Cheshire cat; Drummond crest; New Zealand Rugby shirt; Treasure Island cover

Jamie’s Quest

Chapter Three

I wondered about all that first bit. Perhaps he would explain it and what he would do about Prothero ‘cause that seemed worse.

Anyway, we were both ready by then and the others came trotting out of the clubhouse. They all had identical blue and white shirts on and Sandy and Ian were carrying a rugger ball each.

“Hi, Jamie, catch!” called out Sandy. He lobbed the ball at me and I caught it and clutched it to me. I started to run off with it.

“Pass it to me!”

That was Luke who was following me. I did as Mr Francis repeatedly said, ‘Always pass the ball back, never forwards’, and Luke caught it as Geoffrey came up behind him and put an arm round his waist. “Tackled!” he said, “Pass the ball to Jonno!”

Another name! My brother was ‘Jonno’ now!

We were running steadily up the field as Luke shot the ball back and Jonathan caught it. He didn’t slow down but dropped the ball and kicked it high and it sailed over the bar between the posts almost in the middle. Mr Francis would have been pleased at that.

We all stopped as Geoffrey clapped him on the back. “That was bloody good, eh boys?” He turned to us. “You get that ball, Luke. Ian, you see if you can do a place kick over the bar.”

Ian put his ball down pointing upwards, angled towards the goal. He moved back then ran slowly forward and gave the ball an almighty kick. It sailed up but didn’t quite reach the bar.

“That was good,” said Geoffrey, “You got the angle right. A few more weeks and you’ll be six foot tall and that ball will sail over.”

“A few more years, you mean,” said Ian, “It’s a long way up there.”

“I know,” said Geoffrey, “But I wasn’t kicking so accurately as you’ve just done at your age.”

“Always kicked as if he had two left feet,” said Jonathan, “But he’s improved with practice - like everything else, eh, Geoff?

Geoffrey wrinkled his nose up at Jonathan.

“Come on, or we’ll get cold. Down the field again. You go first, Luke, and pass back to Jamie, and I’ll follow. You can use the other ball Ian and pass back to Sandy, then Jonno. We’ll turn and do the same in reverse and anyone dropping the ball gets their backside smacked!”

We all set off and we got through three lots of passing before Jonathan dropped the ball. I think he did that deliberately as he looked at me and winked, then bent down with his backside in the air. Five boys smacked it and he went ‘Ow’ each time and stood up laughing.

“You smacked me the hardest,” he said to Luke, “Go on, here’s the ball and we’ll see who tackles you first.” With that he scooped up the ball, chucked it at Luke who caught it and hared off down the field again. The three of us young-uns took off after him and I found I was nearest to him so I flung myself at his legs and grasped him round the knees. He went down and rolled and threw the ball up at Sandy who caught it and ran off and was tackled by Jonathan.

“That was good,” said Geoffrey, who knelt down by the pair of us still on the ground. “You really got him correctly, eh, Luke? And you did right rolling away like that. The pair of you are very good.”

Luke and I grinned at each other.

“You got me better than anyone else has ever done,” he said.

“That’s the first time I’ve ever tackled anyone,” I said.

The others had come over by now.

“He’s going to be better than you, old mate,” said Geoffrey to Jonathan.

“Well he is my brother, so he will be good,” said Jonathan, “But don’t say it too loud or he’ll swell up and bust his shorts.”

He did give me a pat on the back and we set off again with new instructions from Geoffrey.

Gosh, I did enjoy the afternoon and we were kept busy running, tackling and punting the ball until it was beginning to get a bit dark when Geoffrey said we’d better call it a day. The other boys all crowded round and wanted to know when we could have another session.

“Friday afternoon, two days from now, two sharp. Get you fit for Christmas next week!” Geoffrey said, “That OK, Jonno?”

Jonathan laughed, “I’m game, what about you, Jamie?”

I would have died if Jonathan hadn’t agreed that Friday would be OK. I nodded.

