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.