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.