We split up then. Luke asked me if I’d enjoyed myself and I said I had. He then asked Geoffrey if his young brother Logan could come on Friday as well. Geoffrey nodded and said “All welcome!” The three young lads put on wind cheaters and Ian said they’d get off to their homes as there wasn’t any hot water in the clubhouse today. Geoffrey sighed.

“Bugger me!” he said, “I’d forgotten that. They won’t switch it on until tomorrow. I’m as muddy as Hell and there’s no one at home ‘til six and I haven’t got my key.”

“Better come back with us, then, we’re just the same. I said to Mum you probably would. Look at him…” said Jonathan pointing at me, “…Mum’s going to have a fit when she sees you.” I looked down. Well I did have some mud on my shorts and legs but no more than at school. Jonathan turned to Geoffrey. “It’s OK, you can have a shower and I’ll lend you something you can wear instead of your tracksuit. Mum’ll be here soon with the car. You can leave your bike inside and collect it tomorrow. If you’re good you might get invited to stay for grub and the girls will be home later.”

Geoffrey laughed. “Mr Efficiency as ever. You’ll be good planning the next invasion of Europe or the ball at Kirriemuir before you’re much older!”

Jonathan laughed. “Brewery for you, old mate!”

I was getting very confused. What were they talking about? Anyway, I was glad Geoffrey was coming home with us and the girls would be glad to see him. I wondered what Grandfather might say, but we were all going to the piping lessons tomorrow evening.

We had just reached the end of the drive when Mum drew up. It was getting quite dark and as I walked in front of the car I was in the full beam of the headlights. Jonathan opened the back passenger door and motioned me to get in. I think he was just going to say about Geoffrey but Mum pointed at me before I’d even lifted a leg off the ground.

“What have you done to that poor boy? He’s covered in mud!” Her full attention was directed at me now. “Just sit on that towel. It looks as if you’ve been rolling in it.” She must have seen Geoffrey then who was standing next to me looking rather goofy as he had a big dirty mark down one side of his face where he’d been mistakenly hit by the muddy ball. “Oh, Geoffrey, you look as if you could do with a wash, too.”

“Please Mrs Drummond,” he said, “Jonathan said I might hitch a ride with you and cadge a shower…”

Mum harrumphed and said “Open the boot and put all your stuff in. Jamie’s got another towel on the back seat so squeeze in beside him.” Mum had obviously come prepared!

Geoffrey rushed round the back of the car and I heard him putting things in the boot and he did close it carefully. Jonathan always razzed Mum up by slamming the lid down. Geoffrey opened the door behind Mum and slid in beside me. “Thanks, Mrs Drummond.”

Jonathan shut my door quite quietly and opened the passenger door at the front. He carefully arranged the big towel and eased himself in. “He’s much obliged, Mum, and could you step on it as we’ll catch our death of cold after all the exercise and I’m also in great need of a hot shower.”

“Huh, you will be in hot water if you carry on like that, You should have worn your tracksuit, smell and all!” Mum said, but she didn’t say it sharply. Then she said “All I’ve had from you since you’ve been home is cheek! And that’s only one day!” Was she angry?

“Bet you’ve missed us though. Must be like the grave without us around, just you and Grandpops.”

“At least I have peace and quiet and your Grandfather isn’t disturbed by young hooligans.” She put special emphasis on ‘Grandfather’.

Mum had accelerated off and we were going along at a steady pace.

“There’s a man on a bicycle about two streets ahead,” said Jonathan.

“Jonathan!” Mum said very loudly, “One more word and I stop and you can keep warm running home.”

Geoffrey nudged me. “Mrs Drummond…” he began.

“Don’t you start as well,” Mum said, “I have enough with this object here.”

“Mum!…” said Jonathan.

“Watch it, or no food when we get home..”

“Can I have his, please, I’m starving?” I piped up.

“Me, too,” said Geoffrey. “…Sorry, Mrs Drummond, I wasn’t expecting food as well,” he said rather apologetically, “But I am hungry.”

Mum laughed then and I knew she wasn’t annoyed with all the chitchat. “When are boys not hungry?”

