Chapter 13 Cards.
Ruth and Aggie left the park, and headed back to the coach house.
“Do you think the card game will be over?” asked Ruth.
“No, no, the game will go on for hours and hours. It will take John ages to lose all the money you saved up,” said Aggie. “Ye should nae ha saved so much.”
And they turned into the street, past the potholes and run down mansions where each room help a different family and where ragamuffin children played in the road. Outside the last mansion in the row was a line of rather grand coaches and even an automobile.
“Who are these,” said Ruth.
“That will be John’s friends,” said Aggie. “Or their coach men at least”
A group of children approached one of the horses. “Clear off,” cried the coachman and flicked his whip at them, catching one of the girls on the leg.
“What a beast,” said Ruth, as the children skipped away.
“Aye, that will be Lord Hawthornetree’s coach man. To be honest, I’m no so fond o’ John’s friends, and him least off all.”
Aggie held the gate open, and Ruth pushed the perambulator with the twins in to the garden, along the path, and round the back to the old coachman’s cottage that was Aggie’s home.
In the cottage, John was sitting at the table with a large pile of coins in the centre.
“Hey, Ruth,” John called, “come and meet my friends.”
John indicated a thin aristocratic gentleman with a top hat and a monocle.
“Lord Hawthorntree, or Lord Haw-Haw to his friends,”
Then he turned to a rather portly, pale-faced man dressed in a white robe decorated with black symbols that looked familiar for some reason.
“This is Alister Crowcry.”
“Pleased to meet you,” said the portly little man. “Most people call me the most evilest man alive.” Then he bowed politely and put forward his hand.
Ruth took his extended hand and shook it.
“And this,” said John pointing to the fur clad figure across from him, “is Madam Dingbatski.”
“Charmed,” came a mumbled voice from somewhere within the furs.
“Charmed,” replied Ruth.
A quick scan of the table showed exactly what was going on. John was losing, losing bad and the three others where cheating, cheating bad.
Ruth instantly spotted the ace up Lord Haw-Haw’s sleeve, the queen in Alister Crowcry’s gown, and Madam Dingbatski’s double dealing.
In spite of the huge fortune that Ruth had accumulated and John that had decided to gamble against her wishes, John was down to his last few coins.
“Well,” said Lord Haw-Haw, as he raised the pot, “it looks like you’re out.”
“No, no,” said John, “if you lean me money against the cottage, I can play.”
“John,” exclaimed Aggie, “this is ma’ house.”
“No,” said John, “Father left it to me.”
“Alright,” said Lord Haw-Haw and pushed a large pile of coins over to John. “Hopefully your luck will change soon.”
Bur John’s luck did not change. Very quickly it looked as if he was going to lose everything including the house. Of course, it was not really that surprising. Haw-Haw pulled ace after ace, Crowcry pulled Queen after Queen and Madam Dingbatski double shuffled again and again.
“We need to do something, or we’ll lose the house,” said Ruth.
“What can we do?” said Aggie.
“Well, first off, let’s get honest John out the way,” said Ruth.
“I’ll deal with that,” said Aggie. “John,” she shouted, “Mummy needs your help.”
John grumbled, “Can’t you see that I’m busy.”
No sooner were the words out John’s mouth then his Amazonian mother shot out an arm, grabbed him by the ear, and dragged John from the table.
“Oh dear,” said Ruth, “why don’t I sit in while my husband is detained.” Ruth took the cards and flicked them around her hand into two fans. “My deal I believe.”
In the next room, Aggie sat on John to prevent him getting back up and into the game. In the meantime Ruth won game after game. Soon she had won back all John’s money and more. It was her money really.
John’s friends tried to cheat harder and harder, but no matter how hard they tried, no matter how much they cheated, Ruth cheated harder, stronger, better. And won over and over again.
“I must say,” said Lord Haw-Haw, “you really are so lucky.”
“Beginners luck,” lied Ruth smoothly. “Now, shall we play one more hand? I believe it is my turn to deal.”
“Unfortunately I will need to depart,” said Alister, “I have a séance to attend at Highgate Cemetery.”
“And I have to go, I’m leaving for Tibet in the morning,” said Madam Dingbatski from her pile of furs.
“So that would leave just you and me,” said Ruth staring at Lord Haw-Haw. “I suppose that means we’ll have to do this again some other time. Or we could play blackjack?” suggested Ruth, “If your short of money, I could lend you some against your car, or perhaps you have some jewellery you could use as collateral?”
“Yes,” said Lord Haw-Haw and took a ring from his finger and placed it on the table.
Ruth gasped, but quickly recovered her composure. There on the table was a gold ring in the shape of a coiled serpent; a cobra poised to strike with two fangs bared and ready to bit.
Could Lord Haw-Haw be a member of H.I.S.S.S.S. the secret society that were attempting to hunt down Ruth and John and murder them?
Fortunately, before Ruth could do or say anything, Aggie entered the parlour with Charlotte and Clementina on each arm.
“That’s quite enough for one night,” said Aggie. “John is indisposed,” by which she meant she had beaten him unconscious, “and the twins need their mother. I suppose you better go now, your lordship. No doubt you’ve got some lording it to do elsewhere.”
From the tone of Aggies voice, it was clear that there would be no point arguing. Lord Haw-Haw rose up and turned to leave. As he did so, one of the twins, Clementinan Ruth thought it was, she could never tell which was which, opened her eye and stared at Lord Haw-Haw. Ruth had never seen so much malice in a single glance, and evidently, neither had Lord Haw-Haw. The poor man turned white and bolted out the door.
“How rude,” said Aggie, “No even a good night.”
“Where is John?” asked Ruth.
“He’s tied up at the moment,” said Aggie.
“Oh,” said Ruth, “I better go and untie him then.”
Chapter 14 Hounded By guest poster Iseult Murphy
Ruth was livid to find that John was not alone. He was tied to the bed, while something moved under the blankets on top of him, a mane of golden brown hair the only thing visible. Ruth marched to the side of the bed, a few choice words brimming on her lips, and threw back the blanket. A shaggy dog crouched beside John, chewing through the ropes that bound him.
