was to decide when. Of course, Len wanted to go as soon as possible and Grandma was insisting on a lot of checks and precautions but, eventually, it was agreed that they would go in a couple of days’ time, to give them (meaning Grandad) time to check, double check and triple check everything. Len’s dad went off to phone Neil’s dad and they had a long conversation before he came back and gave the thumbs up.

Strangely enough, although Len had expected the next two days to drag, they just flew by. One thing that needed much more thought then he had considered was what to wear. If there was a chance of meeting someone back in time, it might be a good idea to wear clothes that didn’t stand out too much, causing awkward questions.

After digging through his case and the drawers in his room, they found an old school shirt, a pair of longish shorts and some long grey socks that he could wear rolled down or pulled up. Shoes were a bit tricky because his favourite trainers were bright green but they eventually agreed that his school shoes would be Ok because he would need new ones in time to go back to school anyway. 

Grandma, of course, was worried about how much food they would need and Mum kept adding things to the First Aid Kit until it was too heavy to carry and she had to tip it all out and start again. 

Neil and his dad were round at the house a lot too, which turned out to be quite useful, as Richard was very handy helping Grandad in the shed. The great day dawned bright and sunny and they all got together on the back garden. To Len’s surprise, Grandma was coming too – he didn’t know when that had been agreed but it meant that they could use two STITCH machines if they needed to.

It was clear that both mums were starting to have doubts and both dads were wishing they could go too, so Grandad got things organised very quickly before they could change their minds, with Neil holding on with Grandma to one machine and Len on the other with Grandad. 

No countdown this time; Grandad just nodded and they pressed the red buttons. Nothing happened again, so Len opened his eyes. Grandad and Grandma were already sticking bright red tent pegs into the ground where they had arrived so they knew exactly where to stand when they were ready to go home.

The weather was grey and it looked like rain, so they walked over to the potting shed, hoping to hide the STITCH machines inside. The door was open and there, as if he had been waiting for them, was Norman. He grinned, pushed the door wider and they went in. 

In among all the greetings and explanations and the amazing resemblance between Neil and Norman, he helped them hide the machines behind some sacking under the bench where he usually worked. It took quite some time to tell Norman what they were doing and about the STITCH machines and their plan to rescue Mr Nesbitt and get the machine back too.

It didn’t take long for him to bring them up to date. Mr Nesbitt had been gone nearly two months and although his mother was still very upset, the general opinion was that he had had enough of being mollycoddled and simply run off. 

Norman didn’t seem all that surprised that they had travelled in time. He explained to them that, some time ago, his brother Eric had been given some very old magazines from the house to burn, but had kept some of them to read himself and had read them to the family in the evening. They included a serialisation of a story by a Mr Wells all about a time machine and Norman had never doubted for a moment that it was real. 

Suddenly, realising how long they had been talking, Norman said he had to go, as his mother would have his dinner ready. They walked back with him across the park, avoiding going within sight of the big house, to a small cottage where Norman and his family lived.

His mother was there with two younger children and Norman introduced the travellers to her. She took their sudden appearance very calmly and seemed more perturbed that there wouldn’t be enough food to go round than anything else.  She brightened up when Grandma started pulling boxes of food from her back pack and Norman was asking eagerly if they had brought pork pie again, which, of course, they had. 

The three boys took their meal outside to the little garden, while Grandad and Grandma sat inside with Norman’s mum, helping to feed the little ones too. Neil seemed fascinated by Norman’s mum, who he worked out would be his great, great, great, great Grandma. He stood near to her as they were clearing up and she kept ruffling his hair affectionately and saying “Eeeeh lad” with a fond smile. 

Eventually they had all eaten enough and it was time for Norman to go back to work while they went in search of Mr Nesbitt and the original STITCH machine. Grandma had not been wasting her time over the past weeks and had done more research in the newspapers. There had been a brief article in the Sheffield Independent in June 1820, about a young man being found wandering lost and bewildered just outside the town of Rotherham. He had been taken in by a Mr Gilbert of Wellgate Church in the town and that was where Grandad wanted to start. 