“When their mothers don’t feed them…,” said Jonathan. “…It’s OK, Mum, I’ll shut up,” he went on hurriedly as Mum slowed down. It was alright, she was just going to turn into the one before our road.

As she drew up and stopped in front of our house near the side entrance Mum turned to Jonathan. “Make sure Jamie has a shower first. You’ll only use all the hot water and there’s Geoffrey, too, don’t forget.”

“Yes, Mum,” said Jonathan as he got out of the car and opened the door for me. “You can take the towels in, Jamie, and get ready for your shower and make sure you wash behind your ears as there’s enough dirt to grow potatoes there.”

As his legs were liberally coated with mud and his knees were truly dirty it was pot calling kettle black. I liked that saying. Mr McWilliam had explained several sayings. ‘Dull as ditchwater’, ‘Down in the dumps’ and ‘Don’t try to teach your grandmother to suck eggs’ which we all thought was very funny.

“And you stir your stumps and take the bags in,” I said, showing I’d absorbed some of Mr McWilliam’s teaching.

“Oh ho,” said Jonathan, “Mum, you’ve got another one with a quick wit and a ready tongue.”

“And you watch what you say to your Grandfather, especially when he’s talking to Geoffrey about the piping,” she said quite sternly.

“OK, Mum, but they do blether on about it.” Mum drove on towards the turning to our garage and Jonathan continued talking, waving the rugger boots he was carrying. “‘What d’you think of Donald of the Isles, Geoffrey my boy?’ ‘Och, it’s ma favourite tune , but I like that Donny Beaton as well. It’s got that bonny lilt…’” The imitation of grandfather’s voice and Geoffrey’s accent was perfect.

Geoffrey had his sports bag in his hand and aimed a swing at Jonathan’s legs with it. Jonathan laughed and jumped out of the way.

Och, Geoffrey, you’re a puir wee bairn but ma sisters’ll be hame ta night and you’ll be standing tall na doot….” Jonathan jumped out of the way again. They acted the goat a bit more laughing, hitting out at each other and jumping about.

“You wait, Drummond my boy, I’ll have you when you’re least expecting it,” Geoffrey said and turned to me. “Your brother’ll get what’s coming to him sooner than later. I’m glad you’re not cheeky like him.”

“Take no notice of him, Jamie, he may be boss on the rugby field but he has to mind his p’s and q’s when Grandfather’s around.”

“That wasn’t all my fault,” retorted Geoffrey, “You scuttled off when you saw his study door begin to open. I had my back to it and I got the blame.”

“Huh, you nearly wet your knickers under that kilt of yours if you’d been wearing any.”

“Better the kilt than those sissy trews you wear parading up and down at that school of yours. We all know why your lot have to wear them.”

I heard Jonathan say “They’re only for special occasions…” However by this time we’d reached the backdoor and the skirmishing came to an end. but we had to wait a moment or two until Mum had walked up the garden path to where we were. She had the key. She opened the door and went in first and turned to us before going towards the kitchen. She pointed towards the hallway.

“Upstairs all of you. Bring all your dirty kit down here and put it by the washer, yours as well, Geoffrey. And don’t come down again until you’re all clean and sweet, though I’m not sure he…” Here she pointed at Jonathan. “…has ever been both, or even either.”

Jonathan turned and looked at me and winked and mouthed “Yes, Mama.”

I suppose I was now of an age where I was listening more but there was still plenty I didn’t understand. I knew Mum wasn’t angry at all and I realised Geoffrey and Jonathan weren’t really quarrelling as they both grinned at each other as soon as one had finished hitting or saying something. But what did Geoffrey mean by ‘sissy trews’. I had seen a couple of parades where the CCF in the Big School were in their best khaki uniforms and they all looked very smart and they had only worn their tartan trews when Jonathan had been presented to that lady last year. But then, the soldiers at the Castle in their kilts also looked very smart and so did Geoffrey when he wore his for piping displays and in the pipe band. And why did he say he knew why they had to wear them? Most of the time around school the CCF wore camouflage combats as others at School called them. More to find out.

