Kings House Hotel Part I
For about half an hour they did not say anything. They just felt awkward because they had panicked over a small bat. Now they walked on along the foot of a mountain which rose high above them. To their left was the road, another high mountain facing it. Some time the path bent left and they left the road behind them.
“Sir, perhaps we should have stopped a car”, the butler said.
“A police car for instance, McClown?”
“Of course not, Sir, I only thought…”
“Wrong, McClown, you do not think. You only think of your next dinner and nothing else. You are thinking from one full plate to the next.”
The butler’s fingers tightened around the suitcase handle. While he wondered if the suitcase would go bust if he threw it at His Lordship’s head, McShredder continued:
“You see, McClown, I am foresighted and thinking strategically. My noble birth helps me because a simple farmer never would be able to think this way.”
The butler looked up and down the wayside. Perhaps he could find a stone or, better still, a cudgel.
“Anyhow, McClown, thanks to my foresight we will spend the night in soft beds after a right royal meal.”
The butler let fall the big stone he just had picked up.
“Surprised, McClown? I didn’t expect otherwise. It will take us about a mile to King’s House, a hotel, were even kings stayed overnight. I’m remembering King James VI or Bonnie Prince Charly, McClown. You certainly know them, don’t you?”
“Not personally, Sir.”
“Now don’t be silly, McClown! Ah, you see, over there is the hotel.”
A long white building with black roof came into sight. Eagerly they turned into a sidetrack, crossed a small bridge and could see the big wooden sign of the hotel.
“Sir, may I ask you to mind your money?” Frido McClown jeered. “It would be a pity if it were lost again.”
Milord did not answer this cheek of his butler but entered the lobby. Nobody was there. When they looked at the large clock over the counter they saw that it was past midnight.
“Hullo! Porter!” Lord McShredder croaked.
Some rumbling and clattering in the distance, then a door opened at the foot of a broad staircase which obviously led to the guest rooms. A young woman entered and approached the newcomers, looking at them nonplussed.
“Good evening, gentlemen”, she welcomed them and smoothed her apron. “My name is Liza McGyer, what can I do for you?”
“A double bedroom, my good woman”, milord replied.
“Pleasure, Sir”, Liza McGyer said and picked up the ball pen she had dropped. “Will you please give me your name, Sir?” she added and held her head which she bumped when stooping.
“Sir Lord McShredder of Killichonan, Duke of Spain and conqueror…”
“Excuse me, Sir, shredding what?” the young woman asked, smiling bashfully.
“Of Killichonan”, His Lordship calmly replied. “Duke of Spain and conqueror of the Loch…”
“Sorry, Sir”, Liza McGyer interrupted him again and stooped because the ball pen had fallen from her hand. She started writing again and smiled at him once more bashfully. “Spain, and then?”
“Conqueror of the Loch Ness Monster.”
“O my God!” the young woman exclaimed, made a step back and knocked over a flower vase. “The monster? And you survived it, Mr. Shredder?”
“McShredder, young lady, McShredder of Killichonan. This - er - gentleman is my butler, Frido McClown.”
She gave the butler her most beautiful smile and looked at him for a long time.
“Frido”, she said and did not avert her eyes from his face. “That is a charming name. My name is Liza and I’m the daughter of the hotel-keeper.”
“It’s a beautiful hotel”, the butler stammered and shyly returned her look.
“Thank you, Mr. Frido”, Liza McGyer whispered and took up the guestbook she accidentally had knocked off. “And you also will have a very beautiful view. That is, in the day, at the moments it’s quite dark.”
“Ehem!” His Lordship cleared his throat impatiently. “We would like to eat something after you’ve shown us the rooms, my good woman.”
“Certainly, Mr. Shredder, please follow me.”
She came around the counter and stumbled over the suitcase with the hamsters which the butler had placed there. McClown was at her side immediately and helped her up.
“Thank you, Sir Frido”, she smiled and smoothed her tousled hair. “How clumsy I am!”
“No, no, Miss Liza, it was my fault. I put the suitcase there.”
In the meantime Lord McShredder was waiting at the stairs and impatiently tapped the polished floor with his foot. It took a while until the two others noticed him at all and finally walked up the stairs. At the last step Liza McGyre stumbled and the butler helped her up. Then they walked down a dimly lit passage to the left. The young woman rattled at the door and turned to McClown with a smile.
“I’m sorry, I forgot the key. Please wait a moment, Sir Frido.”
She hurried back to the staircase, still looking at the butler and smiling. There was a crash and McClown made a face because the young women had banged against a post at the stairs. However, a few minutes later she came limping back with the key and when it had fallen out of her hand twice, she finally succeeded in locking up the room so that lord and butler were able to enter.
Kings House Hotel Part II
“Supper, young woman, what about supper?” Lord McShredder croaked when he had taken a look at the comfortable room.
