At the Hotel - Part One
"Isn't this wonderful, Sir, staying at a real hotel? A roof over our heads, a soft bed? A warm meal and…" "… and paying for everything", His Lordship added in a downcast voice.
They were standing in the hotel lobby and looked about them. A long red carpet led to a broad staircase. Several pictures of Scottish landscapes and castles were hanging at a panelled wall to their left, a reception counter of polished wood was on the right side. Behind the counter was a uniformed man who at first did not take notice of them. The butler pushed the wheelchair with the suitcases and the hamsters to the left and looked at the pictures interestedly, while the little animals peeped out of their trunk curiously. The porter several times wrinkled his nose as if he noticed some bad smell. McShredder drummed with his fingers on the counter while the porter leafed through a book - obviously the guest book. Finally milord took his pipe and wanted to light it.
"Sir, no smoking in here!"
"Is that so?" McShredder croaked. "And no serving guests either?"
"Sir, have you made a booking?" the porter asked without looking up.
"Booking? My boy, Lord McShredder of Killichonan, conqueror of the Loch Ness monster and Duke of Spain needs no booking! All hotels of the world save their best suites for me!"
In the background the butler got a fit of coughing, while the porter now looked up.
"Begging pardon, Sir, but your appearance…"
"Never judge a man by his appearance, my boy. You hear me? I might easily buy this hotel and throw you out. Do you realize that?"
"Of course, Sir, certainly, Sir", the porter meekly replied. "Do you wish for a family room with bath and shower or a twin bed room?"
"You still do not understand, my boy. I'm Lord McShredder of Killichonan, Loch Ness monster and conqueror of the Duke of Spain. Er, no, the other way round. Do you realize that? We get your very best two single rooms. The bigger one for me, of course! In case this run-down house can boast of something like a kitchen, bring the menus to our rooms. We are not used to cheap meals!"
If His Lordship had turned round just now, he would have seen how his butler almost toppled over with laughter.
"Very good, Sir, Lord McShredder of Killichonan, conqueror of the Loch Ness monster and Duke of Spain, certainly. How am I to address your Serene Highness if this bold question is permitted?"
"I grant you the question and I furthermore grant you to address me Sir Lord of Killichonan."
"Certainly, Sir Lord of Killichonan. May I carry your luggage upstairs?" the porter asked with trembling voice.
He had completely discarded his haughty behaviour. Beads of sweat were visible on his reddened face.
"No. My servant will care for my luggage. It is me you'll carry to my room!"
"Certainly, Sir, at once, Sir Lord of Killichonan", the porter stammered, hurrying around the counter to milord.
One arm he put around McShredder's shoulders, the other behind his knees. When he held him firmly, he panted upstairs with him.
"Did you hear that?" chief engineer Botchy cheered. "We'll stay overnight!"
"Yes, and he said something about a menu", Goldi added.
"If only we need not sleep in the dirt. Now and then I want a clean loo!" Flecki said and held to the edge as now the butler took their suitcase and took it upstairs.
"Did you not learn any manners, my boy?" the hamsters heard a well known voice. "Do you want to let me stand in front of the door, you boor?!"
"But Sir Lord of Killichonan, I had no hand free to open the door. How am I to open the door when I'm carrying you?"
"A porter of class would have done that with his teeth or knee, you wimpy greenhorn!"
"Very well, Sir Lord of Killichonan, I'll do better in future."
Now they were in the room and milord looked about him critically. Slowly he walked over to the window, drew back the white curtain and threw a glance at the broad bed. His glance went on to a mahogany wardrobe and a gilded chandelier the soft light of which flooded the room.
"This is your best room?" His Lordship asked and looked at the porter sharply.
"Yes, Sir Lord of Killichonan. This is our deluxe suite. Is anything wrong with it?"
"Wrong? It is a disaster, you good for nothing. The curtains do not favour the chandelier! The carpet is worn out. Show me the bathroom!"
A few moments later they were in the adjoining bathroom. It was flooded with soft light, a fluffy mat decorated the tiles. The taps of the big tub were gilded.
"Porter", came the croaking voice of McShredder. "Tell me, don't you notice it?"
"Soap! A second bar of soap is missing. Am I to use the same soap for bathing and for washing my hands? Out, you dud!"
The porter saw that he was off. In front of the door he paused the breathed deeply. Then he walked down the passage and knocked at the room of Frido McClown.
"Sir, this is the porter", he said in a low voice. The door opened and the butler beamed at him. "Do you require anything, Sir? Is everything to your satisfaction? How may I address you?"
For a moment McClown looked bewildered, not being used to be addressed 'Sir'.
"Well", he said, "if you would bring me a bowl of unsalted peanuts I would be quite satisfied. Just call me Frido."
The porter nodded, happy to be off.
"In a moment, Sir Frido."
At the Hotel - Part Two
It did not take the porter long to hand the menu to Lord McShredder and a bowl of unsalted peanuts to Frido McClown. Then he went back to the lobby and rang up a phone number he only used in cases of emergency. This was an emergency and he needed the help of the hotel manager. The manager was living close by in the little town of Liddesdale on the other end of Loch Sunart. The manager was amazed to hear from Lachlan MacFish, his porter, that a most noble guest was staying at the hotel.
"Lachlan", he said, out of breath, "utmost discretion and fulfil all wishes of the noble gentlemen, you get me? I'll be there early in the morning and assist you. Today the gentlemen certainly have to rest. And always remember, Lachlan, a lord is always in the right."
"Very well, Sir, but couldn't you come today?"
"Lachlan, don't be silly. You will manage that all right."
That's like him, the porter thought, I've got to do the work and he goes fishing. Well, I'll manage the matter until tomorrow.
"Hey, Mister - er, porter!" a voice interrupted his thoughts. "Bring me some washed salad and 25 wash rugs!"
"Very well, Sir Frido", he said. He scratched his ear in surprise. Nothing wrong with washed salad, but what would somebody use 25 wash rugs for? Of course he had no idea that the wash rugs were to be used as bathing towels for the hamsters. The little animals were so dirty after the long journey that they urgently needed a bath. So the obvious thing was to make a swimming pool of the tub. The butler could take the wash basin after all.