I rushed up the stairs and got out of my shoes, shirt, shorts, undies and socks in record time. I knew I’d better get to our bathroom before that pair or I wouldn’t get a look-in at the shower. I grabbed a towel and tried to wrap it round me just as the duo reached the top of the stairs.

“My, my, he’s a fine little bare-arsed urchin, eh, Geoff?” said Jonathan. “Watch out, Jamie, Geoff’s about and he likes a bite of bare bum for his tea!”

I didn’t catch what Geoffrey said but it was something like, “We all know what you lot like…” as they went into my bedroom.

I had turned on the shower and poured a load of Jonathan’s shower gel over my shoulders so I was making myself as clean and sweet as possible under the spray when the pair of them hurtled in and started wrestling on the floor. I couldn’t see much because of the steam and they were making such a racket with Jonathan squealing the most. After I’d washed my hair and shook the water out of it I turned the shower off, opened the steamed-up glass door and stepped out to retrieve my towel. They were still rolling on the floor but Geoffrey had Jonathan under him between his legs at almost his chest level and was pinning his arms down. With all the heaving and wriggling I thought they would spread the mud on their legs even more.

“Got you, Drummond,” Geoffrey said breathlessly, “Now cry for mercy or I’ll get Jamie to tickle you to death!”

I was too busy drying myself but then I noticed something I had never seen before. At least, I had seen Jonathan in the nude before and both of them were now. But, Jonathan had this huge stiff thing pointing up his belly almost touching Geoffrey’s backside. Oh my, it was big!

“Come on Jamie,” Geoffrey called out turning his head towards me, “Gave us a hand. Just drop that towel and prod him in the ribs, that’ll make him squirm.”

I did as I was told and moved to be in front of Geoffrey. Oh, gosh! There was another huge stiff thing pointing, this time, straight up in the air. Equally the size of Jonathan’s.

“Come on, kneel down and poke him just where my knees are,” instructed Geoffrey.

“But he’s all muddy and I’m clean and sweet,” I said. “And you’re muddy, too. You both need a shower.” I wrinkled my nose. “And you both stink!”

They did. A sharp, sweaty smell. Not unpleasant, but I don’t think I smelt like that even when I was extra hot and sweaty.

Both Geoffrey and Jonathan laughed.

“There’s the voice of innocence,” said Geoffrey. “Pax, if I let you up?”

“Let me up?” retorted Jonathan, “I’ve only got to move a little and you’d be base over apex!”

“Try it,” said Geoffrey.

“I thought Mum said you’d got to have a shower,” I said, staring at Geoffrey’s big stiff thing.

“Pax then,” said Jonathan and the pair of them heaved each other into a standing position. They towered over me and I was confronted with these two giant-looking, thick, rigid things. They didn’t seem to notice me staring at them.

“Come on, Geoff,” Jonathan said, “It’s big enough for both of us and I’ll soap your back if you soap mine.”

“That’s not fair,” I said, “I didn’t have anyone to soap mine.”

“You’ll have to make friends with someone,” said Geoffrey, “But I expect you’ve got plenty of pals at school for that pleasure.”

I thought about that. At school, after Games or P.E., we went into individual showers. I suppose two or even three of us young-uns might fit under one and probably two of the big boys like Jonathan would, but the rule was, ‘one boy, one shower’. Never thought about sharing and I always managed to get some soap round my back.

“Don’t lead him astray by putting thoughts into his head,” said Jonathan, “But I’ll be kind and let you share with me.”

I didn’t wait until they got into the cubicle but took my towel and finished drying off in the bedroom before slipping my out-of-school clothes on. It was all quiet in the bathroom when I’d finished dressing. I went along and stood in the doorway. Jonathan and Geoffrey had finished their shower and they must have finished drying off as well as their towels were on the floor. They were standing facing each other with their arms round each other’s backs and Jonathan’s head was on Geoffrey’s shoulder as Geoffrey was a little bit taller.