Norman offered to show them the way into town, which was a good hour’s walk away but his mother reminded him that he had to work the afternoon or he would be in trouble. He was really disappointed to miss out on the adventure but had no choice until Neil stepped forward;

“I’ll take his place. I don’t think I fancy going further back in time and if you tell me what to do…” 

“In that case,” said Grandma, “I’ll stay here too with Neil. To keep an eye on him.” but she was looking at the little ones with a smile as she said it. She had a soft spot for toddlers and Len guessed she would enjoy playing with them for a while. 

“Mrs Hague and I can have a natter and then we’ll stroll over to see that Neil’s alright a bit later on.” 

“Does that mean I can travel back in time with you?” gasped Norman “Can I Mam?” 

It was quickly agreed and they said thank you and goodbye to Mrs Hague, Grandma  and the little ones, then strode as fast as they could back to the potting shed, where Norman quickly showed Neil the seedlings that needed potting up, the labels to write on and the list of other jobs to be done. Len thought it looked like a lot of work but Neil wasn’t at all worried.

Grandad gave Neil a mini, with instructions that, if anyone at all came near, he was to go straight home to “Now”.  Then they pulled out one of the STITCH machines from under the bench and, with Norman leading the way, the three of them set off at a brisk pace towards the town. 

The sky was darkening and the weather was getting worse as the outskirts of the town, which had a thick pall of smoke hanging over it, came into view.  Standing at the side of the road, which was only a lane really, Grandad reset the STITCH they had been carrying between them, to go back another hundred years. He was very serious this time and he checked at least three times that the two boys had both got their minis in their pockets. They held onto the handles, closed their eyes and he pressed the red button. 

As always, nothing happened and they opened their eyes to find they appeared to be further from the town than they had thought.  At first Len was confused, as they hadn’t moved, but then he realised, they were still in the same place, a hundred years earlier, when the town had been much smaller.  

At this point Grandad decided to hide the STITCH machine, as it was difficult to carry. He wasn’t very happy to leave it but didn’t know what else to do. He pulled a large sheet of canvas out of his rucksack, unfolded it and spread it on the ground. They placed the STITCH carefully on it, wrapped it up and lowered it into the ditch at the side of the road. The boys quickly scrabbled earth and twigs over it until it was hard to see it. There was a large tree at the other side of the road, which was now just a dirt track, and this would serve as their landmark. So then, after taking a good look round to be sure they would recognise the place again, they set off into town.

By sheer good luck, the road they came into town on was Wellgate, as mentioned in the newspaper, and they soon found the building they were looking for; the Methodist Church.  The boys stood behind Grandad as he knocked on the door and waited. A round faced man in shirtsleeves and breeches opened it, pulling on his coat as he did so. 

“Good afternoon Sir,” said Grandad, very formally. He had been wearing a flat cap, which he now took off and held in his hands.  “Is it Mr Gilbert by any chance?  I hope you will be able to help us. We are looking for a young man who we believe to be a neighbour of ours who went missing a few weeks ago. “

The man smiled and shook Grandad’s hand energetically. 

“Why yes, yes indeed if you mean Arthur Nesbitt, who was lodging with us but has now moved on to better things.” 

“Aye, that’s him. Young Arthur, we didn’t know where he’d got to and his mother’s fair mythered about him.” Len thought Grandad sounded very odd but the gentleman clearly didn’t.  But at least this was a lot easier than they had expected – so far. 

“A very clever chap, young Arthur, very talented. Making quite a name for himself in the iron foundry.” 

“Iron foundry?” Grandad was obviously puzzled. 

“Why yes, he has found himself employment at the Effingham Ironworks of Messrs Samuel and Henry Walker and is doing very well for himself, even in the few weeks he has been here. “He stepped out of the door, closed it behind him and said with another wide smile; “I can take you to him if you like, or at least set you on the way, as I am going in that direction myself.”

Before Grandad could say yes or no, Mr Gilbert linked his arm and set off, with the two boys trailing behind them.  Mr Gilbert was chatting away at Grandad, who didn’t seem to be able to get a word in and the boys dawdled a little, looking around them at the town that looked both strange and familiar at the same time.  For one thing, it smelled smoky and not all that clean. There was a lot of rubbish in the gutters at the side of the road and no proper pavements. There were no cars or street lights, plenty of horses and people, mostly rather grubby and downtrodden looking, going about their lives. Len wondered how they would react if they found out that there were time travellers walking along the street beside them.   

A Stitch in Time – Part 7

Part 7 –  Back, but not too far.