"Ay, Sir Frido?"
"Do you have little slats?"
"Yes, Sir Frido, for serving snacks."
"Excellent, porter, bring 25 of them."
"25 slats, Sir?"
"25 slats, porter."
Lachlan MacFish, the porter, hastened to fulfil the wishes of this curious guest. The butler on the other hand quite enjoyed it to be served for once. When the porter had taken the salad, 25 wash rugs and 25 little slats to the butler's room, he heard a croaking voice:
"Hey, room service, is my meal prepared?"
The porter hurried to His Lordship's door.
"Sir Lord of Killichonan, did Your Highness call me?"
"My bypass? I don't have any bypass, Mister. I am hungry, where is my dinner?"
"Craving your pardon, the dinner, Sir Lord of Killichonan, is served in the lounge."
The door was opened with a dash and Lord McShredder faced the porter furiously.
"What do you mean by that impertinence? Which thinner Lord of Killichonan is swerving about to plunge? There is no Lord of Killichonan but me!"
By now Lachlan MacFish realized that milord was very deaf so that he repeated with raised voice: "Dinner, Sir, your dinner. Did Your Lordship already choose?"
"Salmon with chanterelles and wedges", His hungry Lordship replied and hardly could repress a smack. "Very well, Sir Lord of Killichonan", the porter said and walked back to the butler's room.
"Sir, what would you like for dinner?"
"Haggis and chips. I'll dine in my room", McClown's voice was to be heard.
"Er, in 25 little bowls, Sir Frido?"
"25 small ones and one big one, porter!"
The rest of the day was filled with peace and munching. That was, for the porter it was neither. It just was hell. Once McShredder asked for fresh tobacco or a newspaper which had to bought in the next town, then McClown urgently required sunflower seed which could only be got at the next farm. Poor Lachlan was standing behind his reception counter, trembling, close to a nervous breakdown, any time expecting calls for "Room service!" or "Porter!" And he heard them often, very often. Close to midnight he took a cup of tea and shortbread and another helping of haggis to His Lordship and a jar of milk with 25 eggcups and 50 biscuits to the butler. Then he fell asleep behind his counter, sobbing exhaustedly.
From milord's room nothing but snoring was audible. Apart from that the hotel seemed to be quiet. But if you listened at the butler's door, a lot of curious noises might be heard: splashing, gnawing, sounds like "Eippij!" and soft snoring from Frido McClown. The hamsters, however, had their party-time. Some of the rodents were sitting on the edge of the tub eating biscuits, others were surfing in the water. The mayor was standing in front of the large bathroom mirror and rehearsed a speech.
Beside the tub Flecki and Taty were busy covering the floor with toilet paper. Goldi had discovered a small pedal bin and invited one hamster friend after the other "to stand on the lid for a moment". Then he jumped onto the pedal and with a loud cry of "Pleh!"2 the corresponding hamster sailed through the air. In the best case he landed in the bathing tub.
Only when the sun sent her first rays, the small, elegant hotel was really silent. The porter was still lying behind his counter exhaustedly and rubbed his tired eyes. Now it was time for him to get up and prepare the breakfast. In a crabby mood he walked to the kitchen and quickly closed his eyes again when he saw the mounds of dirty dishes. His Lordship and the butler had been served with the best of the best and that in double and triple helpings. Add to this countless little dishes like eggcups, slats, tea spoons, and small plates the use of which Lachlan MacFish could not make head or tail of. It took him quite some time to tidy up the kitchen, then he laid the breakfast table. Now he went to wake up the guests.
At the Hotel - Part 3
"Good morning, Sir Lord of Killichonan. Did Your Highness sleep well?"
The porter was standing very erect beside the breakfast table when Lord McShredder approached. A few steps behind him followed the yawning butler.
"Don't talk that posh, slave. Where is the caviar?"
"Er, Sir, you did not mention caviar…"
"I did not mention caviar, you boor? The Lord of Killichonan feeds on caviar! Get that into your head!"
"V-very well, Sir", the porter stammered and hurried to the kitchen to get some caviar.
"Er, Sir, what is the taste of this caviar?"
"No idea, McClown, but I always wanted to try it", milord replied and added: "I hope it is not too fatty. I'll only try a small helping, I think."
In came the porter with a small bowl of caviar and placed it in front of milord.
"The caviar, Sir Lord of Killichonan."
While the porter saw that he got back to his safe kitchen, His Lordship eyed the bowl and its black contents curiously. He took a small silver spoon and cautiously tasted a tiny bit. Then he spit the little black balls through the room and grumbled: "Inedible, McClown, much too much salt. Hand it down to the hamsters for toying around with it."
After this unpleasant experience they turned back to their breakfast and had their fill. In the meantime a man had entered the lobby and approached them.
"Good morning, gentlemen. I am very much pleased and honoured to welcome you here. I hope you are missing nothing and are satisfied with the service."
"No ice cream!" McShredder crowed.
"Sir?" the hotel manager asked in a bewildered voice.
"There is no ice cream! Make yourself useful and get us some raspberry ice cream and stop interrupting my breakfast!"
"And an extra helping of chips for me!" McClown called after the flabbergasted manager who really went into the kitchen to look for his porter. He found him beside the dish washer.
"Lachlan, are you all right?" he asked but when he saw the nervous tic in the face of his employee he knew that nothing was all right. He was quite beside himself, trembled and now put his head into the fridge.
"I can't go on, Sir", he wailed and hit his fist against the fridge door.
"Now, now, Lachlan, it can't be that bad!"
"No, Sir, it's worse! All the night I heard water running into the tub, the hotel is stinking all over of tobacco and they nagged around up to midnight! I'm taking my leave, Sir!"
"Lachlan, no, you can't do that, I'm quite done without you!" The hotel manager had blanched.
"No, Sir, I can't stand this. It's either them or me and that's my last word!"