“Oh, Geoff,” I heard Jonathan say, “It’s so good to be home and seeing you again. I miss you very much.”

“I miss you too, old mate,” Geoffrey said very quietly and I had to listen carefully to catch what he said. “I look forward to every holiday when you’re here.”

I stood and watched as they held each other tightly for at least another minute. I almost held my breath so they wouldn’t know I was watching.

“Better leave go, Jonno,” said Geoffrey in the end, brushing his mouth past Jonathan’s ear, “If you hold me like this much longer we’ll need another shower.”

“Too true,” I just caught what Jonathan almost panted out as I turned to go along the corridor, “I’m on the verge as well….. … I’d better shut the door…”

I’d only seen two people hold each other as tight as that once before and that was when Mum greeted Dad last Christmas Eve when he arrived home much later than expected. She said something about being very anxious and was so glad when she heard the news. Then the next day I’d been hiding behind the settee looking at a book I’d had for Christmas and Dad and Grandfather were discussing things very quietly. I heard them talking about how Dad had been involved with the freeing of hostages somewhere in the Middle East. I heard him say things were ‘pretty hairy’ for a while and I’d asked Caroline later who just said it meant something was dangerous. I knew Mum had been worried about him from what she had said and I was glad to see him as well. Now Jonathan and Geoffrey were holding each other just like that. I murmured to myself that they were both pretty hairy, especially as they had hairy legs and lots round their things. But I think it wasn’t quite that. I went as quietly as I could to our bedroom and looked in my bag for Treasure Island which we were reading with Mr McWilliam. He had said we should read the rest of it over Christmas when we weren’t stuffed full of Christmas pudding and he would ask us questions about it when we returned after Hogmanay. I was just reading again about that scary Old Blind Pew a few minutes later when Jonathan came along to the bedroom with Geoffrey.

I don’t think they’d realised I hadn’t gone downstairs and they were laughing about something and I just caught Jonathan saying “…And then he asked if it got harder and I said all the time before I realised we weren’t on the same wavelength…..” They were grinning and tapping on each other’s arms as they came into the room. I looked across at them. Both were still in the nude but their things were now down. I hadn’t seen Geoffrey’s before, I mean like that, and it looked just like Jonathan’s. I wondered if I would be like them some day. At least I had seen two now and that was something to keep in mind if things like that got discussed at school.

Geoffrey spotted me first. “A little bookworm, eh? What are you reading?”

I held the book up so he could see the cover.

Treasure Island, eh? I liked that book, especially all about Long John Silver. Ah, me hearties!” He laughed after putting on the atrocious accent. “And this is Long Jon Drummond me old shipmate,” he continued, turning and poking my brother in the ribs, “Or was!

“Shut up, you!” Jonathan said, “Just because you’ve….” He stopped. He was obviously changing the subject. “It is a good book and very exciting and I’ll have a look at it with you.” He turned to Geoffrey. “Remember when we read Beau Geste that holiday up on Skye when it rained and rained….”

“….And Tom Brown’s Schooldays just before you went up to Big School and you were scared there would be a Flashman there to toast you in front of the fire….”

“Huh, there was that big twat Ogilvy I told you about who scared the pants off us, but luckily he wasn’t in our House. He got the push when he made those two kids fight bare-fisted just to see what would happen, remember? Someone told me last term he ended up doing time for impersonating a policeman.”

“Public School didn’t do him much good, then,” said Geoffrey with a grin, “Thought you all came out silver-plated…..”

“…Don’t you start that again, just because you won that scholarship, Smarty-pants!”

“Dumbo, with ears to match!”

The battle was on again. I peered over the edge of the bed. Two large nude bodies grappled on the carpet with Geoffrey heaving with laughter and at a distinct disadvantage.

“Got you now,” said Jonathan triumphantly, “Get out of this!”