They didn’t need to discuss it very much. It was clear to Len and his grandparents that they were going to have to come clean to Neil, so they did. Unbelievable though their story seemed, he had the evidence of the tape to prove it. As they drank their tea, with a couple of chocolate biscuits, of course, they talked about their next move. Both boys wanted to go back, meet up with Norman and reclaim the time machine taken by Mr Nesbitt but Grandma and Grandad were not too sure. 

Taking Len was maybe OK because he was their grandson and they were used to looking after him some of the time. But they really didn’t ought to take Neil without his mum and dad’s permission, which was tricky, as they weren’t too keen about telling anyone else about the time machine.  Neil declared that he was sure his Mum and Dad wouldn’t mind at all but he looked a bit sheepish when Grandad offered to phone his parents there and then. In the end they decided to sleep on it and decide what to do the following morning. 

Neil stayed for tea of sausage, chips and beans, which happened to be one of his favourites and Len’s too and the two boys spent a happy couple of hours speculating about their next adventure. Neither of them had any doubts at all that there would be an adventure, they just weren’t sure when. And, in fact it wasn’t for several weeks that they could try out the latest version of the STITCH, as Len’s parents turned up the following morning to take him home. 

For the next six weeks Len and Neil kept in touch by message and phone and although they were disappointed that it was delayed, they knew they had something great to look forward to.  Since, as far as his parents were concerned, Len’s stay with his grandparents had been a success, there was no objection raised when Grandma suggested he could come and stay with them for a week or two in the Summer. What Len didn’t know was that Grandma and Grandad had told his parents the whole story, because it seemed very wrong indeed to them to keep secrets like that from his parents. 

Len had barely arrived back in Yorkshire when Neil turned up at the door and the two boys ran out onto the back garden together, gabbling away to each other as if they hadn’t spoken in months, when in fact they had been texting all the time Len was in the car on his way there. His Mum and Dad unpacked the car, as they were staying a few days before leaving Len for at least a week and then they all got together after tea and had a happy evening bringing each other up to date. Len found it a bit hard not being able to talk about STITCH because he thought his parents didn’t know but he went to bed happily enough, having arranged for Neil to come round the following afternoon to join the whole family for a picnic. 

They spent the following morning preparing for the picnic. Even by Grandma’s standards, there seemed to be a lot of food, paper cups and plates, bottles of pop and fruit. The first surprise was when Neil arrived, not only  with his Gran but with his Mum and Dad too, who were all coming on the picnic. (Grandma had been very busy on the phone after Len had gone to bed.) The next surprise was when they all went out onto the back garden and there were two STITCH machines on the picnic table, as well as a box full of minis. Len stared at his Mum and Dad. 

“You knew!” he couldn’t believe it. Then he saw Neil looking at his mum and dad too. 

The two boys looked at each other, both of them slightly miffed that the secret was out. And then it finally dawned on them – they were ALL going. They were all  going on a picnic back in time. There were so many questions – will we see Norman? Are we going after Mr Nesbitt and the stolen STITCH? What was the plan? Eventually, when they had calmed down a bit, Grandma explained. 

The plan was simple. Grandma and Grandad had been really unhappy about taking the boys without permission and they had been pretty sure that both sets of parents would say it was a mad idea and put their foot(s) down and say no. So she had come up with the idea of the time travel picnic together  to show the parents that it was safe. They had spent the last six weeks perfecting the new, improved STITCH machines and making enough minis to go round, plus a few spares, just in case. 

Grandad cleared his throat to get their attention.

“Now then,” he said, “Here’s the plan. Jessie (That was Grandma’s real name.) will be in charges of one STITCH and I’ll have the other. You will each have a mini in case there is an emergency and we need to get back.” (He was handing them one each as he said this.) “ You only use it if you must  and it will bring you straight back here. However long we are out this afternoon, that is how much time will have passed here too, so if anyone gets back on their own, they just have to wait for the rest of us to arrive. Whatever happens, we meet back here at seven o’clock tonight at the latest. Has everyone got a watch on?”