The porter kicked the fridge door and walked to the counter to pack his things. The manager of this honourable hotel was in a difficult situation. If he sent the two guests packing, he would loose a lot of money. On the other hand, if the porter retired, the hotel service would break down. He arranged his tie and walked slowly to the breakfast table where Lord McShredder and McClown were sitting, elbows on the table and slurping their tea. Both had put their feet onto the next chairs. It did not look very elegant.
"Gentlemen", the hotel manager cautiously began, "there is a small problem."
"Don't talk about small", milord bawled, "it's a big problem! Where's my ice cream?"
"You will get your ice cream in a moment, Sir. But unfortunately a problem came up which requires your immediate attention."
"Are you telling me that there is rasp ice cream? Then bring strawberry, and presto!" milord crowed and emptied his pipe into the caviar bowl.
"Unfortunately it is much more than your ice cream, Sir. You will have to leave the hotel."
"Leave the hotel?" Milord took the pipe out of his mouth and pointed with it at the hotel manager. "See that you get yourself to the kitchen and fetch the ice cream or I will buy this lousy hotel and dismiss you."
"Very well, Sir", the manager calmly replied. "Which amount are we talking about?"
His Lordship paled and put his pipe onto the table.
"Well, er, a large one. I'm the Lord of Killichonan, regent of the Loch Ness monster, er, and I could offer you a castle which is just being, er, renovated."
"Thank you very much, Sir, that won't be necessary. Just pay me one night in the de luxe suite. Do you pay separately, gentlemen?"
He looked at Frido McClown. But the butler shook his head and pointed at milord.
"He invited us."
"Us, Sir?" the manager asked, surprised. "Whom else?"
"Er", the butler stammered, "what I mean is, me and the, er, suitcases."
"The suitcases, I see. Well, milord, than it will be your pleasure. My porter will bring the invoice in a moment. We'll take your suitcases down with pleasure. Do you have any other requirements?"
Lord and butler felt quite helpless and did say nothing. The hotel manager went to his porter who had listened to this from the distance with growing delight. He had already prepared an invoice form and started to write. "Sir, do you have enough money with you?" the butler asked the question of all questions.
"McClown, do I look like a mean chicken thief? A lord has always enough money with him, of course. Take along the remains of the breakfast, we have to economize."
"Economize, Sir? But I thought…"
"185 pound, Sir. Cash, if you please."
The hotel manager put the invoice down in front of Lord McShredder. Many words and even more numbers were written on it. The butler could almost see how the brain of the old rascal was working feverishly. He had no idea what was to come but he had the idea that it was something unpleasant.
"That all?" McShredder croaked and threw the invoice onto the table. "This ridiculous invoice is all? My good man, such a sum my postman gets as a tip! I'm used to quite other invoices! I'll pay this silly invoice when I honour you with my visit again. McClown, we are leaving!"
The manager put his hand on milord's shoulder.
"You will not leave, Sir. Unfortunately I have to ask you to pay immediately."
"You want to threaten a lord?" McShredded sounded shocked. "If I tell you that I'll pay next time, you may rely on that. You understand me, my boy?"
"Perfectly, Sir." The hotel manager turned to the porter. "Lachlan, please be kind enough to ring up the police."
For a moment the porter was frozen, but then he took up the receiver with a broad smile. Even milord now understood that the matter was serious und shouted: "Stop! I'll pay!"
Immediately all eyes were upon him. With a sigh he put his hand into his trouser pocket, rummaged in it for some time and made a surprised face. Then he looked under the breakfast table, under the chair, and finally he started to take up the carpet in the lobby.
"Sir, what are you doing there?" the manager wondered.
"Looking for my money. A few minutes ago it was in my pocket."
"Perhaps you left it in your room, Sir."
"No,no. I had it on me. It is gone."
The manager looked first at His Lordship, then at His Lordship's butler, then at his porter. Then he slowly paced the room. He turned the matter over in his mind for a while and finally said:
"Well, Sir, I would not like to accuse a lord of being a liar, and I would not like to see a lord in prison. But you will understand that I need money to survive. My employee of course has to get his wages. So I propose that some friends of yours send the money to you, or…" He paused and glared at milord. "Or you work it off!"
Lord McShredder sat on his chair rather embarrassed and played with his pipe. Friends to send him money? Forget it! He had no friends. So he stood up.
"No lord will beg at his friends, even if they would be delighted to help him. My butler and I will enjoy working off this ridiculous amount!"
At the Hotel - Part 4
"Enjoy it?" Frido McClown grumbled. "You said we'll enjoy it? The last three days we've been slaving from dawn to dusk."
"McClown, you are never satisfied. We've got a roof over our heads and warm meals. A little work will not kill you."
Milord was sitting on an old bucket and watched his butler painting the last part of the hotel's back wall with white paint. The front wall they had painted yesterday and now the hotel shone in new splendour. However, McClown had no eye for all this beauty because by now His Lordship remembered his rheumatism and that he needed a long break. So McClown had to do the work all alone.
"Sir, if we are finished here, we have to repair the roof and paint all rooms. I can't go on!"
At this moment the porter came with a large bowl and placed it I front of milord.
"Potatoes, Sir. In spite of your rheumatism you should be able to peel these potatoes. Please do it accurately."
Milord took the knife the porter had given him and looked at it. When the porter had left the room he chucked it to the floor.
"You are right, McClown. This kind of work is unworthy for a lord. Contrary to you, however, I possess a lot of brain and worked out a plan of escape."
"Escape, McClown. 7.47 tomorrow morning a bus is leaving for Corran. We will take it. From Corran we'll leave with the ferry." "But Sir, how are we to escape through the entrance hall without being noticed?"
"There, there, McClown", McShredder crowed, "you only think with your feet and not with your head. That's why you are a butler and not lord. See that our wheelchair unobtrusively stays outside overnight. Think of something. After breakfast we will escape."
The butler indeed did not find it difficult to think of something. After he had spilled a lot of paint over the wheelchair and worked on it with some stinking cleanser, he could leave it in front of the door for airing without arousing suspicion.