Ruth put her hands on her hips. “What are you doing with that Afghan?”
“It’s not a blanket, it’s a hound,” John said. He pushed the dog off the bed and sat up. The hound shoved her long snout into John’s lap and looked up at him with big brown eyes, a fringe of hair falling over her nose. John tickled it behind her floppy ears. “Her name’s Spirit.”
“I don’t care what her name is, what is she doing in our bedroom?”
“Untying the knots,” John said.
“Yes, but how did she get here?”
“She was hiding under the bed,” John said.
Ruth threw her hands up in the air. Sometimes she wondered if she wouldn’t have been better off in the wilds of Australia with Matthew. The crocodiles must be easier to get through to than her husband.
“Yes, but how did she get into our bedroom, and don’t say through the door.”
“She came through the window actually,” John said smugly. The expression on Ruth’s face wiped the smile from his lips. “She was abandoned at the track after a race, and I thought I’d try her out to see if she’s any good, but she’s been a bit under the weather recently, and I thought I’d take her home for a bit of home cooking to cheer her up.”
“Well, she can’t stay here,” Ruth said. She took the dog by the collar, and marched her into the front room.
Aggie sat in her chair by the fire. She raised her eyebrows at the sight of Ruth dragging the large dog out of the bedroom. The twins played at her feet. Clem had a set of wooden blocks with letters painted on the sides and had spelled out REDR in front of her. It pleased Ruth to see her daughter learning her colours, but she’d have to correct her spelling when she’d fixed the dog problem. Lottie was scribbling with a crayon on an old receipt. She’d drawn a rather nice star, but had ruined it by scribbling a circle over it.
The dog growled and bared her teeth, but whether it was at the children or the poker table, Ruth wasn’t so sure. Aggie stopped knitting and held her knitting needles out in front of her like a weapon.
“Och, you better get that hound out ta here before it kills the wee bairns,” she said.
As Ruth dragged the dog to the exit, there was a loud knock on the door. “Who the devil could that be?” Ruth muttered. She flung the door open and found a rather portly fellow with ruddy cheeks and a bright red nose standing on the doorstep. He was dressed entirely in black, apart from his grey shirt and a huge white dog collar that circled his neck.
“Good evening,” the vicar said.
Spirit coughed, opened her mouth and issued forth a thick stream of green liquid that coated the vicar and slopped past him onto the flowers at the side of the door.
“My clothes,” cried the vicar.
“My flowers,” cried Aggie.
“My dog,” cried John, running out of the bedroom and taking Spirit away from Ruth and gently wiping the vomit from her silky hair with a handkerchief.
The vicar raised his hand and pointed a shaking finger at Spirit. “That dog is possessed,” he announced.
“No, she is not,” John said. “She’s sick, she hasn’t been able to keep anything down for days.” John made a big fuss of the hound, making Ruth feel rather jealous. She put her hands on her hips.
“Well, what have you been feeding her?” she said.
“Your pea and ham soup,” John said.
Ruth nodded. It all made sense. No wonder he kept asking for seconds, and the bowl always looked so clean.
“It’s obviously not agreeing with her,” Ruth said. “She needs proper dog food. I’ll see if I have the ham bone in the kitchen.”
Spirit seemed to perk up a bit of the mention of bones and licked her lips.
The vicar remained dripping on the doorstep. “Fools,” he said. “That is a hound from hell.”
Spirit growled and John placed his hands over her ears. “Stop it, you’ll hurt her feelings.”
The vicar rushed across the threshold and flung himself between the hound, who was sitting quietly at John’s side, and the twins, who had stopped their games to watch the entertainment that the adults were providing.
“The children! Someone must protect them from the beast. This is an unfit home,” the vicar said.
“You’re trailing dirt over my nice clean floor,” Aggie said.
Clementina and Charlotte turned their gazes to the vicar and watched him intently.
“I cannay have you messing up my home,” Aggie said, lunging for the vicar before he reached the twins, and grabbing hold of the back of his collar and coat tails and running him out of the house.
“Cleanliness is next to godliness,” the vicar gasped, his voice somewhat strained by the tight grasp Aggie had on his dog collar.
Seeing the vicar run out of the house excited Spirit, and she dashed away from John, latched on to the vicar’s plump forearm and swung off him as Aggie threw them both out of the house and slammed the door behind them.
“Good riddance to bad rubbish,” Aggie said, rolling up her sleeves in preparation of some serious house cleaning.
Ruth, who had just returned from the kitchen, nodded in agreement. “I’m glad to see the back of both of them.”
John slumped onto a chair and buried his head in his hands.
“I’ve lost my Spirit,” he wailed.
The next morning, as Ruth bathed and dressed the twins and saw to their breakfast, she heard a strange sound outside the cottage, as if someone was cracking their knuckles repeatedly in preparation for playing the piano, or a fist fight. Eventually the sound got the better of her, and she flung open the door in irritation to give the mystery knuckle cracker a piece of her mind.
Lying near the doorstep was Spirit, her once fine golden brown coat a matted red and black mess, surrounded by a butcher’s back room of bones, which she was busy breaking and sucking the marrow. Judging by the tatters of black cloth and the ripe stench of pea and ham soup, the bones could only belong to the disgraced vicar.
“Even in death he causes a mess,” Ruth said. She hurried to get a broom to sweep up the bones and drive off the dog before John woke and saw her, in case he wanted to give her a bath.
As Ruth deposited the remains into the dustpan, she noticed that one of the vicar’s hands hung like a fleshy starfish from his well chewed arm bone, and glinting in the early morning light from one of the fingers was a gold ring encircled by a serpent biting its tail.
“Perhaps having a dog around is a good idea,” Ruth said, before marching back into the house.
Chapter 15 the new car
Ruth and Aggie were bathing the children. Charlotte was playing in the tin bath and Clementine kept splashing water all over the place. They were both laughing and seemed to be having a great time. Clementine even smiled at Ruth.
