Saturday, 15 February 2014


Chapter 22

The old clock downstairs in the bar creaked slightly as its mechanism wound back the hammers to strike the hour.
“Five o’clock!” Groaned Victoriana to herself, “and I’ve hardly slept at all. I’m just going to have to find out what has happened.”
She crept out of bed, dressed hurriedly and was just trying to open the door as quietly as possible when Rusty’s voice challenged her.
“And where are you going without me?” He asked.
Quietly the pair made their way on tiptoe across the landing and had reached the stairs when Irving and Fingers appeared from their room, both fully dressed.
“T’ought so,” said Fingers with a grin. “C’mon y’all, leds see whad’s cookin’.”
They paused outside StGeorge’s room to see if he was awake, but were startled by an enormous snore which made the door rattle; the children glanced at each other and could barely stifle their giggles.
Once more they entered the tunnel beneath the inn, having availed themselves of some lamps they found on a shelf in the cellar; they made their way cautiously along until they reached the iron doors.
An Caisteal it is,” said Irving, following Fingers who had opened the door as though he had a key. They tramped on and on until Victoriana thought they must be under the sea, and strained her ears to hear the waves above them. She was quite surprised when they turned a corner and there in front of them was a set of steps leading up into what could only be the castle, to judge by the massy stonework. At the top of the stairs stood an ancient wooden door.
“Dis’ll on’y takea second,” murmured Fingers, “dese ol’ doors are a pushover.”
They crept up through the cellars and entered the main hall to find the morning light filtering through the high windows. Everything seemed quite still as though the castle was waiting for them.
“Ain’t nobody here,” stated Irving, and everyone breathed out together. “Guess we go to da nex’ level,” and started up the main staircase with the others following warily in his wake.
They reached another large empty hall and followed another broad staircase leading upwards before emerging into a long corridor whose walls were adorned with pictures of gallant knights and elegant ladies. Great wooden doors barred the entrance to rooms at intervals along the corridor.
“Gotta search dem all, I guess,” said Irving. The others shrugged, and followed him into the nearest room, which was set up as a laboratory. In the middle stood what appeared to be a scaled down version of the Telectroscope, with a huge lens at each end.
“McCavity must have made a half size model before he managed the miniturisation,” opined Rusty; Irving combed his hair with his fingers as he looked at himself in the lens.
“C’mon, boodiful,” urged Fingers, opening a connecting door to the next room and passing through.
Victoriana lingered behind to admire the gleaming instrument; there was a scuffling sound and a small brown mouse with a white blaze on its forehead appeared.
“Oh, what a sweet little mouse,” she said to herself, “and he wants to look through the Telectroscope; I wonder what he will see?”
There was a hiss and a thump, and a fat ginger cat landed on the floor behind the mouse: Victoriana jumped in surprise, catching her arm against a large device loaded with wires and tubes which trailed towards the Telectroscope. There was a loud bang and a bright flash, and when Victoriana’s sight returned to normal, she discovered the cat hanging by its claws from the top of a bookcase.
She wandered along the Telectroscope anxiously running her fingers against its shiny case, worried that she had caused the detonation and damaged the fine looking instrument. To her great relief, she reached the far end without discovering a single scratch.
“For I should hate to think,” she explained to the small brown mouse with a white blaze on its forehead which was sitting in front of the lens washing its whiskers in a bemused fashion, “that I had damaged this splendid instrument. By the way,” she continued confidentially, as the mouse carefully inspected her,  “I have just seen your twin, at the other end of this Tele thing.”
She turned and pointed, but there was no sign of another mouse at the far end, and when she turned back the mouse she had been talking to was scurrying off as fast as it could go.
Victoriana sighed, and made to follow the others through the door when the sound of voices reached her ears; she paused in the doorway to listen, and peeped round to see who was talking.
Irving, Fingers and Rusty were all clustered round a great mullioned bay window, looking out onto the grounds before the castle, and Rusty was chattering excitedly.
“I think Major Trelawney has rounded them all up, though I can’t make out McHerring down there.”
“Yeah, da Major seems to have won da baddle OK an’ dose guys in skoyts have orl surrendered to him.”
“Kilts,” corrected Rusty automatically, “but I still haven’t spotted McHerring.”
“Yecouldnaspotacabreinawuid, yeweewretch,” screeched McHerring, throwing wide a door and striding into the room. The draught made the arras on the wall flap and Victoriana slipped unnoticed into the room  and hid behind it; she could just make out the figures through the balding weave.