“The kitchen unfortunately is closed, Mr. Shredder, I’m very sorry. Would you perhaps like a bag of chips?”
“Did you hear that, McClown? In every hotel of the world every cook would be glad to serve me in the middle of the night…”
“Don’t you have just a very little something for us, Miss Liza?” McClown asked and smiled at the young woman charmingly. “We have walked so far and my hamsters are almost starved…”
He bit his tongue and damned the words which had slipped out without thinking. How could he disclose the presence of the hamsters in the suitcase? He knew that hotels did not allow animals.
The young woman looked at him with big eyes and breathed: “Hamsters? How cute! Are they in your suitcase? Yes? I won’t tell. I always have something to eat for somebody who loves hamsters. How about haggis and fries?”
“That would be just great, Miss Liza. And if you can spare some biscuits for the hamsters…”
“Salmon with new potatoes for me”, His Lordship crowed, but Liza only looked at him in surprise.
“Sorry, Sir. There are only some fries for you. Haggis has been booked by Sir Frido”, she replied and ran down the stairs. When she rose from her fall at the last step, she turned round once more and said: “Supper in a few minutes in the dining room at the end of the passage!”
The two of them went back into their room and while the butler cautiously placed the hamster suitcase into a corner, milord got out his wallet and counted the money. Then they went to the end of the passage and found a big, long room with several small, round tables. Awed, they looked over to the giant window which would grant them a gorgeous view to the landscape in daytime. Rumbling and a cry of pain announced the arrival of the hotelier’s daughter. She rubbed her aching knee and brought the cutlery.
“Just a moment, Sir Frido, supper will be in a minute”, she whispered and was off again.
A few minutes later they heard some clinking and Lord McShredder who was playing with the salt cellars, raised his head and said: “Did you hear that, McClown? Didn’t it ring at the door?”
But the butler did not answer. He looked to the door expectantly. The young woman entered, panting, and smiled bashfully: “I’m sorry, Sir Frido, supper will take a moment still.” She turned, ran into the door post, smiled again into the butler’s direction and left. Frido McClown lifted his head and counted under his breath: “One, two, three, four, five.” Then he turned to the door. In the distance some rumbling was audible.
“She just reached the last step, Sir.”
Milord continued playing with the salt cellars, while Frido McClown listened to the growing noises of his stomach. These noises were now drowned by a clatter at the door. Miss McGyer entered the room.
“Your haggis, Sir Frido”, she announced with a broad smile, leaving behind her a trail of brown sauce which made a pattern on the floor. His Lordship received a bag of chips which he accepted dourly. “I’ll put the biscuits in front of your door, Sir Frido. Leave everything on the table if you’re finished, I’ll clear it away later on”, she smiled and went out.
"Eins, zwei, drei, vier, fünf, sechs," zählte McClown mit vollem Mund. Er hob verwundert den Kopf.
“One, two, three, four five, six”, McClown counted, his mouth full. Then he lifted his head in surprise.
“Perhaps she caught at the door handle when she put the biscuits down at our door”, milord mumbled.
McClown sighed with relief when a moment later he heard the well known rumbling and cry of pain.
“She arrived downstairs, Sir”, he said and attended his supper again. He faked not noticing His Lordship’s hungry eyes and filled his belly.
Lord McShredder got up.
“I - er - will go off to sleep.”
“Just a minute, Sir”, the butler exclaimed and stuffed the last bite of haggis into his mouth. “I’d prefer to join you. Otherwise it’s possible that nothing will be left for the hamsters.”
As promised, a big bag of biscuits stood in front of their room. McClown took it and walked in behind milord. Lord McShredder did not bother with washing and suchlike but immediately went to bed comfortably. At least he put off his shoes, McClow thought, while he fed the hamsters. Greedily his little friends snatched the biscuits from him and ran back to their trunk. Now also the butler became very sleepy and he just wanted to go to bed when it knocked at the door. Surprised, he got up again, opened and Liza McGyer stood there, smiling and with big eyes.
“I’m sorry for disturbing you, dear Sir Frido. I hope you have not been sleeping already.”
“No, no, Miss Liza”, McClown mumbled. “What may I do for you?”
“Oh, I only wanted to ask what you would like to have for breakfast.”
“Baked beans with sausages”, he yawned.
“Very well, Sir Frido. Good night to you.”
McClown sat down on the inviting bed and looked at the white cloth which decorated the headbord. He just put off his left shoe when it knocked again. This time Liza McGyre wanted to know whether the butler preferred tea of coffee. She wished him good night again, he put off his right shoe, and once more she knocked at the door.
“Do you wish for anything else, Sir Frido?”
"Danke, Miss Lisa, einen Wunsch habe ich noch."
“Thanks, Miss Liza, I do indeed.”
“Yes?” she breathed and smiled.