In the evening they sat together in the small chamber they had been given two days before. It was beside the kitchen and furnished sparsely. Two beds and an old wardrobe was all they had. Meals were meagre and McClown had the suspicion that they got the leftovers of the few hotel guests' meals. He was quite fed up with working here any longer. Certainly he was used to labour under milord's orders from morning to night, but it never was as bad as here. Yesterday he had to wash the dishes until deep into the night and when he had finished that the brushes had to be cleaned of paint. At this time His Highness had already been snoring as he was only willing to do the most necessary things - due to his rheumatism. The butler sighed and went to the suitcase with his little hamster friends.
"Don't worry, my little ones", he whispered. "Tomorrow morning we will be free again!" Then he lay down on his bed and soon was asleep.
"What does that mean now", Taty scolded. "Why does nobody care for us? All day long we are hanging around here and nobody minds us."
"And hardly anything to eat", Goldi protested. "We should see that we are off!"
"You didn't listen, silly", Flecki said. "The kind man just said that we'll be free tomorrow morning."
"So he said", the mayor confirmed. "Dear hamsters, tomorrow we will be free again. We'll belong to ourselves, as the old Celts used to say. Of course one or the other will ask: What does 'free' mean? Well, my dear friends, that means nothing but being free. As I mentioned above…"
"Who'll come to the kitchen with me?" Goldi interrupted the fluent speech of the mayor. "A little something now would be quite something, wouldn't it?"
When the mayor looked about him, he found himself alone in the room. That is, the only hamster in the room as McShredder and McClown were sweetly sleeping in their beds. With a shrug, the lonely mayor turned to the two sleeping men and tripped a few paces closer. When he was between the two beds, he stretched his arms and said:
"Gentlemen, you are certainly interested to know my opinion on the matters in detail and in general, me being a hamster occupying the responsible position of a mayor. I am delighted to see you so numerously gathered. Please be assured that you will not be sorry of coming, because I, as you certainly…"
So, while the mayor was really happy to talk to an audience not able to escape him, the other hamsters had reached the kitchen. With a cheering "Yarooh!" one hamster after the other skidded over the smooth surface into the sink. When the last one had arrived in the sink, they faced a problem.
"And what now?" Chief engineer Botchy was the first one to see the problem. "How do we get out of this?"
Silence and long faces was all the answer he got. Their own stupidity had imprisoned them. Desperately the hamsters tried to climb up the smooth walls of the sink. They did not succeed. Then they made another attempt by climbing upon each other, but the ground of the sink simply was too slippery. Every time the bottommost hamster slipped and they all toppled down. So they spent a boring night in a boring sink.
It was just dawning when the butler woke up due to milord's loud snoring. He rubbed his eyes and suddenly remembered that today all slavery would be over. With some bewilderment he looked at the floor where one of the hamsters obviously was holding a speech. The butler shook his head, gripped the protesting hamster and put him into the suitcase. With a start he looked about him: Where were the other hamsters? He looked under the beds, ransacked the wardrobe, but the hamsters were not there. The clock said that it was 5.00 a.m. McClown decided to begin the breakfast preparations for the hotel guests. Nothing wrong to have a little time left for preparing the escape later on. Very cautiously, not to wake up His Lordship and start unfruitful discussions, he opened the door and went into the neighbouring kitchen. First of all he filled the water kettle, put it onto the stove and got tea and tea filter from the cupboard. He angrily noticed that the teapot was still dirty. So he walked over to the sink. Standing in front of it, he did not believe his eyes.
"Why, did your party go down the sink?" The butler almost toppled over with laughter. "Did you have some fun after all?" He took the frustrated hamsters and cautiously carried them to their chamber. Again and again he had to stifle a giggle. He opened the door and put the hamsters into the suitcase with the mayor who still was holding a speech. Then he walked back to the kitchen, giggling. "If he had said another word, I would have gone for him", Goldi roared and waved his tiny fist. "Let's not talk about it any more", Topple proposed. "We're really a shame for all hamsters." "That's it", Flecki yawned. "Let's have some sleep. Today we've made fools enough of ourselves." While the hamsters went to sleep, the butler prepared breakfast in the kitchen. He was glad that there were only few guests at the hotel just now. Only three guests were to be served breakfast, the butler thought, and made coffee for Room No. 4. That was the room of the funny professor who walked about in the surrounding landscape all day long or was reading books in his room. Then there was Room No. 8, holding a couple who always were out all the day and gave McClown no trouble. However, it was close to vacation time and he well knew that lots of people would be coming soon. No, they must be off, the earlier the better. The kitchen clock showed 6.00 a.m. by now. There was a prickling in his stomach and he wondered how he might take the suitcases outside without being noticed. He had no idea and that troubled him. And if they simply left the luggage behind? No, never, the butler thought with grim face, never he would leave the poor little hamsters behind. "You don't look very happy, Sir Frido - good morning", he heard the voice of the porter who had just entered the kitchen to check how things were going. Against McClown Lachlan McFish was quite polite because he regarded him as a kind of fellow sufferer. On the other hand he badgered Lord McShredder as much as possible. "Please remember to take the garbage out so that the collectors can take it away today." "I will", McClown mumbled and put the coffee powder he just had spilt into the filter. Suddenly he had an idea. The garbage! He went to the back part of the kitchen and found the two dustbins which were to be emptied today. He looked in and saw that there still was room enough - room enough for the suitcases.
As unobstrusively as possible he left the kitchen and made for the room where milord was still snoring loud and peacefully. Frido McClown took one suitcase after the other and carried it into the kitchen. The porter had left, and with pounding heart the butler stuffed the suitcases into the dustbins. Then he fetched the small green bucket which was filled with leftovers and distributed them in the bins so that the suitcases were no longer visible. When he looked at the clock again he saw with some shock that it was almost 7.00 a.m. He hurried to lay the breakfast tables, carried the dustbins out and finally woke up His Lordship and told him where he had left the trunks. "McClown, I see that you learned something from me", His Lordship whispered a short time later when they were sitting over their breakfast. He again and again looked about him to check if someone was listening. "It's 7.25 a.m. now. When we have finished our breakfast you'll quickly clean away the dishes and go back into the kitchen. It will take us 10 minutes to reach the bus stop where the bus for Corran is leaving at 7.47 a.m."