It was odd; thought Ruth, they seemed almost like normal children. Perhaps my worries are over-exaggerated.
But then Charlotte turned and stared at her with those strange golden eyes.
“Out,” she demanded. And held up her arms. Clearly she had had enough holy water for one day.
And once again a shiver went up Ruth’s spine. There was definitely something not right about the twins. She turned to Aggie, thinking she might ask her mother-in-law for her opinion. The twins always seemed more comfortable with her then they did with Ruth.
But before she could speak, a noise came from the lane outside and Spirit began barking loudly.
“What is aw’ that commotion?” asked Aggie.
“It sounds like an Automobile,” said Ruth.
“Whit-for would such a thing be doing in our back lane?” asked Aggie.
And then the sound came again. It was definitely a car hooter. Ruth sighed. What would an automobile be doing in the back lane? It could only mean one thing; John must be back from the racecourse, and this must be his latest daft scheme. No doubt he had won it in a bet, or a card game.
“We better go out and see what this is all about,” said Ruth. “Come on girls, let’s get you dressed and see what Daddy has been up to.”
“Aye, nae doubt he’s up to some clamframjamfry,” said Aggie.
Ruth had no idea what a clamframjamfry was, but she was certain Aggie was right. In all the time she’d know John, there had never been a time when he had not been up to some kind of nonsense.
Ruth pushed open the door of the coach-house, and went out into Aggie’s little cottage garden, watching gingerly for Spirit. John’s dog was not averse to giving Ruth the odd bite on the ankles. Ruth swore that dog was three parts greyhound, four parts lurcher and one hundred percent hell-hounds. But fortunately for Ruth, Spirit was not there.
“Come and look at this,” shouted John, and parped the horn of his new car excitedly. In the lane, stood an automobile. Ruth was no expert, but this car looked very sporty, very expensive, and very much like it had seen better days.
“What is that?” she asked.
“It’s a Humber Invicta Serpentine Silent Six Super,” said John.
“Oh,” said Ruth, and for some reason that made her feel uneasy.
“Yes,” said John, “some people just call it an H.I.S.S.S.S.”
Somehow that did not make Ruth fell any better, and she felt even more uneasy when she saw the serpent emblem on the bonnet.
“Let’s take it out for a spin,” said John.
“Alright,” agreed Ruth. “You won’t go too fast will you?”
“Of course not,” said John.
John jumped into the driver seat, and Aggie took the twins and climbed into the back of the car, but when Ruth went to sit in the front passenger seat there was a problem. There was Spirit sitting in the seat as if he owned the car.
“Come on Spirit,” said Ruth nervously, but Spirit turned and glared with his red eyes.
Ruth shrank back.
“Come on Ruth,” said John, “get in.”
But Ruth certainly was not getting in the front seat with Spirit. There was no way she was getting anywhere near those slavering jaws.
“I’ll sit in the back with the twins,” said Ruth.
“Aw right,” said Aggie, and clambered out and went to the passenger door.
To be fair, Spirit did try and resist, but it was no good. Aggie with her Amazonian strength was quite a different proposition to delicate little Ruth. He growled and raised his hackles defending his position. Aggie paid no notice.
“You git oot,” she said, and fetched the poor hell-hound such a clout around the head that it was stunned, and then grabbed it by the nape and threw it into the garden.
“Stay,” she shouted at Spirit. And Spirit new better than to argue. He’d come out the worst of it with Aggie before. Brooms, umbrellas, boots and worst of all her massive fists; he’d learned the hard way to keep out the road of all of them.
“Right John,” said Aggie, “Drive on.”
John threw the car into gear and speed off.
“I thought you said you wouldn’t go too fast,” shouted Ruth.
“This isn’t fast,” said John. “I’ll show you what she can really do if you like.”
“No thank you,” called Ruth, raising her voice above the roar of the engine.
John drove the car at what seemed like breakneck speed through the streets of London.
“Look over there,” he would announce periodically, “There’s Cleopatra’s needle,” or “That’s Alexandria Palace up on the hill.”
But before Ruth could see the sights the car would have whisked past.
This isn’t much fun, she thought, but at least the twins are quiet. Charlotte and Clementine seemed undisturbed by the journey. In fact, it seemed like they were both sleeping. How odd, Ruth said to herself, well at least the car is good for something.
Aggie seemed much more comfortable in the front.
“This is braw fun,” she said, as John peeped his horn at a cart and sent the horses skittering away.
Yes, but very dangerous, Ruth thought.
Eventually, and much to Ruth’s relief, the car turned a corner and pulled up right in front of their cottage.
“This is a fine motor,” said Aggie. “But whit dae aw they buttons do?” She pointed to banks and banks of switches in front of her.
“Don’t touch them, Mother,” shouted John.
But it was too late, Aggie flicked a big red switch in front of her, and the roof of the car slid back, John’s seat flew up into the air on a gigantic coiled spring sending him sprawling through the air out of the car and into the garden where he landed right on top of Spirit. Poor Spirit, he didn’t seem to be having a very good day.
“Och, I see,” said Aggie, “that must be the ejector seat.”
Chapter 16 Fiddling
Aggie held Spirit by the collar while Ruth helped John to his feet.
“I do hope you’re not hurt,” said Ruth as she helped her husband up. “That was quite a tumble. But why is there an ejector seat in your new car? It was a good job that Spirit was there to break your fall.”
Hearing his name, the hell hound began to snarl and snap.
“Quiet you,” said Aggie and lifted the hell hound up by the collar. Spirit, wise old dog that he was, instantly began whimpering softly.
“It’s standard issue,” said John. “It comes in all the Secret Service automobiles.”
“Och John,” said Aggie, “You’ve no joined up wi’ they daft gallouts again. Do you no remember last time? Whit a fankle that was.”
Ruth would have liked to know what happened last time, but left that for the moment. She had other more pressing questions to ask John.