There was a bit of chat and getting organised, with each person carrying a rucksack full of food, drinks, first aid kits and spare clothes on their backs, but eventually Grandma, Mum, Gran and Lizzie (Neil’s Mum) were standing holding onto one STITCH and Grandad, Dad, Neil, Len and Richard (Neil’s Dad) were holding on to the other. (Grandad  had added extra handles to make it easier.) Everyone closed their eyes. The boys were all a bit giddy and yelled the countdown; 

 

10

 

9

 

8

 

7

 

6

 

5

 

4

 

3

 

2

 

1

 

GO! 

 

Grandma and Grandad pressed the red buttons. Nothing happened, so everyone opened their eyes. There were gasps as the grown ups realised that the house, shed, picnic table had all disappeared and they were standing in a beautiful, if slightly neglected looking park.  Grandad had decided to bring them back to 1976, because the big house was not lived in at that time, so no-one would see them and it had been a fabulously hot summer that year, so they wouldn’t get rained off. 

And they had a wonderful afternoon. The big old potting shed where they had first met Norman was still there, although it was definitely falling to pieces. They managed to push the door open and put the two STITCH machines inside. Grandad had fitted safety catches to the red buttons, so no-one could accidentally press them and end up going further back in time by accident.  He and Grandma had placed a couple of little flags, like you get for sand castles at the seaside, in the ground when they first arrived, so they would know exactly where to stand when they were ready to go back. No-one knew what would happen if you arrived in a place where there was a wall or a river  and they didn’t want to find out. 

The first thing was to go up to the old house and have a look round. It was empty, run down and a little bit sad. Of course, Norman was not there, which was a bit of a disappointment to the boys, but explaining to him would have complicated things, so they had decided to leave coming back to see him for another day. 

They wandered off in two’s and threes, exploring the old house.  It wasn’t hard to get in through a broken window and, although it was obviously neglected, it seemed structurally sound and no-one had any nasty accidents. 

The two boys were half hoping to find ghosts, secret passages or treasure but the house was virtually empty. It hadn’t been lived in since a couple of years after the Second World War, when it had been used as a convalescent home for wounded soldiers. It had finally closed in the early 1950’s and it was hard to imagine it ever being a home again. 

They all got back together when they heard Mum and Grandma calling from the garden, where they had set up the picnic on the front lawn. Len and Neil washed their hands with wipes and were told to do them again because they were so scruffy from rooting about in all the dusty old corners in the house. By the time they were clean enough to please their mothers, everyone else was back too and they were all starving. There were sandwiches and sausage rolls, of course, carrot sticks, cucumber and baby tomatoes; bacon and egg pie, pork pie and cheese and onion pasties; sausages, Scotch eggs and cubes of cheese.. There were scones and chocolate buns and fruit cake plus flasks of tea, cans of pop and plenty of fruit juice too.  Len looked around and then declared grandly;

“Let the feast begin!” 

They all tucked in and it was pretty quiet for quite a while, apart from all the munching and the occasional subdued burp. Eventually, they slowed down, just nibbling on grapes or the odd spare sausage. All in all, everyone agreed that it had been a fabulous feast. 

By now it was very hot and they were grateful to be in the shade of the huge old yew trees that surrounded the lawn. Neil’s Gran said thoughtfully;

“Didn’t there used to be a stream running across the other side of the park, Richard? Didn’t you and Mick used to play there as kids?” 

That was just what the boys needed. Mum and Dad, Lizzie and Richard, Len and Neil went off to explore, while the older generation started to pack up the picnic, being very careful not to leave any l;itter behind. For a couple of  hours there was blissful peace, until the sound of running feet could be heard racing across the grass, accompanied by squeals and laughter.. Grandad opened one eye.  

Neil and Len were running as fast as they could, being chased by their fathers, who were carrying what looked like large cans full of water. The boys threw themselves down behind their grandparents, hoping it would protect them. With a huge yell, both dads threw the cans up in the air and a cascade of cold water drenched them all. Gran, Grandma and Grandad were on their feet laughing and shouting at the two men. Mum and Lizzie were leaning on each other, breathless and weak with laughter. 

It was the perfect end to a perfect day and they all walked back to the potting shed to get the STITCH machines. Nothing had disturbed them and everyone gathered together at the place where they had put the little seaside flags. The machines were reset to go home; everyone closed their eyes, held on tight  and counted down;

 

5

 

4

 

3

 

2

 

1

 

GO!

 

Grandma and Grandad pressed the red buttons. 

A Stitch in Time Part 6

Part 6 – A Voice From The Past.