“I confess I entertain the doubt that you would be able to recognise a tree for what it is, even if you were in the middle of Birnham Forest, you young ne’er-do-well,” said a stilted voice.
Victoriana started slightly, then noticed the Translator box lying on the floor a couple of feet from her where Rusty must have dropped it as he entered the room.
“McHerring!” The three at the window turned as one.
“Aye, tis I,” quoth he, yanking at a large lever on the wall, causing a huge screen to fall from the ceiling which very effectively imprisoned them in the bay window; Victoriana could see them gesticulating and shouting behind the thick glass windows set into the screen, waggling the door handle ineffectively up and down, but couldn’t hear a thing.
“You will find,” announced the Translator box, “that this blast screen is completely sound as well as blast proof. You cannot escape. I hold in my hand the key to your freedom.”
McHerring waggled a key in front of the window, grinning fiercely as Fingers fruitlessly yanked at the door handle again. Still grinning, he marched across and set the key down on a small table just in front of the arras where Victoriana was concealed: she held her breath desperately, and hoped she wouldn’t sneeze.
McHerring twirled a swizzle stick in the glass he was carrying, took a sip and set the glass down on the table beside the key; then he turned towards the door where he had entered.
“Perrooott!” He roared, and the one-armed man shambled into the room. Together they opened a large set of double doors and disappeared briefly; with much grunting and groaning they reappeared, wheeling into the room a small tandem seater steam powered airship.
“Raise the hatch, ye booby,” commanded McHerring.
Perrott took hold of a hefty rope running up the wall into the ceiling and started hauling on it. As he pulled down a length, he trapped the rope on the floor with his foot while he grabbed another handhold. With a loud creaking, a large hatch in the wall opposite the window started to lift towards the ceiling, giving a view of the sea on the other side of the castle. Slowly the hatch creaked upwards towards the rafters until suddenly Perrott gave a squawk as the rope slipped through his hand; in a trice his foot was caught in a loop as the rope on the floor snaked upwards, and he was whisked up towards the ceiling. The hatch started to fall and jammed in its runners, just leaving a large enough gap for the miniature airship to squeeze through.
Victoriana took advantage of the confusion to slip out from behind the arras, but before she could grab the key, McHerring had recovered from his surprise and was turning away from the dangling figure and inspecting his machine. Within minutes he had set the engine going and filled the room with a cloud of smoke and steam. He dusted off his hands, walked over to the table and drank off the glass of water, smacking his lips in satisfaction. With a triumphant wave at his prisoners, he climbed into the airship and puttered gently out of the hatchway, ignoring the despairing pleas of his swinging minion.
Victoriana slipped out from behind the arras, picked up the key and released her friends.
“Too late,” shouted Rusty in frustration, “he’s getting away!”
They watched as McHerring opened the throttle and roared out over the sea. He circled the stately HMS Devastation as it patrolled close to the shore, making mocking gestures out of the porthole, then turned the craft towards the open sea and freedom.
At which point his little craft started behaving very strangely; it veered from side to side, performed an abrupt loop the loop and then plunged straight down into the sea with a tremendous splash.
“What on earth…” started Rusty, then noticed Victoriana was smiling. “Wait a minute – what did you do?”
“Well,” explained Victoriana, “I recognised the swizzle stick he had in his drink because Mama had one just like it when she was following a health regime that was advertised in ‘The Perspicacious Lady’s Journal’. Apparently water has a natural magnetic charge, and the swizzle stick can boost this to promote the ‘elegant glow of a healthy body’,” she recited. “Papa advised her to stop using it after she accidentally turned the device up too high, and the cutlery started flying off the table and sticking to her. So I just wound it up as far as it would go…”
“…and the magnetism affected McHerring’s controls and caused him to crash!” Finished Rusty, “Brilliant!”
“Dad’s my goil!” Exclaimed Irving, beaming at her.
They watched as HMS Devastation lowered a small boat into the water; its crew grabbed the oars and started splashing their way through the waves towards the lone struggling figure.
A series of shouted orders from below drew them to the mullioned window, where Major Trelawney was organising his troops and their prisoners.
“Ahoy, Major,” Rusty called down, making the Major look up in surprise.
“Well done, Major!” Added Victoriana, waving at him.
“I say, you fellows,” he called back, “what are you doing up there? Haven’t seen McHerring by any chance, have you?”
“Yeah, da Navy’s god him,” bellowed Irving.
“What about that fellow Perrott? Any sign of him?”
“He’s goin’ nowhere,” responded Fingers with a grin, “he’s jerst hangin’ aboud up here!”