“You’ve done what?” she declared. “You’ve joined the Secret Service.”
“Not joined them,” said John, “just agreed to do a little job for them. I couldn’t refuse. It’s for king and country.”
“Hmm,” said Aggie, “No that they German Hanoverians are rightful kings. It should be a Stuart that sits on that throne.”
Ruth ignored Aggie’s interjection. She was always going on about some Jacobite nonsense that was all over and done with for hundreds of years.
“So what exactly have you signed up for, John,” Ruth asked again.
“You’ll love it,” said John, “it comes with a car. Isn’t it lovely?”
The car was quite lovely Ruth had to admit, but there was no way she was going to let him distract her from the question in hand.
“What is it that you are going to do?” she demanded forcefully.
“Aye,” said Aggie, “answer us, and nane of your havers.”
“It’s nothing. Actually, it’s quite exciting. I can’t wait to tell you. You’ll be over the moon.”
“Well don’t wait,” said Ruth, “just tell us.”
“Right,” said John. “I’m playing first violin.”
“Yes, that’s right, with the Camberwell Philharmonic Orchestra.”
“I’ll be performing in front of thousands of people.”
“We’ll be touring across the whole of Europe. France, Holland, Madrid, Paris, Switzerland, Italy, Vienna, and of course Germany.”
“Oh,” said Ruth, “What about us? What about the twins? And your dog?”
“They’ll be coming with us, we’re all going on a summer holiday. A working holiday really but what a chance, what an opportunity. I’ll be famous. I’ll finally get the recognition I deserve.”
Ruth had heard John on the fiddle. He’d been on the fiddle a lot lately. And while there was no doubting that he was very good at fiddling. First fiddle in the Camberwell Philharmonic was quite a thing. Camberwell Philharmonic was famous for its fiddles. They had fiddled in front of famous folk from far-flung fiefs as far away as Finland. They had played for royalty.
“Why just now?” asked Ruth suspiciously.
“Well, as luck would have it, the first fiddler of the Philharmonic fell flat on his face from the fifth floor of his flat.”
“Poor man,” said Aggie, “I hope he’s alright.”
“Fatal,” said John. “Still one man’s fall is another man’s fortune. Can you believe it? Finally, a financially favourable deal to fiddle.”
Ruth could not really believe it. “And why did they ask you to take his place?”
“Because of my fabulous fiddling,” said John, “Why there is not a fitter fiddler to fiddle for the Philharmonic to be found from Finchley to Frinton.”
“Fiddlesticks,” said Aggie, “the finest fiddler to be found is ma friend Frank Foley from Fife.”
Ruth was a bit bemused by this.
“No,” she interrupted, “I was asking why the Secret Service wanted you to fiddle for the Philharmonic. I know there is more to this than just fiddling. Why would they give you a car?”
“So I can go on tour,” said John. “So we can go on tour, have you not been listening. I’ll be going with the Philharmonic all over the continent, we’ll be going all over the continent.”
“Yes, I’ve got that,” said Ruth, “but why do the Secret Service want you to do that for?”
“Well, I agreed to do a few wee things for them on the way,” said John airily. “Musicians, you see, are a very much in demand group and we can mix in all kinds of company. Nobody will be bothered about what the first fiddler for the Philharmonic is doing. I’ll be able to go to all sorts of places where a normal spy couldn’t go.”
“Spying,” declared Ruth, “that sounds dangerous.”
“Aye,” said Aggie, “What daft notion have you taken to noo?”
“I don’t know what you mean,” said John. “Why would I do anything daft or dangerous?”
“Don’t you take that tone with me,” said Aggie. And letting go of Spirit, who slunk nervously out of sight, grabbed John by one of his protruding ears and yanked it hard.
“Ouch, mother, let me go,” said John and freed his ear from Aggies grip. “I can’t tell you even if I wanted to because it’s a secret. It is the Secret Service you know, and it’s not a secret if you tell everyone, even if it is just your family that you tell. Now get packed we need to leave soon. I won’t tell you another word, not even if you torture me. I am sworn to secrecy.”
Ruth noticed that John had dropped a piece of paper from one of his pockets when he had been ejected from the car. She bent down and picked it up. It was a note or a list and she began to read.
John grabbed the list out of her hand.
“That’s private,” he said, and stuffed it into his jacket.
“Alright,” said Ruth.
It was clear that neither Ruth nor Aggie were going to get any more information out of John. Once he had made his mind up there was nothing else for it other than to go along with things. And anyway, Ruth had always wanted to go to Paris. The follies Bergere, Coco Channel, L’Arc de Triumph, the Eifel Tower; she really was excited.
“Let’s get packed then,” she said to Aggie. “Here, John, you look after the twins while we throw a few things in a suitcase.”
In the end, it was more than a few things in a suitcase they packed. The twins need a lot of changes of clothes, and Aggie insisted on taking a clean liberty bodice for every day they would be gone. Once they had the car packed there wasn’t going to be much room. There were cases and boxes tied to the roof and the boot wouldn’t close properly and had to be tied down with a piece of old washing line.
Aggie sat in the back with the twins, and once again Spirit had nabbed shotgun. I am not sitting in the back while that dog sits in the front, said Ruth to herself.
Just then John came out. “You, Spirit! Get out of that seat now,” he shouted, “That seat’s not for you.”
Spirit grumbled but jumped into the back as commanded.
How happy Ruth felt. John had sorted it all out for her, she would not have to fight the snarling hell-hound over the seat. How caring and kind he could be, from time to time. Certainly not all bad, just a bit daft.
Ruth followed John to the car where he opened the front door just as she arrived. How gentlemanly she thought, but before she could sit down, John carefully and lovingly placed his violin case in the seat and strapped it in carefully.
“There you go darling,” he said, to the violin.
Chapter 17 London to Dover
Ruth grabbed John by one of his protruding ears.
“Move your violin case to the luggage compartment,” she demanded. “I’m sitting in the front seat.”