“Let me sleep now, Miss Liza, I’m very tired.”
“All right, Sir Frido. Do just call me if you need anything.”
At long last the butler was allowed to sleep. Nothing disturbed him, neither milord’s snoring nor the gnawing noises of the hamsters. He had no idea how long he had been sleeping when it knocked again. Angrily he wanted to jump from his bed when he saw that the sun was already shining into the room.
“Who is it?” he called and at the same time realized that this was a silly question.
“It’s Liza, Sir Frido. Breakfast’s waiting for you. Would you like to come?”
“I’ll be in a moment, Miss Liza”, he shouted. Then he got up and kicked the sleeping lord’s bum, so that he almost fell out of the bed.
“Did Your Lordship sleep well?” he politely asked and waited until milord had crept out of the bed. “Sir, breakfast is waiting for us.”
With a jump McShredder was at the door and out of the room. McClown hurried after him and when he came into the passage he already saw Miss Liza standing by the table and waiting for them. His Lordship arrived first and sat down at the well-laid place which was decorated with a small vase and a flower in it.
“I’m sorry, Mr. Shredder, this is Mr. Frido’s place. You are sitting opposite.”
Grumpily milord stood up and sat down on the opposite chair while his butler sniffed the flower and enjoyed his breakfast. The young woman watched him with a smile.
“Ehem”, milord said. “Perhaps I also might get some breakfast…”
“Oh, certainly, Mr. Shredder, I’m sorry! Wait a minute, I’ll go to see if it is ready.”
She walked out, leaving behind a hungry and downcast lord.
“McClown, could you spare a roll?” the hungry lord begged and goggled at the rich breakfast.
“Sorry, Sir, the rolls are limited. Miss McGyre certainly will be back in a moment.”
Indeed the young woman entered the room this very moment, carrying a laden tray. However, she stumbled over the edge of the carpet and His Lordship’s breakfast was distributed on the floor.
“Oh, how clumsy of me!” She looked at McClown, embarrassed. “Do you have everything you need, Sir Frido? Do you wish for anything else?”
“If you had some more coffee…”
“In a minute, Sir Frido”, she replied and gave him her most beautiful smile. “And your breakfast, too, Mr. Shredder.”
She picked up the tray, collected everything and left the room under the hungry eyes of milord.
“May I have a bite from your roll, dear McClown?” the starving lord begged anew. “One tiny bite only!”
“Be patient, Sir, the young lady does her utmost.”
“I’m afraid so”, came the grudging answer.
Heralding herself by rumbling and clattering, the aforesaid young lady came in and brought coffee for the butler.
“Enjoy your meal, Sir Frido. How about some dessert?”
“Is there some ice cream perhaps, Miss Liza?”
“Certainly, Sir Frido. Vanilla, strawberry, or chocolate?”
“Later perhaps, Miss Liza.”
“Ehem - my breakfast…”
“In a minute, Mr. Shredder”, Liza McGyre replied and hurried out with the tray. Some clattering announced her arrival in the passage.
“McClown, the crumbs on your plate…”
“No, Sir, they are for the hamsters. And take your hands off the flower, it’s not for eating.”
Renewed clanking, accompanied by a curse, and suddenly milord nourished new hope. This time she entered the room carefully, elegantly avoided the door handle but her apron-string caught in the handle. Again the breakfast tray crashed to the floor and McShredder shrieked. Then there was a leaden silence in the room. But finally His Lordship dived down to the breakfast on the floor with a coarse cry and stuffed himself greedily. The few guests glared at the events with big eyes - it was most embarrassing. Miss McGyre needed a while to compose herself.
“Mr. Shredder, what are you doing there?”
“Breakfasting”, milord mumbled with his mouth full and stuffed himself with some porridge. He raised his head for a moment, saw that everybody was goggling at him and added: “Delicious. Anybody want to try some?”
“No, thank you, Sir. If you don’t mind, I will take care of - er - the suitcase.”
The butler took milord’s grunt as an affirmative and walked down the passage. The young woman followed him.
“Sir Frido, are you staying with us for a while?”
“No, Miss Liza, I’m sorry. We are quite late and a long way to Killichonan Castle is ahead of us.”
“What a pity, Sir Frido. Perhaps we will meet again some time”, she smiled, turned and banged her head at the doorpost. Then she hurried up the staircase and her rumbling and shrieking told the butler when she was upstairs. Completely lost in thoughts he was standing in the passage and did not notice that by now McShredder was at his side.
“Ready to go, McClown?”
“Sir, may we not stay here for a few days?”
“McClown, wake up! No more than 20 miles from home - we are almost there!”
“No but Sir, McClown, do come now!” When the butler still did not move to fetch the suitcase with their few belongings, Lord McShredder whispered into his ear: “20 miles, McClown. That’s nothing for a whippersnapper like you. If I give you a day off…” With a jump the butler was in the room, fetched the trunk with the hamsters and was back, beaming broadly at milord. “Sir, what are we waiting for?”