 

The following day was a very busy one for all three of them. Len got up to the smell of bacon drifting up the stairs and hurriedly got dressed. In the kitchen, Grandma was waiting with a bacon sandwich in one hand and a cup of tea in the other. She nodded for him to go and sit at the table, where Grandad was already tucking in to his.  He was munching away happily and Len didn’t like to tell him he had ketchup in his beard.  Len drank his juice as Grandma put his breakfast on the table in front of him. She was back in a trice with her own plate and the three of them sat and ate in silence, apart from the sound of munching and Grandad’s occasional slurp from his mug of tea. 

They cleared the table and washed up together and then Len and Grandad headed out to the shed.  By the time Grandma joined them about half an hour later, Grandad and Len had set up three work stations, so they could work without getting in each other’s way. Grandma had brought out a giant carrier bag, which she placed on the floor, just inside the door. It was huge. Both Len and Grandad knew what it was – refreshments for later. It looked enough to feed the entire street, and they grinned happily. 

And then they set to work. Grandad had drawn up simple diagrams, showing how to put the mini’s together and all the bits were neatly placed in boxes, one for Len and one for Grandma. There were one or two questions but it didn’t look too complicated, so they got going pretty quickly.  For quite some time there wasn’t a sound, apart from the occasional “Dammit” from Grandad when something didn’t quite go to plan. 

And then something awful happened. Grandad farted. It made the most horrible noise but, worse than that, it smelled very, very, VERY bad. Grandma and Len made a dash for the door. 

They stood outside, taking great big gulps of fresh air. 

“Oh stop making such a fuss,” said Grandad from the doorway, “It’s not that bad.” 

“Open the windows, Stewart, or I’m not coming back in there.” said Grandma sharply. 

He looked as if he was about to argue but changed his mind when he saw the expression on her face. 

“Load of fuss about nothing.” he muttered, but he did as he was told. 

Across the garden was a picnic table, with an umbrella and chairs. Grandma held her nose with one hand and leaned into the shed to pull out the giant bag of food, carried it over to the table and took out a flask and some plastic mugs. As far as she was concerned, a cup of tea made everything better, even Grandad’s bad smells. 

The three of them sat together drinking tea and crunching biscuits. They discussed progress so far and were happy to realise that Grandad had finished the second STITCH and Len and Grandma had both completed a mini and were well on the way to another one each. 

Suddenly Grandad held up his hand. 

“What’s that noise?” 

They listened carefully. It was a voice calling out from down the side of the house.

“Len, Len. Are you there?” 

It was Neil, and Len ran down to fetch him. He didn’t need Grandad to tell him not to say a word about what they had been doing. 

Neil was carrying an old fashioned shopping bag, which looked quite heavy. He heaved it up onto the table, said a polite hello to Grandma and Grandad and then looked hopefully at the packet of biscuits. Grandma held them out to him and offered him a cup of tea. It wasn’t long before they were all chatting comfortably.  

Eventually, Len asked about the bag. 

“It’s the tapes my Grandad made of his potty old Dad, Len seemed interested the other day so I asked my Dad if I could bring it.” 

Grandad bustled across to the shed, took out an extension lead and plugged the old fashioned tape player in.  There were two tape cassettes , numbered 1 and 2. The number 2 tape was carefully wrapped up but Number 1 was ready to play. With an air of importance, Neil pressed the PLAY button. 

There was a shuffling noise and then an elderly voice began:

 

Well, right then. I know you all think I’m mad as a box of frogs but I remember it as clear as day and it was real. No-one can can tell me otherwise. 

I was ten, no, I tell a lie, I was eleven the first time I met them, Len and Mester Stuart. “

Len and Grandad looked at each other and Neil was staring at them both. Grandad put his finger to his lips and they listened eagerly now for the story. 

“I was working up at Big ‘Ouse for old Mrs Nesbitt and that nasty runty son of hers and I was gardener’s lad. It wornt a bad job, plenty o fresh air and a good dinner int middle of the day. She was a bit fussy and you had to mind yer P’s and Q’s but she was alright really. He was a proper nasty piece when he didn’t get his own way. Treated us all like muck, except Leggett, the gamekeeper. He was a big nasty sort and I think young Mester Nesbitt was a bit scared of him, truth to tell. 