John grumbled but unstrapped the case, and Ruth carried it round to the back of the car and put it in with the other cases. That’s funny, she thought, why does he have two violin cases? Has he bought a new violin? She reached to open the case but John stopped her.
“Don’t touch that,” he said.
“Why how rude,” protested Ruth, “Why ever not?”
John was clearly floundering, “Eh, well, em. Well, let’s get going shall we?”
“Aye lassie,” shouted Aggie from the back seat of the car, “We best get going noo while the bairns are asleep?”
“The twins are sleeping,” declared Ruth, “how did you get them to sleep so quickly?”
“Aye, it’s a wonder whit a wee drap o’ whiskey can dae,” replied Aggie.
Ruth made a mental note, one not to let Aggie give the twins any more whiskey; she didn’t what them getting any bad habits. And two, she would make sure she found out what was in the second violin case. Hopefully not whiskey.
Still there would be plenty of time for that on the tour.
Ruth climbed into the car, and of John drove heading off to France and the continent.
The car made good progress though the relatively smooth streets of London. Out they drove out past Rye Common, skirting round Blackheath and out into the countryside.
“Don’t your parents live oot here?” asked Aggie.
“Oh, yes,” said Ruth uncertainly. Somehow she wasn’t sure she would be able to cope with her family today. “I don’t think we have time to drop in if we are going to meet the ferry. Besides, they won’t know we’re coming, I’d rather let them know in advance so they can be ready.” And so that I can be ready for them, Ruth thought.
“Well, now we’re out in the country let’s see what this baby can do,” said John and pushed his foot down hard on the accelerator.
“Slow down John,” said Ruth, clutching her hat. “The roads are too bumpy to go racing.”
“Nonsense,” said John, and pushed on regardless.
The road was indeed bumpy. Ruth felt a little ill. The car lurched around like a ship in a storm, as it speed through the country lanes.
“Slow doon John, before-” said Aggie.
But it was too late. Spirit, who had been sitting behind Ruth, began to retch, and suddenly, a mass of green flying vomit covered Ruth from top to bottom.
“Stop the car,” screamed Ruth with horror.
John pulled over at a conveniently located public house where Ruth was able to rush in and clean herself.
“Those lavatories are for customers only,” shouted the Barman. But when Ruth turned and glared at him, he quietened down quickly.
“This is all your fault John,” said Ruth when she got back to the car.
“Dinnae worry, lassie,” said Aggie, “I’ve swapped places wi’ the dug. Me and the wains will sit behind you and Spirit will sit behind John.”
“That should be alright,” said Ruth, “thank you Aggie, that’s a good idea.”
They were now somewhere outside of Maidstone and set off again.
“I’ll need to be quick if we’re going to catch that ferry,” said John.
“On your head be it,” said Ruth and pictured a whole load of dog vomit on John’s head. Part of her hoped Spirit would be sick again. That would be only fair. Ruth felt much cheerier at the hthought.
John got the old gal going like a rocket. They whizzed along the country lanes, and bumped up and down. Ruth’s teeth rattled together as the car went over one particularly deep pothole. And that’s when it happened.
“Watch oot,” called Aggie, and one of the twins, Clementine Ruth thought it was, gave out a loud burping noise. And then, a smelly yellow liquid sprayed all over the back of Ruth’s head.
“Not again,” screamed Ruth. “Stop the car.
This time there was no convenient Public House for Ruth to wash herself down in, but there was a horse trough. A horse trough, grumbled Ruth to herself, how undignified. But there was nothing else for it but stick her head into the trough, and wash the baby vomit from her hair.
“Are you done, Dearie?” asked Aggie.
“I suppose so,” said Ruth.
“Why don’t I sit in the front with the twins,” said Aggie.
Aggie was standing out on the road holding the twins. She had thoughtfully built a barricade down the middle of the back seat with suitcases, so that Spirit would not be able to snap and bite at Ruth when she sat next to him.
“That’s very kind of you,” agreed Ruth. She certainly did not want any more baby or dog vomit in her hair. “I think that would be best after all.” And clambered into the back seat.
Off they went again. Actually, in some ways it was nicer in the back. Ruth began to relax and lie back. She should be safe enough here. Spirit was growling and trying to bite her through Aggie’s barricade, but it was too well made for him to get more then the odd little nip. She was quite safe. This is the life, thought Ruth, but then disaster.
Charlotte’s head swivelled one hundred and eighty degrees, so that she was staring right at Ruth. Her eerie golden eyes stared at her. Was there a hint of malice in them, just for a moment? Then without warning Charlotte opened her mouth. Out spewed the foulest smelling green liquid sprayed all over Ruth’s face and frock.
“No,” screamed Ruth. “No, not again.”
Charlotte smiled at Ruth. The devious little-, thought Ruth, she did that on purpose.
“I’m sorry,” said John, “I can’t stop and anyway, we’re almost there.”
“Aye, look girls, I can see the big boat,” said Aggie. “Here,” she continued, “Wipe yourself with this,” and handed Ruth a towel.
Chapter 18 the Cruise
When the car arrived at Dover, Ruth gave a huge sigh of relief. It would be good to get out of the car and stretch her legs. Perhaps Aggie would watch the children while Ruth and John went for a spot of tea. John parked the Humber next to the dock. Moored there, was a fabulous looking liner. How exciting, thought Ruth, I always wanted to go on an ocean cruise.
“Is that our boat,” asked Ruth.
“Yes,” said John, “I told you there would be nothing but the best for us on this trip.”
“I do hope we have an outside cabin,” said Ruth.
“I’m pretty sure we will,” said John.
“So how do we get the car on to the boat?”
Ruth watched as Rolls Royces, Bentleys, Aston Martins and Daimlers pulled up beside the liner. One by one, the cars were loaded onto a winch, and then lifted up and set down in the hold.
“When is our turn,” asked Ruth.
“Soon,” said John. “We need to wait for the Captain to arrive.”
Really, thought Ruth, welcomed on board by the Captain, how fancy.