Black Corries Lodge
By now the hotel lay behind them and they proceeded in northern direction.
For both of them it had been hard to leave King’s House Hotel. For His Lordship because under the sharp eyes of McClown he had to part with his money when paying the bill - for the butler because he did not get the clumsy daughter of the hotelier out of his mind.
“Sir, we are walking the direction we came”, the butler said.
“Correct, McClown, I see that you are noticing things. You also notice this narrow path ahead of us? It’s the way to Black Corries Lodge and we will take it.”
“B-but Sir, then we are walking right into the moor!”
“Rannoch Moor, McClown, so what?”
“It’s dangerous, Sir, there are stories that it’s haunted by the ghost of Sir Malcolm. After he lost a battle he walked into the moor and never came back!”
“Probably drowned, McClown.”
“B-but Sir, when you walk the moor at night you c-can see the lights of the dead.”
“Fen fires, McClown, absolutely harmless. What troubles me, is old McPomm.”
“McPomm, McClown, the mad Fraser McPomm. Nobody can live at peace with him.”
“So you know him, Sir.”
“For ages. A bad guy through and through. At school he never allowed me to crib.”
The butler did not answer, only grinned. Silently they walked on while the ground under their feet became muddier. The narrow river they had been following during the last hours bent to the left. They crossed the river, which now was only a trickle, over a tiny, half decayed footbridge. McClown grasped the suitcase with the hamsters firmly and was glad to make the crossing safely. Milord was already waiting for him. The muddy path became even narrower, a small hut was ahead of them. The silence was disquieting. Only their squelching shoes in the grass were audible. Suddenly a deafening bang disturbed the silence. Quick as lightning the butler was lying on the ground, while His Lordship stood unperturbed.
“Get up, McClown, and don’t make a fool of yourself”, McShredder hissed.
Trembling, Frido McClown rose, his eyes on a man approaching from the hut. He looked quite squalid in his tatty overcoat. His long, unkempt hair was halfway controlled by an old floppy hat and his long, tousled beard held the remains of his last lunch. The man aimed at them with a rifle.
“Freeze!” he ordered with a firm voice. “What do you want?”
“Passage”, milord calmly replied.
The man came closer and first took a look at the butler who was all over covered with mud. Then his glance fell on His Lordship and his eyes widened.
“McShredder, you rascal, another step and you’re a dead man. Piss off or I’ll make you!”
He turned and walked back to the hut.
“W-we should return, Sir, the path through the moor is much too dangerous.”
“Nonsense, McClown, we just have to think how we can pass McPomm. The best thing would be to wait until darkness and then sneak past his hut. Unfortunately the Scottish way-leave is valid here and nobody can force him and let anybody cross his ground.”
The butler sighed disappointedly and walked a few steps back where a huge tree trunk was lying. He sat down on it and opened the suitcase with the hamsters. He could hear the scratching of his little friends who were quite fed up with being locked in. Frido McClown opened the lid a bit and immediately many little pink noses showed and scented the air. What was he to do? He could not permit his little friends to roam around in the moor, not with that trigger-happy moron close by. While he still pondered, the hamsters relieved him of the decision. One after the other they climbed out, down his trouser legs into the high grass. McClown shrugged and put the suitcase into the grass.
“If you feel cold or wet, my little ones, you can go back into the suitcase. But don’t say I didn’t warn you! The moor is dangerous. So take care because that bad man in the hut over there has got a rifle. Keep close and don’t run off and remember…”
“Whom are you talking to, McClown?” Lord McShredder asked and came closer curiously.
“Er - to the hamsters. They need some fresh air. Please mind your steps, Sir.”
“We’ll try to get some sleep, McClown. By the way, you should have a wash. A good butler does not look like a pig.”
“Yes, Sir, I will”, Frido McClown grumped and cleaned his face with his handkerchief as well as possible. Then he lay down on the tree trunk - like milord - and closed his eyes.
“Say, are we to eat grass now?” Flecki protested loudly.
“Isn’t that bad”, Goldi replied, chewing, and pointed at the hut of Fraser McPomm. “Over there will be the supply station.”
In the meantime chief engineer Botchy had examined the surroundings and decided that it was too wet and muddy for a party. They mayor tried to climb a small mound to hold a speech to the hamster population but gave up after several glissades. By now Taty, Tuffy, and Tealeafy were approaching the wooden hut, closely followed by Goldi, Dodo, and Trample. They looked about them cautiously. There were three windows and a door - the door shut, the windows too high up for hamsters. Chief Botchy now joined them and checked the timber of the outer walls.
“What a pity that we don’t have a plunger”, he whispered.
“Why would we need a plunger?” Tealeafy wondered.