Saturday, 8 February 2014


Chapter 20

            They watched the Vulgarian airship turning slowly around above the figures milling about in the smoke below where the ground was churned by explosions.
“They’re moving in for the kill,” breathed Rusty in horror.
“No, I don’t think so,” said Victoriana, pointing up at the sky behind them, where three huge airships emblazoned with union jacks had suddenly appeared.
“Dey’re off,” shouted Irving triumphantly, and indeed the Vulgarian airship had continued turning in a huge cloud of steam and smoke and sparks and was now disappearing rapidly in the direction of the open sea.
            They watched gleefully as the aerial fleet chugged imperiously closer: closer and closer they came, until Victoriana could make out a figure in a gold bedecked uniform hanging out of a porthole clutching a megaphone.
“I say, you down there,” called the figure, “is this Wales?”
“No,” Rusty shouted back, “this is Scotland – you’re not far from Oban.”
“Blast!” Exclaimed the figure, disappearing form view and slamming the porthole.
There followed a series of frantic flashes from the signal lamps on the three vessels, and one after the other they turned ponderously and headed slowly off in a southerly direction.
“Dese Brits,” said Fingers with a snigger, “how’d da Pilgrim Farders ever find America?”
“Dey was prob’ly lookin’ fer China,” cackled Irving, which repartee reduced them both to guffaws.
“When you’ve quite finished,” said Rusty, scowling as fiercely as he could, “the Glasgow Empire is due south from here.”
“Sure it ain’t doo east, kid?” Asked Fingers, producing a further round of loud guffaws from the pair.
“Now, really,” started Victoriana, drawing herself up in her best Nanny Prewitt manner, “isn’t it time…?”
Before she could ask what it might be time for, the rumble of many boots pounding the ground  mingled with shouts and cries reached their ears; along the road in front of them appeared a large and rowdy crowd, whose leaders bore a large banner while others were waving placards that read “Keep Scotland British” and “Down with McHerring”  as they marched.
“Those are English voices,” exclaimed Rusty in surprise.
Sure enough, with every few steps a big burly man at the front would shout out, “WHAT DO WE WANT?” to which the rabble responded, “KEEP SCOTLAND BRITISH!”, followed by the question “HOW CAN WE DO IT?” and the answering “KIPPER MACHERRING!”
The writing on the large banner could now be deciphered as ‘The London Society for the Preservation of the United Kingdom’, with ‘East Finchley Chapter’ in smaller more elaborate script.
Spotting the group on the ridge above them, the burly man shouted up, “Oi! Is this the way to Dunstuffnaggy Castle?”
“Yes,” Rusty shouted back, “but McHerrings not…”
His voice was lost in a burst of roaring as the crowd surged onwards towards Taynuilt.
“Oh, well,” shrugged Rusty.
“Guess da English reely care ‘bout deir Yoonited Kingdom,” observed Fingers.
Barely had the tail end of the mob disappeared around the bend below the watchers when another crowd of people came tramping along behind the ridge, following the track which ran in a parallel course to the road in front and below them. This crowd carried placards that read “SET SCOTLAND FREE” and “McHERRING FOR KING”, while the banner read ‘The London Society for the Promotion of a Sovereign Scotland, West Finchley Chapter’, and the chanting was loud and vigorous in its support of McHerring.
“Oh dear,” said Victoriana, “I think they’re heading towards the castle as well. There’s going to be an awful clash when they meet.”
“Look,” said Rusty excitedly, “the soldiers are on the move. Doesn’t look as though they’ve got McHerring, though.”
The soldiers had all gathered together into a troop, formed fours and marched smartly off in the direction of the castle: they were clearly not escorting any prisoners.
“Waal,” drawled Irving, “guess dey’ve been called in ta keep da peace. Wonder where dat McHerrin’s got to?”
“I imagine he has vanished into the network of caves; they’ll have a tough job finding him,” opined StGeorge.
“But we have to do something to stop him carrying out his plan,” said Victoriana anxiously.
They contemplated each other gloomily, wondering how on earth they could stop the megalomaniac who had evaded the soldiers with such apparent ease.
“I have a plan,” said StGeorge suddenly. “It’s a bit risky, but it might work.”
“Spill da beans, ole chum,” said Fingers.
“Well, you see that cairn just beyond where we came up,” the others nodded as he pointed down the slope, “that one is hiding the entrance to another shaft which leads down towards the loch. Well, two tunnels actually, the second joins the tunnel network but the first was abandoned when McHerring made a slight mistake with the navigation.” StGeorge grinned briefly. “He very nearly bored his way into the loch. He left the Miner there as backing it out would have pulled the rockface away and started a deluge. All we have to do is restart the machine…”
“…and the loch will empty into the tunnels…” continued Ralph,
“…completely thwarting his evil plans!” Finished Victoriana, clapping her hands in delight.
They made their way rapidly down the hill and entered the cairn.
“Stay here on guard!” Said StGeorge, “I can handle this.”
He was gone for nearly twenty minutes before remerging from the tunnel covered in earth and coal dust, beaming widely. Far away they could hear the chuntering of a steam engine.
“Now, back up da hill, an’ quickly,” said Irving, and they rushed back up to the top of the ridge where they stood eagerly looking for signs that their plan had succeeded.
“Nothing’s happened,” said Victoriana in disappointment after what seemed an age.
“Look!” Shouted Rusty, pointing out across the loch where the water seemed to be frothing and bubbling, and a jet of steam shot up.
“Dere’s water in da cairn,” said Fingers, jumping up in excitement. At the mouth of the cairn there was a sparkling of water as it flowed up out of the ground.
A vast rumble could be heard, and the waters of the loch started swirling around creating the unmistakeable form of a whirlpool. Round and round the water went, deeper and deeper grew the whirlpool.
“By Jove,” said StGeorge, “I think we’ve done it.”
“You’ve dunnit, ya mean,” corrected Fingers, eyeing the growing vortex apprehensively.
“Oh dear,” said Victoriana sadly, “what about all the poor water creatures?”
“What about the Telectroscope?” Asked Rusty, “if we’ve drowned the tunnels, have we lost that as well?”