“Here he comes now,” said John. And Ruth looked around.
Coming towards them was a scruffy looking man with a big white beard and cap. Ruth noticed that in one hand he was carrying a bottle. This can’t be right, she thought, that can’t be the captain of that liner. She turned her head a bit more, and then she saw it. Tied up next to the liner was an old steam packet that had clearly seen better days. The hull was patched up, and the whole ship looked run down and worn. It looked as if it had never sailed for years, and Ruth was certain that the boat would probably go straight to the bottom if it did take to the seas.
“That’s not our ship is it,” she gasped in fright. “I’m not getting on board that heap of junk.”
The captain had arrived now, and had heard Ruth’s remarks. “Heap of junk,” he exclaimed indignantly. “That is the finest boat from here to lands’ end.”
“Why aren’t we going on that ship?” asked Ruth, and pointed to the liner, the SS Forte.
“Far too conspicuous,” said John. You mean expensive, thought Ruth.
Still, she would just have to make the best of it. Hopefully the rest of the tour would not be as shabby.
“Where are the rest of the orchestra?” she asked, “are they travelling with us?”
Just as Ruth spoke, a dilapidated bus pulled into the dock and parked up next to the Humber. The bus doors opened and out came the other musicians carrying Tubas, drums, flutes and even a glockenspiel.
“We can’t all fit on that little tub,” said Ruth.
“Of course, we can,” said John. Two rickety planks of wood were placed leading up from the dock and on to the boat. John started the car engine, and began to edge his way up the planks, the right hand wheels on one plank and the left hand wheels on the other.
“Shouldn’t we get out and walk,” said Ruth. As she looked out of the car window and into the lapping waves. What will happen if the car slips off the edge, she thought.
“It’s fine,” said John, and revved up the car engine.
“Please slow down,” said Ruth, as calmly as she could.
“Aye,” said Aggie, “take yir time. The last thing we want is tae end up in the drink. Ye ken I cannae swim.”
“Neither can I,” said Ruth.
“Don’t worry, ladies,” said John, “I can swim like a fish. If the car goes into the sea, then I’ll save you.”
Ruth did not find that very reassuring. She had an urge to grab one of John’s protruding ears and give it a good tug. But in the circumstances, she thought it might be better to let it go for now. She did not want to distract John, who, to be fair, was giving the task of edging the Humber up the planks all his attention. Better to just let him get on with it for now, she thought. Hopefully we won’t fall in.
Ruth could not help but wonder who, or what, John would save first if the car did fall in. Probably the violin, she thought.
Eventually, the car jolted off the planks and onto the deck of the boat. A shiphand indicated to John to pull forward and then another two sailors appeared out of nowhere and started tying the car down with bits of frayed old rope.
Ruth, Aggie and the twins climbed out of the car on to the deck.
They then turned and watched as the dilapidated bus edged its way up the gangplank. The wooden bridge seemed to sag dreadfully in the middle as the bus edged upwards. The bus seemed to be struggling to get up the slope, so the members of the orchestra ran up the gangway and pushed. One of the sailors ran down and attached a chain to the front of the bus and then started to winch the bus up the planks. Ruth was certain it was going to end in disaster, but, eventually, the bus was dragged and pushed onto the deck and made secure.
The members of the orchestra sat around the deck catching their breath.
“Right, time to cast off, me lovers,” shouted the captain, and with remarkable agility and organisation, the sailors cast off, raised anchor and started the engine. The captain gave two blasts on the hooter, and the boat started moving out of the harbour into the rougher water.
“Could you show us to our cabin,” Ruth said to one of the ship hands.
“Cabin, me lover,” said the seahand, “Tain’t no cabins on this here boat, lessing you be meaning the privy.”
“Well where are we supposed to sit during the journey?”
“Follow them, to the salon,” said the hand, and pointed to the orchestra members who were going down below deck.
Ruth took one of the twins from Aggie, Charlotte she thought it was, and followed after them. Aggie came behind with Clementine.
The salon, consisted of a low room with benches along the side. Most of the seats were taken by the band members. The room was thick with cigarette smoke. Filthy habit, thought Ruth. Say what you would about John, at least he didn’t smoke.
As soon as everyone was settled down, and the boat cleared the harbour, it started to judder and a strange whining sound began to come from outside.
“What is going on,” said Ruth.
Suddenly the boat seemed to lift up above the waves.
“Watch the children, Agnes,” said Ruth, “I’m going to go on deck, and see what is going on. And where is John?”
“Nay bother, dear,” said Aggie.
Ruth started climbing up the stair to the deck, and the boat seemed to shoot forward at great speed as the whine rose to a howling sound.
Pushing open the door, Ruth staggered on to the deck, as the boat pitched and tossed in the waves.
“John,” she shouted. “Where are you?”
Ruth could see John standing at the bow of the ship, and struggled over towards him.
“What is this?” asked Ruth.
“A top secret project, called a hover boat, we’ll be over the channel in no time.”
Ruth gripped hold of the rail and looked out. Below her, she could see the boat was riding on a black rubber skirt that was filled with air, and that the boat was moving faster than any boat she had ever seen. John put his arm around her waist.
“Close your eyes,” said John.
Ruth stretched her arms out like wings.
“I’m flying, John,” she said.
Ruth turned her head towards John and he kissed her on the lips, just as the boat plummeted down into the waves, sending spray up and soaking the two of them. Seagulls were gliding overhead, and one of them pooped alarmingly close to them.
“Enough of this for now,” said Ruth. “We better get below before we get soaked, or before those seagulls crap all over us.”
“I suppose,” said John, and led Ruth back to the salon.
The boat swayed and dipped as they settled back into the bench beside Aggie and the children. Ruth could feel her stomach lurching. And one of the twins was looking at her oddly. I know that look, she said to herself, with alarm. But just as Charlotte opened her mouth to vomit, the boat lurched and Charlotte spun around in Aggies arms. Ruth was spared, and even better, John got a face full of green undigested milk.