“Because we always do it like that”, Botchy replied.
Then he continued his expertly check of the hut until suddenly he paused and kicked the wall. The wood crumbled away and he shouted:
“I need a fat, strong hamster!”
Dodo came closer.
“Come on”, chief Botchy urged him on. “Run against the wall - and again - and again!”
Many hours and bruises later Dodo had made it: a small piece of the wall had splintered off. One hamster after the other scrambled into the hut. It was dark by now and they looked about them. Beside an ancient iron stove stood a bed, and someone was snoring there loudly. Beside the bed stood a rifle and beside the rifle a big box with ammunition. The opposite side held a table, packed with leftovers of any number of meals and further ammunition. A neighbouring wardrobe made the hamsters curious. They pushed and pulled at the door until it opened with a squeal.
“Socks with tartan design”, Flecki exclaimed with delight. “We’ll make modish cloaks of them and hold Hamster-Highland-Games!” Happily Taty, Tuffy, and Tealeafy joined her and set to work.
Their friends had found a box with groceries in the meantime and prepared their dinner. It was not much but they all thought it would be enough to have a party.
Goldi and chief Botchy examined the ammunition because, as Goldi explained, a good party needs good fireworks. Chief engineer Botchy had some scruples concerning the Hamstian Regulations on Ammunition. He did not know this kind of ammunition, but Goldi convinced him that one cartridge was like the other and so they set to work. A knife was lying under the bed and it fitted their purpose perfectly. The cartridges were cut open expertly and the gunpowder distributed on the floor. Trample got the order to collect cups and glasses into which the gunpowder could be filled. Chief Botchy checked again on all safety regulations.
“The ammunition boxes are too close to the firecrackers”, he told Goldi and Dodo. “Take the ammunition somewhere else!”
“No problem”, Goldi said. “Shall we put the boxes onto the round table in the corner?”
“Yes”, chief Botchy said and checked the old stove, “this iron table is incombustible, nothing can happen there.”
Flecki, Tealeafy, Taty, and Tuffy had made charming cloaks out of the socks and handed them to the others. The hamsters were delighted and the party could start. Meals were served in little cardboard boxes. The mayor placed himself in front of them and said: “Dear hamster-friends, I am happy to open this banquet and would like to take the opportunity…”
This was all he could say for after the word ‘banquet’ everybody fell over the food and the mayor was knocked over. He pulled himself up with a groan and escaped into safety from the hungry mob. Noisy champing was audible everywhere and somebody shouted:
“What about music? Dodo, go to open and close that wardrobe door!”
Dodo quickly stuffed himself with some more food, hurried to the wardrobe and moved the door back and forth. It made a horribly squeaking noise, but the hamsters cheerfully started a dance contest. Goldi now saw it fit to start the fireworks. With some matches, which he found beside the stove, he lit the gunpowder in the cups and glasses. He stepped back quickly and together with his friends watched admiringly how the powder changed to flames with a whoosh.
It was this moment Fraser McPomm chose to wake up. Still a little befuddled from his sleep he turned around. There his socks were dancing on the table and sparks sprayed from the floor! Yelling loudly, he hopped out of the bed and his naked feet landed right in Goldi’s fireworks. It was the hell of a pain and he staggered across the room. Completely dazed, he embraced to the hot stove, which tumbled down with a crash and set the ammunition on fire. All around him it banged, missiles swished past him, he saw wardrobe doors opening and closing, dancing little animals on the floor and dancing socks on the table. In despair he shook his head, held his hands to his eyes and squinted through his fingers. But they still were there, all those terrifying things! Then a missile touched the tip of his nose and Fraser McPomm lost his nerves. Shrieking, he darted out of the door and ran for his life.
“Did you hear and see this, Sir?” the butler asked and his eyes followed the shrieking McPomm.
“Certainly, McClown, I am not deaf and blind.” Lord McShredder sat straight on the tree trunk and watched how the fleeing man vanished somewhere in the far distance. “Whatever happened, he runs northwards. That is good for it is not our direction.”
“Sir, the hamsters are gone!” Frido McClown pointed at the empty suitcase and looked at His Lordship, terrified.
They both looked big-eyed at the hut which Fraser McPomm had left. It looked like a Swiss cheese emitting smoke through its holes.
“Well, McClown”, milord said and pointed at the hut, “I guess your little friends are behind this. Collect our things and follow me. We will check that.”
Hastily the butler picked up their few belongings. McShredder had already reached the door and peeped in. His glance fell on the empty, rumpled bed. Smoking cups and glasses were on the floor, walls and roof looked like sieved by missiles. He looked at the open wardrobe. A hamster was hanging at the handle and shyly looked at milord. Glancing at the table, McShredder lifted his eyebrows and could not really believe what he saw.
“Sir”, said his butler who showed up now, “I think we are just witnesses to the end of a hamster-party.”