Saturday, 1 February 2014


Chapter 18

            As the submarine was slowly winched down into the loch again, swinging a little uncertainly due to its extra cargo of Vulgarian soldiers, Victoriana leaned over and whispered in Rusty’s ear.
“Do you think Molotok believed us?”
“No,” Rusty whispered back, “I left the Translator running, and he has detailed these two” - he rolled his eyes at the two nearest Vulgarian soldiers who were examining the wooden interior with a marked lack of confidence – “to, er, deal with us if there is any sign of treachery. But he doesn’t know how much we really know, so he is waiting to see if we can really lead him to the spot where McHerring is going to start his operations.”
“Do you think there will be a big fight?” Asked Victoriana.
Rusty looked around the submarine, now packed with Vulgarian soldiers armed to the teeth, and locked glances with their scowling leader, Serp.
“Looks like it,” he said out of the corner of his mouth, “and Molotok is taking no chances. When the soldiers that have been landed by the airship enter the boathouse, this lot will cover any retreat into the loch.”
“Enough speak, you cheeldren, or I cut out your tongues,” snarled Serp, glaring furiously and waving a nasty looking knife at them.
            Fingers gently bumped the boat against the huge wooden doors of the boathouse, one of which swung open slightly with a creak. Nothing happened as he steered gently inside, and indeed the boathouse appeared empty of human life; a large number of packing cases stood around, some in piles and others lying open with straw scattered about.
            Irving whistled.
            “Dis ain’t no boathouse,” he said, “look at dose walls – dey could wivstand a siege.”
            He glanced up at the steel portcullis as they motored slowly underneath. “Dis ‘eres a fortress.”
            Fingers nodded admiringly at how cunningly the old wooden shell had camouflaged the fort inside.
            Led by Serp, the Vulgarian soldiers climbed rather noisily up out of the submarine onto the dock. He signalled them to fan out and comb the area, and as they set off a door at the far side opened and a stream of their compatriots led by Molotok filed in: they also spread out, and started making their way between the crates towards the dock. Victoriana noticed that their two guards had hung back and not followed their comrades.
            Just as the two groups met between the crates, there was a series of bangs as a hidden enemy opened fire on them. Fire was returned immediately, and bombs thrown in various directions, but with little effect as the enemy remained hidden; figures leapt for cover as confusion reigned.
            At the first sound of gunfire, Irving and Fingers had each produced a large spanner liberated from the submarine and whacked the two Vulgarian guards over the head. With a nod to each other, they bundled the unconscious soldiers into the nearest crate and out of sight. The firing slowly petered out, followed by a short silence when everyone wondered what would happen next. Then there was a burst of running feet.
            “After zem! Don’ let zem escape!” Roared Molotok, urging his men after some fleeing shadows disappearing through an archway.
            “Well,” exclaimed Victoriana when they found themselves alone, “that was sudden!”
            “We have to follow them, you know,” said Rusty.
            “Ad a safe distance,” said Irving, and Fingers nodded in agreement.
            When the sound of running feet and shouting had died out, they crept across to the archway and discovered a wide tunnel sloping gently away. They made their way cautiously downwards for what seemed to Victoriana like ages until the tunnel opened out into a huge cavern lit by flickering, smoking torches, in the entre of which stood a number of workbenches littered with all sorts of strange tools and devices. Four tunnels led out of the cavern in different directions.
            “Waal, I guess we take one each,” said Irving. “Just joshin,” he assured them when he saw the alarm on his companions’ faces, “we stick together dahn ere.”
            “Eeny, meeny, miny,…”started Rusty.
            “We’ll foller da biggest one, dat one dere dey named after some dame, An Segan sumthin” decided Irving, and they set off across the cavern towards a broad opening with the letters “An Sgaineadh” carved into the rock above the entrance.
            “Help!” Called a voice, making them all jump.
            Looking round, they saw where a small chamber had been blasted out of the rock, its entrance fenced with stout metal bars to create a prison cell: a bedraggled figure stood there in the gloom clutching the bars.
            “Help!” It repeated in a forlorn voice.
            They rushed over to the cell and Fingers started to work his magic on the lock.
            “He looks like an artist with his hair sticking out like that,” observed Victoriana in a low voice, “and he’s wearing a smock.”
            “More like a mad scientist,” said Rusty, “he has a manic stare.”
            “So wud you, kid, ifn youd been locked up down here,” said Irving.
            “Thank you, thank you,” cried the man gratefully, “I’ve been down here for ages.”
            “My pleasure,” said Fingers, introducing the others. “An who’re you, an whatter yer dun ter be locked up.”
            “I’m Paul StGeorge,” the man started to say when Fingers cut him off.
            “Ain’t never met a real live saint before,” he said, saluting smartly.
            “No, no, that’s my name,” explained StGeorge, “and I invented the Telectroscope - that’s why they’re keeping me prisoner. They are forcing me to make modifications to it.”
            At that moment the sound of voices and heavy footfalls reached their ears.
            “Quick – dis way, into An Segan,” urged Irving, running into the wide tunnel with the others hard at his heels.
            Rusty glanced up the strange letters carved into the rock above the entrance.
            “An Sgaineadh,” he mispronounced between pants, “what a funny name. I wonder what it means?”
            “I say,” wheezed StGeorge, clearly suffering from his period of incarceration, “I don’t think we should be going this way.”
            “Jusd run,” said Fingers, taking a quick glance over his shoulder as they rounded a slight bend in the tunnel.
            On and on they ran, and down and down sloped the tunnel, until there were no more torches on the walls to light their way, and there the tunnel ended in a huge wall of rock.
            “Oh dear,” said Victoriana, as they stood panting and trying to catch their breath, “what do we do now?”
            Before anyone could think up an answer, a rapid puffing and roaring struck their ears, and chugging inexorably into view came a huge steam carriage with what looked like the Intensifier bolted to it, with the lens of the Telectroscope mounted in front. The madly gesticulating figure of McHerring could be made out through the cloud of steam and smoke the engine was belching.
            They all froze in horror, mesmerized by their approaching doom.
            “Just a minute, everyone,” said StGeorge, “I’ve got an idea.”