“I am enjoying this cruise,” Ruth said.
Chapter 19 Calais to Paris
Last time Ruth and John were travelling by a top secret hover boat over the English Channel at the start of John’s tour with the Finchly Fiddlers. Which is cover for his top secret mission to assasinate the fascist leaders of Germany, Spain, Italy and if he could take out Stalin too that would nice...
When the hover boat approached Calais, the captain cut the engines and the great curtain of rubber and air disappeared leaving The SS Humperdink once again looking like a worn out steam packet. Smoke began belching from the funnel and it began to chug along into the harbour. The boat had arrived long before the SS Forte and drew up alongside the wharf. Ruth carried the twins back up to the deck to watch as the sailors tied up.
“It will be good to get back on to dry land,” she said to John.
First to depart was the orchestra, they loaded the bus and drove down a gangway that looked much less rickety than the one in Dover. Ruth, Aggie and the twins climbed into John’s old Humber and then they drove off.
“Allez,” declared John as he sped through the streets of Calais and out into the French countryside.
“Where are we headed,” asked Ruth.
“To gay Paris,” said John, “to the bright lights and L’Arc de Triomphe.”
“How exciting,” said Ruth, “I’ve always wanted to see the Follies Bergere.”
“I’m sure that can be arranged,” said John.
“How romantic France is,” said Ruth and looked behind. Aggie and the twins had fallen asleep and their harmonious gentle snoring mingled with the sporty rasp of the big six-cylindered engine of the Humber. Ruth leaned into John.
“Thank you for taking us on this tour.”
“Well,” said John and slipped an arm around Ruth, “it’s a working holiday really, but what would I do without my girls.”
Ruth could imagine exactly what John would be getting up to in Paris without his girls, but she let it go. She was here with John under the wide French sky with the smell of lavender coming from the fields, it was as romantic as it got.
“Shouldn’t you be watching the road,” she said when he stole a kiss.
“I should,” admitted John, “but it’s hard to keep my eyes off you.”
Ruth giggled. It wasn’t often John was as romantic as this, it must be the French air. Still, she had to admit, it was nice to have his attention.
“You just keep your hands on the steering wheel.”
“It’ll be alright if I drive slowly. We’re not in any rush. We have plenty of time.”
Bit by bit, the bus with the orchestra pulled ahead, and soon they were alone on the road.
“This is nice,” admitted Ruth.
“Mmmm,” said John. “It certainly is.”
How long they drove along together, it could have been hours. It was so peaceful. Even Spirit, John’s devil dog, was asleep, although his foul breath still came in from the back and was a bit distracting.
“We should stop somewhere for the night,” said John. “I know a place, a charming little inn with a four-poster bed.”
“I think so.”
“How long to go?”
“Not long. We can stop and feed the children, and then…” John let the suggestion hang in the air.
“Oh, John,” said Ruth primly, “trust you to think of that.” And smiled to herself, it was after all exactly what she had been thinking.
The loving couple were unfortunately disturbed from their amour, but the sound of a motorcar coming up behind them. Ruth shifted over and John put both hands on the steering wheel.
“I wonder who this is?” said Ruth, “I thought the roads were deserted.”
“We came by a detour.” said John, “we didn’t want to be followed, but it probably just some local farmer.”
But the car was soon in the rear view mirror. Its headlights shone brightly, dazzling Ruth a little.
“Can’t they just go past?”
John looked back at the car and swore.
“John,” said Ruth sternly, “not in front of the children.”
“I’m sorry,” said John, “but the children are asleep. I am afraid I’m going to have to step on it. We might have to cancel that night in the inn.”
“I don’t think that’s a local farmer. For one thing French farmers don’t drive a Mercedes Benz 500k. And for another they don’t tend to carry machine guns.”
Just as John spoke, the gentlemen in the Mercedes started to fire at the Humber.
“Good grief, step on it John. Who are these people?”
John didn’t answer, but put his foot down hard on the accelerator. The Humber Imperial Super Snipe Sporting Straight Six surged forward smoothly.
“You’ll wake the children,” said Ruth.
But the children were already awake. John threw the Humber through the twisting lanes of Picardy and sped onwards, but the Mercedes was just behind.
“Whit is going on,” asked Aggie as she woke, and started to hush the twins who were now crying in a strange high pitched whine.
“We’re being followed,” said John, “by German spies.”
“Och, John,” said Aggie, “You’ve no got us aw’ caught up in some carry on now have you?”
“I’m afraid so Mother,” said John.
A hail of bullets came from the other car.
“Dearie me whit wull we dae.”
“Don’t worry Mother, everything is under control.”
But it didn’t seem under control, not one bit. As the two cars sped on, it became clear that John could not shake off the Mercedes with its five-litre inline eight-cylinder engine. Neither could the Mercedes catch the Humber with its all-aluminium four-litre straight-six engine with twin overhead camshafts, and triple carburettors.
Regardless of which car was faster or more nimble, the twisting roads meant that neither the Mercedes could overtake, nor could the Humber escape. Periodically, the German spies would fire off rounds at John and the family.
“What will we do John?” asked Ruth.
“Why don’t you open that violin case,” said John. So Ruth opened the case and there was John’s beautiful violin.
“Ah, I meant the other violin case,” said John.
“That’s in the trunk. I don’t think we can reach it.”
“Oh, that’s awkward. How inconvenient.”
“Would pressing any of these buttons help?” asked Ruth and pointed at the row of shiny buttons on the dashboard. “What does this one do?”
John recalling his earlier adventure with ejector seat, reached over and took Ruth’s hand from the buttons just before she pressed one.
“That was rude.” But before Ruth had the chance to scold John further, a volley of bullets flew overhead.
“I think we should try those out another time,” said John, “they did tell me what they do, but I wasn’t paying much attention. We don’t want to press the ejector seat again.”
“I suppose not,” said Ruth, “perhaps we could throw Spirit out of the car. The reduction in weight might be enough for us to get away. And it would slow them down driving over him. Who knows, perhaps old Spirit would get a few nips in on their tyres.”