"Yes, Sir", the butler excitedly replied and stuffed the last piece of toast into his mouth. "I'm cleaning away the dishes now." "Very good, McClown", McShredder said. "I'm going to my room to put on my painter’s gear. Then I'll leave the house and wait for you." After the butler had taken the dishes to the kitchen, he threw another glance at the clock. It was 7.35 a.m. now, the time had come! He took the small green bucket and faked taking vegetable remains to the dustbins. The porter had just entered the kitchen, probably to check whether all ingredients for lunch were there, the butler thought and quickly went outdoors. His Lordship was standing there with a thoughtful face. The dustbins! Where were the dustbins with the suitcases? The suitcases were not that important, but where were the poor hamsters?
"Congratulations, McClown, the garbage collectors just fetched our luggage."
"Where to?" The butler was close to tears.
"Well, McClown, I guess they are taken to the incinerator near Glasgow."
"Can we overtake them, Sir?"
Lord McShredder pondered.
"Now, McClown, take the wheelchair and speed up. First of all we have to get the bus!"
His Lordship sat down in the wheelchair and the butler pushed. There was no question that milord had to be pushed along. First he was no longer very fast, second the road was quite steep so that they were very quick. With racing speed they took a right-hand bend and the centre of Strontian already came into sight. The butler panted while pushing over the uneven road and looked back again and again. Nobody followed them. A lord in painter's gear, a butler in cook's gear, racing through the town centre like hell. What a picture, the butler thought and saw with relief that the bus stop was only a few steps ahead. The bus was already waiting. His Lordship left the wheelchair and boarded the bus. Exhaustedly he fell into a seat. The driver helped the butler to get the wheelchair into the bus. Then he returned to his driver's seat and turned to McClown: "Need a ticket, Sir?" The butler shook his head. He needed no ticket, he needed the suitcase with the hamsters. Then the bus set moving..
"Sir, I don't really like to repeat my question, but what about the bin lorry?"
"McClown, I told you they are going to Glasgow."
"So you said, Sir."
"And we now go to Corran, McClown."
"I know this, Sir."
"We have to take a ferry to get there."
"I know this as well, Sir."
"There is no other way to Glasgow."
"I didn't know that, Sir."
"You see, McClown, that is the fine difference between lord and butler. At the latest on the ferry we will meet the bin lorry and you can get back the suitcases."
"Why me, Sir? I'm feeling sick with the smell of garbage."
"Because of the fine difference, McClown. Fact is, you are only a butler, so it is you who will rummage the rubbish."
With a sour face the butler looked out of the window. Even the beautiful landscape along Glen Tarbert could not divert him. They reached Inversanda and the view over the bay was overwhelming. The butler, however, impatiently waited for the bus to be off again because up to now the bin lorry had not come into sight. With every halt we loose precious time, he thought. Every 20 minutes a ferry crossed Loch Linnhe, that much was certain. What if the bin lorry with the suitcases was already on the ferry and they would only get the next one? McClown started to sweat when he imagined that his darling hamster-friends should end in the incinerator. They reached Gearradh and to his horror the bus stopped for several minutes. But then they followed the loch in a timely manner and the butler took heart again. Another stop at a sign post which had written 'Sallachan' on it and he became aware of the fact that he was trembling all over. At last they were on the road again, but at the last stop in Clovullin he lost his nerves. In his mind he saw pictures of flames and hamsters.
"Nooo!" he yelled and dropped to the bus floor.
The driver turned round, horrified, and looked at the desperate butler and so did all other passengers. The driver said: "Are you ill, Sir? Do you need a doctor?"
"Drive on", McCown groaned. "Get to the ferry, it's a matter of life or death!"
Disbelievingly, driver and passengers goggled at him big-eyed.
"He needs the fresh air at the sea", Lord McShredder now crowed. "Then he'll feel much better."
The driver nodded and sped up.
"Thank you, Sir, fresh air at the sea is a good idea."
"You're welcome, McClown. Would you like to think the people that my butler is a complete fool?"
"No, Sir, certainly not."
McClown got up and was down again with a shriek for the driver had reached his goal and braked sharply. "Here we are, Sir!" he shouted and jumped up to help the two of them with the wheelchair. Then the butler pushed on the wheelchair with running speed until he saw a sign which had 'Ardgour Ferry' written on it. The ferry was moored at a long pier and the butler doubled his efforts but it was too late. The small ferry already set moving.
"Nooo!" the butler yelled, threw himself on the wooden planks of the peer and drummed with his fists.
"We had this situation before, McClown. You are a quite cranky. You have to learn to control yourself, McClown."
"But, Sir, the hamsters, the hamsters…"
"So what, McClown? They are in the bin lorry and the bin lorry is on the ferry. Do I make a fuss because of that, McClown?"
"Nooo!" he yelled again and once more threw himself to the planks of the peer with a sob. "McClown, this is boring, you're repeating yourself. Get up and control yourself, the next ferry is here!" At this spot the transfer took no more than a few minutes. The small ferry landed, a ramp was lowered and they boarded. While the butler mournfully stared into the water, Lord McShredder argued about the fare with one of the officials. Only after milord had threatened to buy the ferry and turn out everybody, they were left in peace. After leaving the ferry they sat down on a bench beside the sign 'Corran Ferry'. But His Lordship had not calmed down. "He wanted money, McClown, do you hear? This cutthroat! Pedestrians and bikes go free, I know that. And what does this pirate say? A wheelchair has got four wheels and is no bike, he said, McClown! I told him something!" "You are quite cranky, you must learn to control yourself, Sir", McClown mumbled. "I am - manky, McClown?! That is most impertinent, and you know it!" "By no means I said so, Sir, I only thought of the hamsters." Frido McClown ignored His Lordship's look of distrust and mournfully watched the landscape. Suddenly his face cleared. He jumped up. "Which day is it, Sir?" "McClown, I know you are down and need a holiday, but…" "Saturday, Sir, it is Saturday!" McShredder gave his butler a bewildered look but then the meaning of this dawned to him. "You are right, McClown. So the hamsters won't go into the fire before Monday for everything is closed on weekends."