Tuesday, 21 January 2014


Chapter 16

The departure of the cart had not however, passed unnoticed; little Emmeline Trelawney had hardly been able to sleep partly because of the excitement of being allowed to accompany her Papa and Mama to a Highland Camp while her Papa was on active duty, but mainly because of the thought that soon she would be able to ride the delightful Shetland pony that her parents had bought for her to make up for the prolonged absence of her best friend Victoriana.
She had slipped out of the tents very early and climbed the low hill with her Papa’s telescope under her arm so that she could plan a route for her projected horseback ride.
“Only around the town, Emmeline,” her Mama had said, “Not down to the bay.” So, of course, that was where she first pointed her telescope, then followed the windy road back up to the village and along the main street, and saw…Victoriana being bundled into a cart with two men and a boy, by a gang of scruffy ruffians.
“Goodness me!” She cried, “but surely, that’s Victoriana all trussed up like a turkey! I have to rescue her!”
Without further ado, she ran down the far side of the hill to the paddock where Bucephalus was standing dozing and leaped nimbly onto his back, shattering dreams of apples and sugarlumps. She grabbed a handful of mane and, bracing herself for the takeoff, she crashed her heels against his ribs. Bucephalus gave a startled snort but remained stationary. Emmeline tried again with the same result.
“Oh, Bucky, please,” she pleaded.
Bucephalus snorted, shook his vigorously (almost unseating his rider) and then started at a slow amble towards the gate.
“Oh, well,” said Emmeline to herself, “I suppose it’s faster than walking.”