He had straddled Geoffrey as he had been straddled before but now he’d reached back and was holding onto Geoffrey’s balls. I knew that word, too, as Jack Pringle had been hit there with a tennis ball when we were throwing one around on the playing field. “Ouch, my fucking balls!” he’d said and Brigstock had told him to shut up in case Matron heard him. “I’ll need fucking Matron if it hurts much more,” he had said and then blushed. “Shouldn’t say things like that, but it hurts!”

“Unfair, unfair,” called out Geoffrey, still laughing, “I give in though! Leave go, please, they’re precious!”

“Precious, my foot! Overused and underhung! Certainly not the Crown Jewels let alone valuable family ones!”

Both were now heaving with laughter. Jonathan let go and they clapped a hand. ‘Hi-five’ Brigstock had said it was called.

“Get up, oaf!” Geoffrey said, “We’d better get some clothes on or your mother’ll be up to see what all the row’s about. And I.. ..starving!”

They stood up and, as Jonathan turned, Geoffrey gave him a smack on the backside. “Quits,” he said, “Now where are your best clothes as I don’t want any old cast-offs?”

Jonathan looked at me staring at the pair of them. “We’ve decided you’ve got to see us warts and all…”

“….And he’s got the smallest wart….”

“…Shut it, don’t boast. Don’t forget I’m younger than you and still growing.”

“Three months? …And it’ll be about half a millimetre in the next five years if you’re lucky?”

Jonathan stuck his tongue out before going over to the cupboard where he’d dumped a load of clothes and bits from his room. “Here you are, try these!” He lobbed over a pair of Y-fronts he must have had years back. Geoffrey just laughed.

“Give those to Jamie with all the rest of that hoard. You’re so mean you give the Scots a bad name! Look at all this, Jamie!”

Geoffrey had gone to the cupboard too and pulled out a whole heap of pants and sweat-shirts and shorts and whatever. He chucked the lot onto the bed.

“Take your pick, Jamie, it’ll only attract the moths stuck in there.” He picked up a pair of shorts. Dark green. Young boy’s shorts like we had for P.E. “God Almighty!” he said, opening them up at the waistband. “Jonathan Drummond, little boy size, one to two years.” He laughed. “Certainly wouldn’t get your tackle in there now, Jonny-boy!”

He chucked the shorts at me. I opened them up. There was Jonathan’s sown-in name tag and another tag. ‘Size 9 - 10 years.’

“I’ll have these,” I said, “They’ll be right for next year.”

Geoffrey laughed. “Good for you lad, save your Mum a penny or two. She can spend it on his new stripes, eh, Sergeant?”

He stood to attention and gave a very military salute. I laughed. He looked very funny standing there with nothing on. I couldn’t help it.

“That thing’s not standing to attention now!” I said. Why I said that I didn’t know. I’d never knowingly heard anyone say such a thing, though we were told to stand to attention when we had prayers, or when Mr McWilliam wanted to count us to see if we were all there. The effect on the boys was just colossal. They both collapsed on the bed beside me.

“Jamie, Jamie!” spluttered Jonathan, “Behave yourself. Where did you hear anyone say that?”

“Never have. But, it’s his thing,” I stated, “And it’s not. So I said it.”

“Succinct and to the point,” giggled Geoffrey. “You make a fine pair. Now where are the clothes for me to wear, Jonno, I’ll catch a chill in a minute?”

“In a mi-nute, did you say?” riposted Jonathan, “That’s more like it. Wrinkles!”

“Oh, come on, let me have a root around.” He went over to the big chest of drawers. He opened a drawer. “I’ll have these and this shirt for a start.” These were a pair of red and green candy-striped boxers which Jonathan had brought back from school and a large All Blacks rugby shirt.

Jonathan laughed as Geoffrey held up the boxers. “They’re not mine. They’re Tuddy’s. His mother bought him three packs of assorted colours in some cut-price store in Perth and he gave us all a couple of pairs as he said he wouldn’t be seen dead in them. You can have them with pleasure.”

Geoffrey slipped them on and drew them up his legs. “Very fetching,” he said as he pirouetted in front of the long mirror on the wall, “Bet these would attract the sprogs wouldn’t they?”