"You put that nicely, Sir", the butler gnarled and continued: "So the bin lorry will certainly take a break on his way. Sir, we have to go on towards Glasgow!" He gripped the wheelchair and pushed as fast as possible. Suddenly he heard a far off and well known voice: "McClown! You forgot me!"
On their southern road along the A82 they had just passed a narrow river when the butler paused and panted:
"I wonder whether the police are following us, Sir. What I mean, if the hotel manager notices that we are gone, he certainly will call in the police."
"Typical for you, McClown, you just don't think!"
"The police will of course look for us towards Killichonan, McClown. So what? We are heading towards Glasgow, aren't we? Moreover, McClown, I do not think that this hotel manager will report a lord to the police."
The butler was satisfied. If the police were to take hold of them, that would have meant the end of the hamsters. One mile later they reached the little town of Onich. The town would not have differed from others if there had not been something which made them freeze. At the end of the town there was an inn where obviously it was also possible to stay overnight - or so a sign said. Some letters in the sign had faded in the course of the years, but it was not the sign which struck lord and butler dumb. Beside the sign post a big car was standing - the bin lorry!
With a coarse cry the butler ran to the bin lorry and tried to open the back hatch.
"Locked, Sir", he disappointedly moaned. "We've got to find the binmen. They certainly will be in the inn."
"Just a minute, McClown", His Lordship said. "Don’t be too hasty. Why should anybody lock the hatch of a bin lorry? There's a snag to it. We have to proceed cautiously."
They cautiously approached the inn. It was a flat building and the walls were cracked here and there. The windows had not been washed for a long time, the curtains were yellowish. A few old, half torn notes were hanging at the door - a long time ago they certainly had been of some meaning. Slowly the butler pushed down the handle and opened the heavy front door. Lord McShredder followed him. They entered a dark room with several round tables. At one of the tables the binmen were sitting, talking loudly. Nobody was behind the counter and no further guests were in his unpleasant room. Knives and forks were laid out for the two men, so the landlord might be in the kitchen preparing a meal for them. Just when lord and butler were sitting down at one of the tables they had to listen what the two men were talking about. The first words shocked them.
"Ye know, I got really pissed, I tell ye. A pretty kick I gave it so it slapped at the post full power. Down it came, I tell ye. Then I kicked it again and that was that."
He slammed his big fist onto the table and shouted: "I'm pissed, if I'm played off, I tell ye. Somebody fooling me and I forget mesel'!"
"So ye do", his pal agreed.
"Ye should hae heard that slam when it smashed the post! I thought it'd burst like a ripe melon, I tell ye."
Lord and butler looked at each other with white faces.
"Out, McClown", McShredder panted and ran out.
The butler glanced at the two men one more time and saw that one of them looked at him. The one with the big fist.
"Hey, you!" he shouted through the room. "Shall I tell ye, too…"
But the butler had rushed after Lord McShredder and did not hear the end of the sentence. The binman with the big first turned to his pal and said: "Pity, I'd loved to tell him how last weekend I made the winning goal, I tell ye."
While in the inn the chat about soccer went on, in front of the inn two men were looking absolutely horrified.
"They are brutes, Sir! If we ask them whether we may search their lorry, they'll kill us!"
"You are right, McClown, those two are brutal chaps. I'm afraid we have to give up the suitcases."
"No, Sir, no. Do think about the poor little innocent hamsters. Are they to die in the flames?"
"McClown, you do not think clearly. Think about, perhaps they hamsters have already suffocated."
The butler looked at the bin lorry and saw that the window on the driver's side was open. He cautiously approached the door although the inn was on the other side of the lorry now and there was no danger to be seen by the two binmen. McClown mounted onto the running-board and looked in, then he rejoiced: the key was in the ignition lock!
"Sir, do come quickly!" he called Lord McShredder in a low voice and milord curiously came closer. The butler showed him what he had found and whispered that milord should get into the lorry.
"McClown, I won't go without my wheelchair! The perfect butler does not leave his master's belongings behind. So think of something or we won't go."
The butler thought feverishly. There was not enough room in the driver's cab and the back hatch was still locked. McClown did no make much ado but pushed the wheelchair to the back of the lorry, lifted it and hitched it to the handle of the hatch.
"This should do. Please get in, Sir."
Lord McShredder did so, but hesitatingly, for he did not think this procedure correct. Hijacking a bin lorry was not worthy a lord. But neither it would be worthy to be arrested for evading the payment of a bill. This vehicle gave him the chance to leave the area before the police could find him. It would certainly take the two binmen a while to discover that their lorry was gone. Perhaps they would only notice it the other day in case they stayed here overnight.
"Drive on, McClown!"
Cautiously the butler set back the heavy lorry into the street, then he followed the sign towards Glencoe.
"I can't stand it any longer. I want to get out here!" Flecki had sulkily retreated into a corner of the suitcase and drawn a sock over her delicate nose.
"It's a shame", Taty agreed. "After the bath we had been so beautifully clean and shining. Now we are looking like pigs!" "Indeed, dear hamster friends, we should send a delegation to the guide. Only immediate discussion will better the situation because as I several times indicated…"
"Ey, this banana is quite fresh", Goldi interrupted the mayor. "Anybody take a bite?"