                                                *            *            *
Emmeline was not the only person to notice the departure of the gang from the inn: up on the hill by the remains of an old chapel stood a lone figure with a flag in his hand.
Victoriana, who was facing the back of the cart noticed the movements of the figure as a shaft of sunshine shone down on the spot. Spitting the ill-tied gag out of her mouth, she nudged Rusty who had also managed to get rid of his gag.
            “What’s that person up to ?” She whispered in his ear, nodding over her shoulder at the capering outline.
“I think he’s sending a semaphore signal,” said Rusty after a moment of confusion, “but he only seems to be using one arm.”
“I wonder if dats da guy I met in da village: he troyed to sell me a diploma from Oban Univers’ty, an’ he on’y had one arm,” remarked Irving in a hoarse whisper, having managed to remove his own gag.
Rusty had closed his eyes and had been wriggling furiously with his bonds while Irving had been speaking, and now triumphantly waved a free hand. Glancing round to make sure his captors had not noticed, he proceeded to free his other hand and his legs, then produced a pencil from his pocket and sketched a matrix on the cart floor. Glancing up at the gesticulating figure, he jotted characters in the matrix until the flag-waving paused.
            “Hmmm,” he said, staring at the matrix, “RI..LWWOSNLV…LK.L.KOSN.Y.OWKVH..! Doesn’t seem to make a lot of sense.”
“Is it a code?” asked Victoriana.
“I’m not sure,” replied Rusty, scanning the matrix. “Let me try this. Oh no, WO.QYYYVSQX…QP.Q.PYVS…YYPX… doesn’t make a lot more sense. Let’s see…”
He sucked on the end of his pencil and frowned in concentration.
“Got it!” He exclaimed, then looked round to see if he had been heard, but their captors seemed to be too busy muttering amongst themselves to pay any attention.
“It says, MCHERRING ESCAPED HEADING TO AIRDS BAY. But who was he signalling to?”
The answer to this question appeared overhead in the form of an enormous black shadow just as they were approaching the beach at Airds Bay: a loud cannon shot announced the arrival of the Vulgarian airship, and a huge fountain of earth erupted alongside them. McHerring let out a loud screech, and bellowed a series of orders to his men as they took to their heels and ran down the road towards a jetty stretching out into the water, abandoning the cart and their prisoners. At the end of the jetty a large warehouse stood brooding silently on massive pillars reaching out into the sea, and into the warehouse the fleeing men disappeared.
Rusty immediately set about releasing Victoriana from her ropes, and was just starting to work on Irving’s knots when a gentle clopping heralded the arrival of Emmeline and Bucephalus.
“Oh, “ she in a disappointed voice, sliding down off the pony, “you’re free: I did so want to rescue you, Victoriana.”
Victoriana quickly overcame her astonishment, and Emmeline her brief disappointment, and the two friends embraced each other happily.
“I say, you don’t happen to have a knife about you, do you?” Asked Rusty, who had admitted defeat with Irving’s knots.
“Ooh, yes!” Replied Emmeline happily, fishing a large folding knife from her pocket. “This one is special, look, it’s got a thing to get stones out of a horse’s hoof!”
The sharp blade made short work of the ropes, and the friends were soon making introductions and telling their various stories. The boom of another cannon shot caused a huge hole to appear in the jetty, and brought their conversation to a halt. A group of men on the airship were gathered at the rail and were obviously planning a hasty descent by rope ladders to besiege the warehouse, when the large water doors in the side opened, and out steamed a long sleek wooden boat, but one unlike anything Victoriana had seen before.
“It’s an Ictineo mark II or III submarine,” cried Rusty, “ what a smasher!”
A hastily lobbed bomb from above exploded off the port bow, causing a tall fountain of water to appear.
“They coulda hit her easy,” declared Fingers.
“Yup,” agreed Irving, “guess dey tink da Telectroscope is on board.”
“Oh dear,” said Victoriana, “McHerring is getting away, and we can’t stop him.”
“Yes, we can,” said Emmeline.  “My Papa is at Oban, and he said that HMS Devastation is there on a fleet exercise. He can send it over here to inter…inter… cut off the submarine.”
“That’s fine if we could only speak to him,” observed Rusty, “but we’re out here in the middle of nowhere.”
“Waal,” drawled Irving, “der might jus be a way. You see dat IB pole back der, Fingers? Reckon you can crack it?”
Fingers nodded eagerly, and trotted back up the slope to a little hillock from the top of which protruded a tall peculiarly shaped metal pole: the others followed him at a slower pace, and by the time they reached him he had opened a panel at the base.
“Dis ere’s a IB pole,” Irving explained, “if yous look at it, y’see a hexclamation mark combined wiv a question mark.”
“That’s called an interrobang,” gasped Rusty, “I’ve heard of them.”
 “Yeah,” Irving ageed, “I.B., but we calls it a catcher’s mitt in da service. Wind da handle, Fingers.”
Fingers obliged, and the question mark gradually unfolded with the occasional screech of metal, expanding from a narrow strip until it looked like a football cut in half.
“Da army uses dese for direct communications,” continued Irving, “da boyd is fired from da base to da messagee by line of sight, so if deres anyting in da way, it hasta go round, and da angle of dis baby is adjusted to deflect da flight.”
“What happens when it arrives?” Asked Rusty.
“Den,” said Irving in a portentous manner, “you open da bowl like Fingers just done, and deploy da net to make it like a catcher’s mitt. Do da net, Fingers.”
Fingers jabbed at a large green button, but nothing happened. At that moment, they all noticed something approaching at speed making a loud tocking noise. It appeared to be a small metal bird, flapping its wings rapidly and leaving a trail of steam in its wake.
Fingers frantically stabbed the green again and again without any net appearing.
The bird hit the metal bowl with a loud clang, and fell to the ground at their feet in a shower of sparks.
“Ooops!” Said Fingers.
“Dat’s a Pilcrow,” said Irving, “da U.S. sold dis system to you Brits, an it works good most of da time.”
Fingers looked down at the battered Pilcrow which was still steaming gently.
“Dats a dead boyd, Oiving,” he said sadly. “Hope dey gotta spare here.”
He fiddled around at the base of the pole again, and another door sprang open. Reaching in, he pulled out a replica of the now defunct Pilcrow.
“Here, goylie,” he said to Emmeline, “write da message to your Pa an we’ll send it off in dis.”
Rusty, who had been fiddling with the broken bird, held up a scorched piece of paper.
“It’s a complaint about lost laundry,” he said.
“Never mind da lost socks,” said Irving, “let’s get dis on da go.”
He placed Emmeline’s message into a compartment in the Pilcrow, which he then laid in a catapault arrangement attached to the I.B. before thrusting home a self-igniting charcoal stick: after a minute, the bird’s eyes glowed a bright red and the wings started flapping vigorously up and down. A slight adjustment of the trajectory, a check on the direction, and at the pull of a lever the bird took off with a tock-tock-tock and disappeared in the direction of Oban trailing a cloud of steam.
Having sent off their vital message, the group hastened back down to the beach to see what was happening.
The Vulgarian airship was still hovering menacingly over the submarine which was no longer puffing a trail of smoke into the air.
“They’ve extinguished the surface engine,” gasped Rusty, “they’re running on the chemical engine, which means they’re going to dive when they get to deep enough water.”
“That’s funny,” observed Emmeline, “ they’re not heading out to sea – they’re heading towards the entrance to Loch Etive.”
“It may be too shallow a draft for the Devastation,” said Rusty, “they can block the entrance but not follow them in.”
“We can’t let them get away,” said Victoriana. “Let’s see what else is in that big boathouse.”
They trooped down to the end of the jetty, making their way carefully around the gaping bomb crater left by the Vulgarians, and entered the warehouse. There moored against the jetty was a smaller version of the submarine they had seen escaping.
“I can’t leave Bucky,” said Emmeline, “I’ll stay here and tell Papa what has happened when he arrives.”
The others all climbed aboard the sleek wooden vessel, and Rusty set about priming the chemical engine. Victorian stared in amazement at a large clock which was fastened too low on the wall above a shelf containing charts and other nautical oddments. Made of some rubberized material, the clock face appeared to flow down onto the shelf, across it and was hanging a good three inches over the edge. She checked the hands.
“Well,” she said to herself, “ it seems to be keeping the correct time. How peculiar, though.”
“Ready to go,” Rusty shouted up through the hatch. Irving and Fingers soon appeared and climbed down into the submarine, having cast off from the jetty.
Closing the hatch, they manoeuvred carefully through the open doors out into the bay, setting a course for the Loch entrance in hot pursuit of the archvillain McHerring.