“Very nice, McClown, but why are they wearing socks over their furs?”
“That - er - certainly goes with the party. Some hamstian tradition.”
“Hamstian tradition, McClown? And the bullet holes?”
“Well, Sir, there certainly is some explanation.”
“And why is a hamster hanging at the wardrobe door?”
“I’m sure it’s a hamster-game, Sir!”
“And why, McClown, does that hamster over there drag along a cartridge?”
“He’s just toying around with it, Sir.”
“Toying, McClown? Did he also toy around with McPomm?” His Lordship looked at the hamster thoughtfully and added with a broad grin: “Then I congratulate him. Brave little fellow!”
The butler sighed, relieved. It would have been terrible if milord had been furious and left the hamsters back because of this little incident.
So Frido McClown hurried to put the suitcase onto the table and collected the hamsters. By now the sun was up and the little nocturnal animals did not mind being collected. Some sleep would be all right.
“McClown, see that you find some food in this ramshackle hut”, milord croaked and walked out.
However, he returned when the butler was stowing away sandwiches, and put some coins onto the table.
“I won’t take anything free from that rascal McPomm!” he grumped and ran out again.
Grinning, the butler followed him over the bumpy, muddy path. Like miles earlier they again and again had to cross creeks. That was not easy because sometimes nothing but a slippery plank served as a bridge.
“How long will there be only such planks over creeks?” the butler lamented who more than once had difficulties to hold the suitcase with the hamsters.
“Not for long, McClown.”
“I like to hear that, Sir. The path then will be more comfortable?”
“No, McClown, then there will be no path at all.”
“But, Sir, that will not be better.”
“I did not say so, McClown. You only asked how long there will be planks over creeks.” Milord paused for a moment, stared ahead and added: “Soon we’ll have to wade through the creeks or jump.”
The butler did not answer. He no longer minded that they were walking muddy, slippery paths and that his clothing was dirty all over. His thoughts were far off at King’s House Hotel and he thought of Liza McGyre. Grinning, he imagined what would have happened had she come along with them. How often would they have to drag her out of some river or mud puddle? Suddenly the drift of his thoughts was roughly interrupted by a shot.
“Sir, is that McPomm?” he exclaimed, alarmed.
“Did I already advise you to think before you blab, McClown?” His Lordship retorted angrily.
“Why that, Sir? What if he walked back to his hut and fetched his rifle?”
“Then, McClown, he would fire all over the place somewhere behind us. These shots are coming from the direction we are taking, from the moor.”
“But what might that mean, Sir?” Milord looked at his butler as if he had said something very, very silly.
“McClown, did you ever hear anything about hunting parties?”
“S-sir, you don’t mean these mean people who shoot animals? Defenceless animals?”
“Well, McClown, usually rabbits, pheasants and suchlike do not carry weapons.”
Again they heard shooting in the distance. Now they had to walk very cautiously in the moor if they did not want to be hit by a stray bullet.
The Peer of the Realm
Cautiously the two of them crept through the moor. It was heavy-going because with every step the feet sank into the boggy soil. While proceeding slowly they again and again could hear shooting. Soon two figures appeared in the distance. Lord and butler walked towards them, always taking care to be on more solid ground. McShredder was surprisingly fast and the first one to reach the man who was responsible for all this shoot-up. With his suitcase, the butler faced some problems to keep his balance and when he came closer he could hear the angry words of the man with the rifle.
“Sir, you are disturbing my hunt. Please absent yourself!”
From His Lordship’s face McClown could read that McShredder did not like this kind of welcome at all. He flushed a little but answered with outward calm: “Your hunt? Now listen, my boy, if you talk with me, you better take off your ear-phones first.”
“That are no ear-phones, Sir, that are my ears”, the man angrily replied. “And now do leave so that we can continue the shooting.”
Lord McShredder had no mind to leave. He pointed at the figure beside the man and asked: “Say, why did you dress up your horse this way?”
The big ears of the man twitched, his face reddened and he shouted: “Sir, this is no horse, this is my wife!”
“Oh, is she”, milord jeered. “And you are Dumbo, aren’t you?”
“Dumbo? Let me tell you that I’m neither a big-eared elephant nor the village fool. I’m a peer of the realm and will complain about you to my noble parents.”
He had put down his rifle and stood right in front of McShredder who calmly said: “What kind of peer of the realm are you - what kind of man are you if you have to run to Mummy about every trifle? If you are grown up enough to shoot defenceless animals you should be grown up enough to speak out for yourself, shouldn’t you, Dumbo?”
While in the background the peer of the realm made a fuss about his name not being Dumbo, McClown watched the hamsters who scrambled out of the suitcase, awakened by the noise. The rifle of the fuss-making peer seemed to draw some of them and the butler heard some low, excited squeaking.