Nobody replied and the reason was obvious. Rubbish of all kind can be found in a bin lorry and many a hamster saw his chance. All over the place small booths had been installed and a variety of things was offered. Beside a stall with spare parts there was one with antiques and in a little distance a snack-stall offering leftovers of meals. But this small market unfortunately ended soon. When the lorry set moving, all booths tumbled about. Now of course everybody fought with everybody about the question of ownership. Chief Botchy tried to reconcile them but gave this up when a lemon peel hit his head. This was the mayor's hour! He climbed onto the highest rubbish heap and shouted:
"Dear hamster-friends, I think it is time to pause and reflect. Tolerance and charity, dear friends, are not only the yardstick of life but also…"
He did not get further. When he started to speak a coffee filter had missed him, but now a foul tomato hit him right in the face. Bravely he got up again and tried to continue his speech but a well aimed apple brought him down for good. Now there was no stopping, a real battle started. Groceries came flying, small furniture and everything which could be thrown. All hamsters were completely beside themselves, except of course Flecki and Taty who were still sitting in their suitcase and watching the matter, shaking their heads.
"Incredible, outrageous", Flecki cried. "Look", she said to Taty, "even the mayor takes part. It's a shame!"
She turned to Taty but Taty was no longer there. Then Flecki could see how Taty threw a foul carrot at chief Botchy’s head so that he rolled down the rubbish heap. Flecki was shocked, stuck her head out of the suitcase and yelled: “You should be ashamed! That’s no behaviour for a hamster!”
Next moment a banana peel hit her face and she fell headlong out of the suitcase. That had been Goldi’s missile! Full of revenge, she took an old pen and tried to prick Goldi’s bum. But suddenly the lorry braked sharply, all hamsters tumbled over each other and the battle was over.
“McClown, you are braking like a fool. Do you want my denture to fall out of my face?”
“I’m sorry, Sir, but I don’t know the way.”
A few minutes earlier they had crossed Loch Leven and after a long left turn of the A82 they were reaching the town of Glencoe. “To the left, the right, or straight on, Sir?” the butler asked.
“Keep to the left, McClown. The police will think us to be on the main road to be quicker.”
“Which police?” the butler grinned. “Those following us for bill-dodging or those following us for car theft?”
Lord McShredder did not think it necessary to answer this question. They now had reached a small side road with Loch Leven to their left.
“Sir, a while ago I saw a sign which said: Dogs and Campbells - keep out. What is a Campbell, Sir?”
His Lordship looked at the butler as if he had said something very, very silly.
“McClown, you do not know the Campbells?”
“No, Sir, should I do so?”
“McClown, you are a boor and will always be. Well, a short time ago, it was in 1692, the famous ‘Glencoe Massacre’ took place. Every second traditional in Scotland deals with it. The Campell Clan murdered half the McDonald Clan when they enjoyed the hospitality of the McDonalds. You never heard about that, McClown?”
“No, Sir, at that time I had not been born into the world, Sir.”
Suddenly the butler stopped and glared out to the road.
“Sir, if we follow this road, we’ll go back along the other bank of the lake.”
Milord pondered and took out his pipe. While he lit it he pointed to a nearby forest road and ordered the butler to park the lorry there. Then both got off and looked at the lorry’s hatch. How were they to open the heavy hatch without a tool? They had found a tool kit under the passenger seat but it was locked.
Helpless and downcast they climbed back into the driver’s cab. Slowly dusk fell and while Lord McShredder took off his shoes to prepare for the night, McClown’s glance fell to the keys which were still in the ignition. All of a sudden he realized that they would have spared themselves a lot of trouble if they had been a little clever.
While Lord McShredder put on his shoes again, his butler had taken the keys and ran to the hatch of the bin lorry. He was so excited that he had to make several trials with the keys. He emitted a coarse cry of joy when one of the keys fitted into the lock without problems. Heart pounding, he turned the handle and pulled the hatch upwards. Lots of rubbish fell out and when the hatch was open, he kept his breath and looked in. As not otherwise to be expected it was full of rubbish.
Nervously his eyes wandered to and fro, then came a breath of relief when he saw his little hamster-friends. They blinked into the light and looked rather the worse for wear, their furs being dirty and clotty. He also saw the suitcases which had sprung open during the drive. Their contents had well mingled with the rubbish. First of all the butler took the hamster-trunk and examined it. It seemed to be intact so that he took a handkerchief and cleaned the trunk as well as possible. Then he put it down, fished one hamster after the other out of the rubbish and put them into their domicile.
All the time he did not notice Lord McShredder who stood close to him and craned his neck as if looking for something in the rubbish. He only noticed him when His Lordship held to the hatch lid with a curse because he almost fell into the dirt.
“Sir, are you all right?”
“Certainly, McClown, certainly. Everything all right.”
The butler turned back to the hamsters and tried to clean their furs. He was just trying to extract an old chewing gum from the fur of a hamster when a damaged box fell out of the lorry. He turned and saw milord rummaging the rubbish.
“Sir, may I be of assistance?”
“No, no, McClown, I’m - er - just looking about.”
The butler shook his head and turned back to the struggling hamster to free him from the sticky mess. Satisfied, he put the suitcase aside. Then he heard creeping steps. He looked about him in wonder. Where was milord? McClown got up and to the right side of the bin lorry. There he saw McShredder kneeling at one of the other suitcases. Slowly the butler tiptoed closer and looked over milord’s shoulder. There was the wallet which His Lordship had claimed to be lost at the hotel!
“Sir, you’re a damned shark!” McClown roared and wanted to get at the old man.
Unfortunately the open suitcase was in his way and the butler fell headlong at His Lordship’s feet. Infuriated, he bit McShredder’s foot and milord started to howl.
All this noise had made the hamsters curious. They came closer and whooped the butler as usual.
Wailing, milord hopped around on one leg and tried to escape, but Frido McClown was quicker. He jumped after His Lordship, gripped his foot and bit him a second time. Whimpering, the old rascal broke down, while the hamsters merrily asked for more show of this kind.
“McClown”, McShredder lamented, “it is not as you believe it to be!”
“Sir, what do you think I’m believing? That we had to starve and suffer because you were too close-fisted to buy us a meal? That we had to labour at the hotel so you could save your money? That the police are following us because you only think of your money? If it wasn’t for you, the poor, innocent hamsters had been almost given to the flames!”
The butler sidled around His Lordship like a tiger around his prey, prepared to attack any moment.
“McClown, I saved the money for an emergency case - for all of us!”
“Funeral service for the hamsters perhaps, Sir, cremation as it is, Sir?”