Friday, 17 January 2014


Chapter 14

After they had walked a couple of miles they sat down on a bank at the edge of the road for a rest. Victoriana removed her shoes and rubbed her feet vigorously.
“They do feel a little sore,” she admitted to Irving.
At that moment, a horse pulling a cart with a few bales of straw on it came clopping smartly up the road behind them. Irving sprang to his feet and stepped out in front of it.
“Hey, buddy, can ya give us a ride?” He asked, startling the figure who had been lolling on his seat, seemingly relying on the horse to find its own way.
“Mebbeasyerenoasassenach:whauryeboundthin?” Asked the driver.
Rusty got out his translator box and turned the little wheel.
“Mebbeasyerenoasassenach:whauryeboundthin?” Said the box.
Irving grabbed it from him and gave it a sharp smack on the side of the cart, then turned the little wheel again.
“Aye, stranger, as ye’re no’ an Englishman: pray, whither are ye bound?” It said, in a fluting Scottish accent.
“I’ve been modifying the speech module a little,” admitted Rusty, “though it still needs a bit of work.”
Having been assured that the carter was passing through Taynuilt on the way to his croft, they gratefully accepted a lift and climbed up on top of the straw bales, and the cart resumed its journey.
As they round wound around a hill and a view of the coast opened up, Victoriana gave a little gasp of excitement.
“Look!” She cried, “a castle!”
The driver turned his head, scowled and spat angrily at the ground.
“Aye,” fluted the box, “’tis the lair o’ that rascally McHerring, divil take his black soul. Dunstaffnage Castle was niver the same since he bought it. Folks around here believe the castle tried to rid itself of him, there was terrible shakins an rumblins for mony a month after, aye.”
“There seems to be a lot of activity round it at the moment,” observed Rusty, “those look like soldiers to me.”
“Mebbe they’s come to drag him awa’,” said the box hopefully.
Indeed, there was a lot of activity around the castle, with lorries and jeeps and even a small tank clustered near the entrance, with groups of soldiers swarming about like ants.
“Dey’re not wearing skirts like dem ones in da movies,” said Fingers.
“Kilts,” corrected Rusty automatically. “I think they’re English, and I bet your Papa had them mobilised to try to retrieve the Telectroscope, Victoriana. They must have tracked McHerring down. Should we go down there?”
“Um,” Victoriana hesitated. “It’s probably better if I spoke to Mama first. After all, we did disappear rather suddenly.”
They all agreed it would be a wiser course to postpone any reunion until the ground had been a little prepared; they therefore elected to stick to the plan to spend the night in Taynuilt and devise a way to contact Victoriana’s and Rusty’s parents in the morning.
“But why do you not like Mr McHerring?” Victoriana asked the carter.
“Ach, ‘tis a sorry tale,” said that worthy, “and it goes back to when I was a wee lad living doon there on the foreshore in the shadow of yon castle. My Da was a coral diver, and he used to row out to the reef and dive down to collect the coral with his mates for to sell to the shops awa’ in Glasgee: the rich folk loved the coral for the decorations, ye ken, and ‘twould fetch a pretty price.”
“Nay, but ‘twas dangerous work, and lives were lost in the gatherin’.” A large tear rolled down his cheek as he spoke.
“But then, this Spanish gentleman, who was holidaying in the area, was watching one day when the boat came ashore, loaded with coral and the daid body of a diver. He was so moved by wit he saw…” another tear rolled slowly down his cheek, “…that he awa’ and made a wooden boat that could sail beneath the waves, and gather the coral. Aye,” he glared at them defiantly, “’tis true, ‘tis true!”
“He means a submarine,” whispered Rusty, “ it…it couldn’t have been Monturiol, could it?”
The carter thrust a boney arm at him which bore a swirly tattoo of a dolphin amid the waves: as he flexed his muscles, the fish appeared to swim through the sea.
“The whole crew had these, ev’ry mon,” he said. “I was on’y a wee lad, but I was ta’en along to tend the engine whaur there was no space for a mon.”
“’Twas a beautiful craft,” he said dreamily, “carved of wood and polished to a shine. The first boat he made was small, and he used a lot of old whisky barrels, but it still sailed like a dream. We covered twenty five miles when we tested ‘un, though most of that was in circles, as the fumes from the auld wood were quite strong,” he smiled in reminiscence.
Abruptly a scowl darkened his face.
“ Then along came that divil McHerring, and offered to pay for the building of a proper boat, one big enough to take on th’Atlantic and dive doon to the coral reefs.” He fell silent, brooding on the past.
“And?” Prompted Rusty, “what happened then?”
“Aye, well, he paid the money and built the boat, and that was the last we saw of un. We heard he made a mint of money selling un to the gov’ment, along wi’ the classy wee engine the Spanish gentleman designed. Awa’ the Senor went, back to Spain brokenhearted, and niver more did we hear o’ him.” He wiped his sleeve across his eyes.
“Well,” said Victoriana heatedly, “what a rotter McHerring is. No wonder he thought nothing of stealing the Telectroscope.’
They all agreed that McHerring must be an absolute blackguard and should be brought to justice, if indeed he succeeded in evading the army besieging his castle.