“Goldi, are you sure it’s the same ammunition?”
“For sure! Dodo, open the box with the cartridges and hand me some!”
Trample and chief Botchy came and helped Dodo.
“What will that be when it’s finished?” Botchy asked and handed a cartridge to Goldi.
“That’s Goldi’s prototype, I always wanted to try something like that. Up to now I didn’t have the time.”
A short distance away, Frido McClown saw one cartridge after the other disappear in the barrel. He got some idea what the hamsters were planning.
“That’s a prototype for an emergency signal”, Goldi explained to his hamster-friends, when the barrel was stuffed with ammunition. “A brilliant idea, we have, after all, to think of the tomorrow following the today”, the mayor sounded. “The true hamster is distinguished…”
“Perhaps we should hide in the trunk”, Flecki proposed. “I think we’d better be in safety if we want to see the tomorrow following the today.”
Also chief engineer Botchy thought it necessary to keep a safety distance and so the hamsters marched back to their suitcase. Shaking his head, the butler closed the lid and took up the suitcase again. Then he walked over to the loud noise, i.e. where Lord McShredder and the peer of the realm where quarrelling.
“However, you will not restrain me from hunting, Sir”, the nobleman shouted and with very red head took up his rifle again.
“Sir”, the butler whispered into milord’s ear, “I think it is useless to discuss with him. I somewhere read that these peers would rather leave the realm before they stop hunting!”
Together with McShredder he watched how the peer lifted the rifle to his cheek and aimed at something in the distance. Then there was a bang, no, it was more like an explosion. Out of the barrel came something like the jet of a rocket. The peer of the realm shrieked and lifted off. Higher and higher he went, rotated in the air and disappeared in the distance, still shrieking.
“You are right, McClown, he really leaves the realm!”
Lord and butler grinned at each other. The peer’s wife took up the pursuit and ran through the moor, shouting: “Darling! Darling!” Again and again she got stuck in the mud, tumbled down, crawled on all fours, got up and tumbled down again.
“Sir, I guess a mud bath will do her well.”
“Right, McClown, she’s already looking much better than before.”
There was nothing left to do for them and so they set off for the last part of their journey.
To their great relief the ground became more solid. They were walking along the foot of a mountain and a lake was ahead of them.
“Loch Laidon, McClown! It has a length of almost 10 miles. A nice cup of tea is waiting for us at the end of it.”
“You mean the tearoom at the little Rannoch Station, Sir?” the butler excitedly asked.
“That’s exactly what I mean, McClown. And it would not be bad to reach the castle today so that we can change and take a bath.”
Silently they walked on and the butler wondered whether there was a chance of warm water in the castle or if they had to take their bath in the icy waters of Loch Rannoch. By now they had reached a pine forest and no longer could see Loch Laidon. After all their plagues and labours it was wonderful to smell the air of the home forest. They came to a hiking trail and could walk faster. Now they could see Loch Laidon again and in the far distance there was a railway bridge with a steaming train crossing it.
“That would be the train to Fort William, Sir. Wouldn’t it be nice if the dear little hamsters could go with it?”
“Don’t talk nonsense, McClown. Hamsters never would use the railway.”
“But how might they have reached Sanna Bay, Sir? I’ve been wondering for quite some time.”
“By ship of course, McClown, how else?”
The butler thoughtfully looked at the pine trees. Somehow he could not imagine his little friends going by ship all the way from Hamsterton to the west coast of Scotland. What for, what should they want there? No, there must be some other explanation for their appearance.
“Sir, are you sure that there were no more hamsters in the castle when we left for Spain?”
“How the devil should I know, McClown? You are the butler, tidying up is your job!”
Now it was milord who looked at the pine trees thoughtfully. He did not like what his butler just had said. What if these little criminal minded hamsters had been alone in the castle while he and McClown had been staying in Spain? He did not dare to imagine what sorts of catastrophes might have happened. They had not been here for more than one year, after all. Enough time for the short-legged hamsters to reach the western coast.
“Well, McClown, did you search the castle for hamsters thoroughly before we left?”
“B-but Sir, how could I? I had to take care of everything and I had to buy tobacco and then…”
“Excuses, McClown, lame excuses. The perfect butler can do everything at the same time, it’s only a matter of condition.”
“Craving pardon, Sir, but the perfect butler receives a regular salary.”
McShredder did not answer but interestedly looked at something in the distance. Suddenly Frido McClown’s face lit up. “Sir, in Chapter 16 you promised to pay my salary as soon as we are back home!”
“Er - yes, I did.”
“Well, Sir? Will you do so?”
“I can’t, McClown.”
The butler paused, eyes wide. While he looked where to find a nice strong cudgel, he slowly walked towards McShredder.
“You can’t, Sir? How am I to take that, Sir?”
