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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