                                                *            *            *

They were enveloped by the gathering dusk as the cart rolled into the village and halted outside an ancient inn.
“Ye’ll find board an’ lodgin’yonder, nae doot,” said the carter, waving away their expressions of gratitude, “if ye’re no friends o’ the McHerring. Th’old wooden boat o’ yon Spanish gentleman kept a lot of men occupied and woulda brocht wealth to these parts: folks have long memories aroond here,” he glanced meaningfully at the inn, whose sign creaked sadly in the breeze.
“But it’s the Stag’s Head,” said Rusty in a puzzled manner.
“Och, aye, reetly so. A one-armed feller name Perrott boucht the place a while back and renamed it. He didna seem to care for the sea or anything aboot it.”
The carter gathered the reins up and was about to urge the horse on again when he was struck by a thought. He leaned over and spoke in Victoriana’s ear.
“Indeed, A thoucht a saw a sleek wooden undersea vessel off the point by the castle a nicht or two since,” he confided, “but t’was after closin’ time by then, ye ken.”
And with that he flicked the reins and the horse and cart ambled off into the night.
“I think there is just enough fuel in the translator box to allow us to negotiate with the landlord,” said Rusty, giving it a little shake.
They trooped up to the inn and were approaching the door when it was flung open and a group of soldiers staggered out into the night on a billow of yells and laughter, leaving behind a scene of carousing and jollity as if an entire army were occupying the premises.
“Now then, lads,” said the box, as the landlord, a big beefy cheerful fellow in an apron, followed them out and turned them carefully in the right direction, “follow that lane and it’ll tak ye back to the camp with yeer fellows.”
“’Scuse me, bud,” said Irving, “do ya have any beds fer the night?”
The landlord turned and a suspicious frown clouded his face.
“Ye’re no journalists, are ye?” He asked.
“Why would we be joynalists?” Aked Fingers in surprise, “we’s jus’ visitin’, erm, fer a sorta vacation.”
The landlord’s face lit up: he rubbed his hands together gleefully.
“Tourists!” He exclaimed, “and from America! Tis my lucky night. I bid ye welcome.”
“Why would we be journalists?” Asked Victoriana.
“Did ye no see the excitement around the castle? T’was hard to miss wi’ all they soldiers and things.”
            “What happened?” Asked Rusty eagerly.
“The lads inside” he jerked his head over his shoulder “ are celebrating capturing a dangerous gang, it seems. They have captured McHerring and his mob and locked him in the castle dungeons…”
“And…and…Mulletchops,” interrupted an inebriated soldier, appearing at his elbow. “ Don’t forget Mulletchops and his crew, we gottem as well, an’, an’ they’re locked up in another dungeon an’all. Funny thing is, the Captain don’t seem to be too happy, keeps muttering about something called a telectromon…tetrectolol…trolectolly…”
“Telectroscope!” exclaimed Victoriana.
“That’s it!” Agreed the soldier triumphantly, “seems the Captain got a bo… got a bothering from the Major because he couldn’t find it anywhere. It seems to have disappeared completely.”