“We hardly have any money left, but it will be enough for a nice cup of tea and coffee cake. So you may look forward to some cake, McClown.”
“B-but where is all the money, Sir?”
“Hotels are expensive, McClown. May I remind you that you forced me to book rooms at King’s House Hotel?”
Frido McClown war silenced. Gone bust again! So he could give up on all his plans. Without money he could not take the hamsters back to Hamsterton. Without money he could not invite Liza McGyre, except she brought along her own lunch. He did not waste his time thinking about the reconstruction of the castle or how they should fare.
While he brooded over all this, he had not noticed that they left the forest. Only milord’s voice jolted him out of his thoughts.
“Over there it is, McClown. May I buy you some tea and cake? Take it as extra salary.”
Sadly the butler raised his head but when he recognized the lonely railway station, there was a small, happy pricking in his stomach.
A few minutes later they entered the tearoom.
Lord and butler sat down at one of the five tables in the tearoom. They chose the table near the counter, close to the window. In the back of the room, beside the door, a man was sitting. He had his head on his arms and seemed to be sleeping. Nothing unusual because trains were rare here and to wait for a train might take long. So Lord McShredder and Frido McClown did not mind the man but hungrily looked at the display in the counter. There were bakeries of different colours and tastes. They decided on shortbread.
“One tea, 3 shortbreads and one coffee”, milord croaked.
“Immediately, Sir. Oh, Lord McShredder, you’re home again”, the young man behind the counter exclaimed in a pleased voice when he recognized His Lordship.
“Obviously, my boy. Any news?”
“O yes, Sir, lots”, the young man beamed. “Last summer we hardly had any rain, a new public toilet has been built, and a new road sign was erected.”
“Fine, fine, the town thrives and prospers”, milord crowed and took the teabag out of the cup which had been served in the meantime.
The butler had placed the suitcase with the hamsters on his lap and opened the lid. Curious pink noses showed up and sniffed excitedly. The smell of the shortbread had made the animals wake up. McClown crumbled one of the cookies and gave it to the hamsters. Loud rumbling and squeaking was audible and nobody needed to understand Hamstish to realize what was going on. All the upset did not take long as they finished the shortbread quickly. When they saw that there was no more food, the little animals went back to sleep and the lid was closed again.
Milord slurped his tea, the butler drank his coffee and both looked out of the window. A good distance behind the rails they could see the forest they had passed short time ago. Far off and dimly lay the mountains and far, far behind them was the peninsula of Ardnamurchan where everything had begun. They had travelled far and much had happened. Now, close to their goal, they knew that it had been worth everything. No Spanish sunshine could replace home to them.
“McClown, time to take the last miles under our feet”, milord announced.
“Very well, Sir. Will you permit me a question?”
“Don’t you miss your wheelchair, Sir?”
“O yes, I do”, milord croaked and gave a moan. “But a tough lord does not lament!”
“What do I hear?” suddenly a voice from the back part of the tearoom sounded. “The Lord of Killichonan walks on his own two feet? All Celtic saints, I’ve longed to see this day!”
Surprised, the two of them turned round. The man, who had been sleeping at the table, got now up and came closer. He was short, thickish, very bald and limped.
“George, the bus driver”, Frido McClown delightedly exclaimed.
He knew the old mail bus driver well. More then once when milord had run out of tobacco or the household out of supplies, George had given the butler a lift to the next town when he had seen him walking along the road. George had never accepted money and the butler always had been glad for the lift.
“Frido, where have you been these days?”
“Why, George, that is a long story. Let me tell it some other time. Now we only want to get home.”
“Home!” George nodded. “I would not like to shock you, but your home is nothing but a ruin by now.”
Lord and butler paled. They knew that the old castle had not been in a good condition when they left for Spain - but a ruin? With difficulty they regained their composure and McShredder croaked: “Well, then we’ll rebuild the ruin, won’t we, McClown?”
He turned to the bus driver: “When is your bus scheduled?”
“I don’t work any longer, Milord, have retired since long and enjoy my leisure time. However, I feel a little bored and so now and then I still make the tour between Kinloch Rannoch and the station. You are my passengers today, of course.”
“Free ride, of course, George”, McShredder crowed.
George laughed. “Free ride, Milord.”
When the young man at the counter also did not want any money for tea, coffee, and shortbread, McShredder and his butler delightedly left the tearoom together with George.
“That’s coming home, McClown, isn’t it?”
“It is, Sir, but do we have a roof over our heads?”
The old mail bus set moving and George sped up. To their left they saw the ruins of Doire na h-innes, then they passed the big hydropower station of Gaur, and the hearts of the two homecomers throbbed happily. When Loch Rannoch came into view they both got up and looked out of the window excitedly. In the middle of the loch they could see Eilean nam Faoileag, the gull island. The last mile seemed to take ages but finally they had made it. George turned to the left and they had reached the castle.