“Watch it!” said Jonathan, “Big Ears is around.”

Was that me? It was true. Both Jonathan and I had rather prominent ears and I was listening hard. Who were sprogs?

“Well if I wear them to school they’ll give Julie Jenkins something to goggle at in the changing-room..”

What on earth were they talking about?

“Who’s Julie Jenkins? Is that your girlfriend?” I asked.

They both guffawed.. “No,” said Jonathan, “It’s a he and a very close friend of his.”

“Too close for comfort sometimes. He’s OK, though. But his mother gets me to supervise his maths and he’s better than me at it at his age.” Geoffrey laughed.

“…And Julian idolises his Superhero, doesn’t he?” Jonathan asked.

“I’m afraid so. I mustn’t laugh but he’s only fourteen and he’s a big lad but he does rather follow me around. He’s so innocent though and I’ve had to tell him not to give me those long letters he writes almost every weekend especially if he’s been to watch a game or he’s played in one and has to tell me all about it.”

“Yeah, I know all about those ‘cause you showed me that one at Easter, but he’s joined the Pipe Band, hasn’t he?” asked Jonathan.

“Yes, and he’s very good. I’m going to suggest your Grandfather takes him on. In fact, he’s coming along tomorrow night.”

While this chat was going on Jonathan was getting dressed and was handing Geoffrey a pair of jeans and some socks. He laughed as Jonathan flicked over a pair of flip-flops he’d bought in Greece. Jonathan also had very large feet and the flip-flops were very large, too.

“Bloody hell! Excuse my French young Jamie,” he said, then turned to Jonathan, “These are monstrous! You know what they say about big feet? Not in your case, old mate! Sorry, very small to middling!”

“Speak for yourself, you can’t say anything and where have you been comparing?”

They both burst into laughter again. I was getting lost. Everything they said they laughed about.

It was at least five o’clock by now and we still hadn’t had anything to eat. All that exercise had left me starving, too. Dinner tonight would be later as my sisters hadn’t arrived yet.

“I want something to eat,” I said and hopped off the bed. “I’ll tell Mum you’ll wait until dinner tonight.” I beetled out of the room to be pursued by the pair of them with the over-large flip-flops clattering down the stairs behind me.

We reached the kitchen together. Mum and Mrs Grantly, who came in most days to help with the cooking, just looked at us as we stood in the doorway. Mrs Grantly was twice the size of Mum and I liked her very much. I really missed her when I went to school.

“And here are the wee lost lambs,” she said, “And my Jamie leading the flock.”

I went up to her and she just about picked me up and gave me a great kiss.

I was put down and she turned her attention to the other two.

“Och, I was saying to your mother just the noo how those two boys of mine sprung up like two oaks when they were your age and were as noisy as the Bull of Bashen multiplied by ten.”

“Hello, Mrs Grantly,” said Jonathan, stepping forward first and holding out a bundle of dirty washing, “But we hadn’t realised you were here already helping Mum but we were just having a quiet chat upstairs and I’m sorry your sons disturbed you with their noise and I can believe it because Euan does rather shout when he’s in the pulpit.”

“Och, you’re just the same, young Jonathan,” she said and clasped him to her as well making him drop his bundle on the floor. “And with that tongue of yours you’d make a good minister, too.”

She turned her attention to Geoffrey who was grinning like that picture of the Cheshire Cat I had in my Alice in Wonderland. “Pity you didn’t score in that last game. You need to keep up a bit more and use your weight. That boy you tried to tackle was half your size. You’re big enough to knock down a pair of carthorses not miss some puir wee thing looking as if he was straight out of the poorhouse. And why are you wearing that shirt and not the proper blue of your ain country?” He was also enveloped in a great hug which restored the grin from the rather downcast look he’d had when she’d mentioned the game and the shirt. He had also dropped his bundle as well. He picked up both bundles and Mrs Grantly pointed to the big wicker dirty-laundry basket. He put them all in and looked back at Mrs Grantly still grinning.