Any road up, one day I’m coming out of the potting shed and there’s a chap and a lad standing looking all gobstruck. Well, young Mester Nesbitt dint like strangers about so I asked them who they were and the lad answered that he was Len and this was his Grandad.  They looked a bit funny to tell the truth, odd clothes for a start. I got talking to the old man and next thing I knew the lad had got a load of food out of his rucksack and was offering it round. 

Well, I’m not one to say no to a nice bit o grub, so I sat down with them like and pitched in. Right nice it was an all. Pork pie and little fiddly rolls and a smashing bit o cake. I was havin a grand old time and suddenly, here comes young Mester Nesbitt, Leggett the gamekeeper and our Eric walking behind. 

Well he was in a right temper, was young Mester Nesbitt.  Sent me packin and lucky not to get a flea in my ear I was, so I ran off without sayin another word. I don’t rightly know what happened next, but our Eric told me later that they found a box o tricks belonging to Mester Stuart and the lad but young Mester Nesbitt decided it was finders keepers and sent him and Leggett back to the house with it. Eric said they just walked off leavin the lad and his Grandad standing gawpin after them. 

Well as soon as they were back in the house, I went back to see what had happened but I couldn’t find them anywhere. I couldn’t see how they’d got away without bein seen but there was no sign, except one of them little sausage rolls on the floor.  

That afternoon, Mester Penny, my gaffer, said I was to go up to the house at five o’clock as the young Mester wanted to see me. Well, that had me right worried, as you might guess. Nothing good ever came of being called into the house.

As it happened, I needn’t have worried. As instructed, I set off up to the house at ten to five to find a right to do goin off. The old lady was in a flap and no mistake, cryin and shoutin and sendin for the police. It turned out, young Mester Nesbitt had upped and disappeared. Gone into his study after lunch and never come out. I was that relieved that I wasn’t goin to be dismissed that I didn’t take much notice at the time.

Mind you, I was fair scared to death when I was pulled in to see the Magistrate a couple of days later to tell him what had happened that afternoon.  It looked as if the old lady was trying to say young Len and his Grandad had run off with her son, abducted, she called it, but everyone agreed that they hadn’t been seen anywhere near the house.  So I played dumb and said as little as possible and they soon left me alone as bein too stupid to be any use. 

Our Eric wasn’t so lucky. It seemed him and Leggett had been last to see young Mester Nesbitt alive. (Not that anybody saw him dead, like, just never saw him again.) they were questioned three or four times, having to describe exactly what had happened when they got back to the house. They’d carried the box in through the front door – very impressed with that was our Eric, as he’d never gone in that way before. We were used to the servants’ entrance, weren’t we? Anyway, the young master led the way across the hall and into his study, where he swept a load of stuff off his desk and told them to put the box there. Then he shooed them out, nearly snapping their heads off to get the door shut behind them.  He went in for a quick lunch with Mrs Nesbitt and then sent for Leggett and Eric to come and move the box onto his work bench. Not one to get his hands dirty that one. 

Once they’d got it on the bench, he shooed them out and that was the last they saw of him. But, well, you know how it is, sometimes you get curious and, knowing that the box belonged to the two strangers, for some reason I was itching with curiosity. So, instead of setting off up to the house for five, I went up a good deal earlier and went round by the study window, to see if I could catch a glimpse inside. I was going to pretend to be weeding the flower bed underneath the window if anybody asked, but nobody did. 

I crept up, quiet as I could and looked inside. There was Mester Nesbitt, measuring the box and poking inside. He stepped back and took a good look at what looked like a big red button on the side. Then he straightened his shoulders, stepped up to it and reached out to press it. 

Well, you could have knocked me down with a feather. He just wasn’t there any more. No puff of smoke, no clap of thunder, just not there. And no box.  As I was standing there, peering in through the window, the door opened and Mrs Nesbitt walked in. Well I didn’t wait to be caught because I was sure that, whatever had happened, it was me who’d get the blame, so I backed off, sharpish like, scooted across the lawn and reappeared trying not to look guilty as I walked along. 

So you see, mad or not, that’s what happened and that’s what I saw. I had the sense to keep me mouth shut for years but then it happened again.  But that’s another story.” 

The tape crackled and stopped.  The four people sitting round the table looking at each other. 

“Cup of tea?” said Grandma.