“Dear McClown, I promise that we’ll always stay at hotels from now on. Or Bed & Breakfast, which might be cheaper”, he quickly added.
“Very well, Sir”, McClown snarled, “and what about the lorry? Those two guys will kill us if not the police gets us.”
“I’ll tell you what do, Sir. I don’t like to be at the mercy of those brutal guys. Put enough money under the seat, that will calm them down - and ring up the inn.”
“Er, McClown, they will know my voice and kill all of us!”
“Your voice, Sir? They never heard it! By chance I’ve been in Kinlochleven before and know that there is a phone box at the entrance of the town. I’ll park the lorry there and we pick out the number of the inn at Onich. We’ll tell them something about an emergency. The money under the seat will sooth those two brutes.”
“Very well, McClown, but what if the police are already waiting for us?”
“There is no police station at Kinlochleven, Sir. It’s a quiet little town at the end of Loch Leven and is therefore called ‘Loch Leven’s Head’. By the way, did you know that the opening scene of the film ‘Rob Roy’ had been taken here? And that Kind Edward VII spent a night there at the Marmore Lodge?”
Lord McShredder shook his head. He looked rather downcast but his butler did not mind that. They walked back to the bin lorry, His Lordship limping in a most snivelling style, and looked for their luggage. Everything except the hamsters’ suitcase was so dirty that they could no longer make any use of it. When they had finished their rummaging, they drove to the town entrance of Kinlochleven, found the aforementioned phone box and parked the lorry there. They were lucky to find the phone number of the Onich-inn quickly and McShredder rang up to tell the landlord an outrageous story. The butler had some difficulty not to burst out laughing when His Lordship talked about the bin lorry being hijacked by the secret service in the interest of national safety. This was, he said, a top secret matter which he could and must not discuss over the phone. Furthermore he told the most bewildered landlord that he was to inform the two drivers accordingly and also inform them where they would get their vehicle back against some compensation.
McClown was quite certain that the binmen no longer were a danger and so they set off again.
The phone box lay quite a distance behind them when they reached a tourist information. It was closed but a poster saying ‘West Highland Way’ drew Lord McShredder’s attention.
“McClown, don’t dawdle, we have to go this way!”
The butler cursed because the wheels of the wheelchair were twisted and it was hard to push. The ride with the lorry bin had not agreed with it.
“Sir, this silly vehicle can’t be moved any longer!”
“Nonsense, McClown, just make a little effort, then it rolls again.”
Swearing, the butler tried to push on the mulish wheelchair along a narrow road, when His Lordship suddenly paused and pointed ahead.
“McClown, may I present the famous West Highland Way to you?”
Panting, Frido McClown stopped and looked at the broad rocky hiking trail.
“Famous?” the butler puffed. “This beaten track?”
“History, McClown, this path is history. It’s an old trading road. Was of course also used for military transports.” “The usual brawls between the clans, I guess, Sir?”
“McClown, you’re talking to your meagre knowledge! This path has a length of 152 kilometres and leads from Fort William to Glasgow. The film ‘Braveheart’ has also been shot here. Every year in June they hold the West-Highland-Race. The whole distance has to be done in a given time.”
“And what is the record, Sir?” McClowan languidly asked.
“16 and a half hours. Did you know, McClown, that torch, compass, map, whistle, and raincoat have to taken along? Only who is such equipped, is allowed to participate. It is, of course, recommendable to take along toilet paper.”
“Certainly, Sir, and something to eat and to drink?”
“Yes, McClown, but a good sportsman does not stuff his belly on the road. However, the rules say that the distance has to be done within 35 hours, no matter whether you run or walk or hop along. You even might crawl.”
“Great”, the butler grinned. “That would be something for you!”
His Lordship turned aside, deeply offended, and looked at the majestic Glencoe.
“Sir, I can’t move the wheelchair on this bumpy path any longer. I’m afraid we have to leave it behind.”
As milord still was offended and did not answer, Frido McClown pushed the wheelchair close to the West Highland Way and imagined the faces of the people who would discover it. A wheelchair user who had walked over such a distance! Grinning, he followed His Lordship into the setting sun, while the hamsters in the suitcase he carried now were soundly asleep. They walked through a wonderful landscape, perhaps the most beautiful part of their journey. Almost for two hours they walked until the sun slowly set behind the high mountains. Suddenly the road became steep. The two of them climbed while the mountains looked rather sinister in the breaking night.
“This, McClown”, Lord McShredder panted, “is ‘Devil’s Staircase’. Perhaps you notice that no birds are singing her. It’s a spooky place and nobody stays here for long.”
“Now, now”, the butler laughed, “I can see some birds flying about. Perhaps they have only forgotten their tune.”
“McClown, that are not birds, that are bats.”
“Sir, the hamsters don’t like bats.”
“Well, then there will be a curfew for the animals, McClown. We, however, should look for a safe place to sleep.”
The butler looked about him. Naked rock everywhere. The mountains looked spooky and even the sky appeared threatening. Wind had sprung up which was unusual. Even the hamsters were very quiet, no scratching at the lid of the trunk and no impatient squeaking. Lord McShredder seemed to be worried and constantly looked left and right as if he expected something to come down on them from the rock face. There! Some noise, directly in front of them! Lord and butler were standing close together.
“C-calm down, McClown, only a s-stone rolling down in the rock face.”
“C-certainly, Sir, it’s all r-right.”
“D-don’t p-panic, McClown.”
At the same instant something big, black whizzed over their heads.
“Aaaaargh, McClown, the devil comes to fetch us. Run!” milord shrieked and started running with a speed which the butler had not thought him capable of.
“Wait, Sir”, McClown yelled, “don’t leave me alone with this monster!”
Shrieking, the two men ran up to the mountain’s peak, raced down on the other side and only stopped exhaustedly when they reached a parking lot. In a few metres distance was a broad road, the A82.
“Sir”, the butler panted, “what if that was no monster at all?”
“A bat”, McShredder panted, “a damned bat, that’s what it was, McClown!”