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.