“Sorry, Mrs Grantly, but it’s not my shirt. It’s Jonathan’s and he’s lent it to me most willingly as he’s ashamed of owning it. And please tell Dr Grantly I coached some of the Juniors this afternoon and they’re coming on well.”

I did know enough to realise what they were all talking about. Mrs Grantly’s younger son, Euan, was a clergyman at one of the big churches in Edinburgh. Her husband was a well-known Elder of the Kirk and had a large shop just off Princes Street which sold all manner of very good clothes including our things for Kinloch. Dr Grantly was her elder son and was a teacher at the school where Geoffrey went. He was mad keen on rugger and his mother attended most games at the school because she was a retired nurse and could deal with any injuries. I had learned all this from many hours over the years sitting quietly in the kitchen munching away while Mum and Mrs Grantly exchanged news and views as Mum said. Grandfather always asked what the latest gossip was when he knew Mrs Grantly had been in to help cook the meal and especially when she also stayed for supper..

Mum then pointed to the side dresser. “Get that inside you and don’t fight over it. And I was a bit worried if the ceilings might cave in just now. I hope you’re not teaching Jamie rough games.”

Jonathan was first by the plates which had sandwiches and scones on them. He’d got a sandwich in one hand and a scone in the other before either Geoffrey or I were anywhere near them.

“Mum, you must be hearing things. It was probably the mice in the roof that Grandfather is convinced are up there….” He got no further. Mrs Grantly had a large ladle in her hand. She tapped him smartly on the backside. “…….Ouch,” he went, but couldn’t rub the spot where she’d whacked him. “…That must have been one of them. It’s just bit me!”

Silence then reigned as three mouths were full and no chatter was possible.

I saw Mum and Mrs Grantly exchange amused glances. Then Mum looked at her watch. “We’d better get things sorted out quickly as the others will be here just after six.” She looked at Geoffrey. “I suppose you’d better ‘phone home and say….” Geoffrey was nodding feverishly with mouth full. He gulped and swallowed.

“…Please, Mrs Drummond?”

“And, don’t get the girls giggling…”

“….No, Mrs Drummond…. ….May I use the ‘phone, there won’t be anybody there but I can leave a message?”

Mum nodded and Geoffrey exited quickly.

“Come on Jamie, all the more for us,” said Jonathan. He was thwarted though as a large hand descended on his as he was about to scoop up two scones.

“Be a gentleman,” said Mrs Grantly, “And don’t incite your brother into ignoble actions.”

I liked the way Mrs Grantly talked. Grandfather said she had the largest and best vocabulary of anyone he knew. He used long words, too, but he was a lawyer. I liked words as well and I liked that one. Ignoble. I suppose it meant something not nice. I would remember that word and use it on Jonathan. Ignoble, I repeated it to myself.

Mum came over and moved the sandwich plate nearer to me. “When you’ve finished you can check the dining-room, Jonathan. See that Molly laid the table with enough settings and Grandfather’s got the proper wine glass by his place. And you and Geoffrey can have a glass as well - but only one glassful tonight mind.”

She turned to me. “You can help, Jamie. Check there are enough plates in the hot trolley…..” She counted up. “…..We shall need seven of everything as Geoffrey is staying but Mrs Grantly isn’t… OK? …And it’s roast lamb tonight so bring out the little silver dishes for the mint sauce and the redcurrant jelly.”

Oh, good, I thought, my favourite. And a roast in the middle of the week. But then we would all be home. That was, all except Dad.

I followed Jonathan through into the dining-room. “I’ll check everything, Jamie, and you take the silver out. Gosh, it does look grand!”

The dining table had been laid out immaculately - all the knives, forks and spoons and the glasses and so on were all neat. “Grandfather will be pleased,” said Jonathan, “We’ll let Geoffrey sit between Caroline and Jacky and you can sit next to Mum the other side and I’ll sit next to you and control the amount you pile on your plate.” He laughed. “I’ll be far enough away from Grandfather so you and Geoffrey can answer all the questions. Sorted.”