Spirit glared at Ruth, as if he understood exactly what she had said. Which, to be fair, he probably did.
“It’s a good idea,” said Aggie. And Spirit growled.
“I am not throwing my dear dog Spirit under a speeding Mercedes,” said John. “I won that dog playing cards fair and square, and I’ll never get another one like him.”
Ruth had to agree with that. There was no way there could be two dogs in this world as smelly, foul, objectionable and downright evil as Spirit.
“I suppose,” sighed Ruth. “I guess we just have to drive on until either one of us runs out of fuel or perhaps a stray bullet hits and kills one of us.”
“I dinnae see whit else we can do dearie,” said Aggie.
“It all seems so hopeless.”
“I’m too handsome to die this way,” said John, “and too talented. Who will take my place as first violin in the orchestra?”
“Aye,” said Aggie, “and I’m no die’n here. I need to go back tae Bonnie Scotland tae die.”
“Never mind that,” said Ruth, “what about me and the twins.”
“Aye, ‘t’will be a tragedy,” said Aggie.
“By the way how are the twins?”
Ruth looked round. The twins had stopped crying, both of them were staring at Ruth with their golden unblinking eyes. I recognise that look, thought Ruth.
“Quick Aggie,” said Ruth, “look at the twins.”
Aggie looked. “Oof, we’re no deid yet,” she declared, opened the window of the car, and stuck the twin’s heads out facing backwards.
No sooner had she done this then, there was a noise similar to a cow mooing, or a steamboat sounding a foghorn. Two streams of corrosive vomit flew backwards covering the road, the Mercedes windscreen, and totally ruining the Mercedes’ lovely two-tone paint job. Unable to see, or to control the car as it skidded in the pools of vomit and infuriated at the damage done by the acidic spew on the body work of the car, the German spies skidded off the road and into the ditch where further damage was done to the paint job, the polished chrome was bent and scratched, more than a few panels were damaged, the front tyres burst and worst of all the engine blew up.
“Oh dear,” said John, who hated to see such a lovely car ruined.
“Never mind,” said Ruth as John slowed the Humber back to a gentle cruising speed. “Now, have we gone past that inn?”
Chapter 20 THOSE WHO CAN CAN-CAN CAN, THOSE WHO CAN’T CAN-CAN CAN’T
Ruth and John have finally made it Paris. Ruth is imagining this will be so romantic. But John is as always more pragmatic. Of course there is no one he has to assassinate in Paris, so they couple take a night off to enjoy themselves. All they need to do is keep a low profile. Good luck on that with Ruth around!
Finally, thought Ruth, Paris. How romantic.
John lowered the canvas roof of the Humber Imperial Super Snipe, and Ruth rode through Paris with the warm wind in her hair. She looked over at John. If only something could be done about those sticking out ears, he would be very handsome. Perhaps he could tuck them into a beret?
From the back of the car came the sound of snoring. Aggie was asleep and made a noise a bit like a burst harmonium. The twins were asleep and their gentle snores mingled with the quiet hum of the straight-six engine. Spirit also lay on the back seat, his canine snores were more akin to the growl of a hibernating grizzly bear.
“I’ve always wanted to come to Paris,” said Ruth.
“Me too,” said John. “I am a big fan of croissants and baguettes.”
“Really,” said Ruth unimpressed, and looked out as they drove around the Arc D’ Triomphe.
“Let’s get the children settled in at the hotel,” said John, “and then you and I can have a night on the town.”
“That sounds wonderful,” said Ruth as John parked the car outside the pensione.
John tossed the car keys to the doorman, then he restrained the newly awakened Spirit from attacking anyone while the car was unloaded. In the meantime, Ruth and Aggie carried the children to their rooms.
“This is fancy,” said Aggie. “And look,” she continued and pointed to the bidet, “they even have a wee sink for washing your ar—“
“That’s nice,” interrupted Ruth. She had no interest in hearing about Aggie’s intimate personal hygiene.
The twins both went back to sleep almost as soon as they were placed into their cots.
“I’ll stay here wi the dug,” said Aggie, “You twa go oot and see the toon.”
Not much later, Ruth and John were walking arm in arm down the Champs Elysées.
“Isn’t this romantic,” said Ruth.
“I suppose,” said John, “anywhere I can get chips, I’m starving.”
“Not chips, John, French Fries. We are in Paris after all.”
The amorous couple stopped for a moment and John wolfed down a croque monsieur from a street vendor.
As they ambled along, they passed the Follies Bergere.
“Look,” said Ruth, “let’s go in there. I think you would like it.”
“Alright,” said John.
Soon they were sitting in the theatre waiting for the show to begin. Ruth was very excited. She had wanted to be a dancer ever since she was a child. Every day she had practised, even while she had been pregnant with twins. It would be wonderful to finally see it in real life. Although she could not help but wonder what John would make of the dancing girls? Sometimes he could be very straight-laced.
As they waited for the curtain to open, Madam Bon-Bon the theatre impresario, came out to the front of the stage.
“Madams et Monsieurs Je regrettet, our star Anne Eyevaule is non able to danceze this evening. There for Le show will be cancelle-imont.”
Groans rang around the auditorium. Anne Eyevaule was one of the most popular dancers in Paris.
“What a shame,” said John, “but if we hurry back to the pensione we can listen to BBC radio four comedy in the lodgings.”
Ruth could think of nothing worse than listening to BBC Radio Four Comedy in the lodgings. She sunk down for a moment and then, determined to never have to listen to the Goon show ever again, sprang to her feet.
“Non!” she declared, “Le show must go on!”
“Impossible-pas,” replied Madam “We have no one that can Can-Can.”
“I’ll do it,” said Ruth. “I can’t promise to give you quite Anne Eyevaule but I will do my best.” With that, Ruth did a double backflip, cartwheel and high kick down the aisle. Then she leapt on to the stage and landed gracefully on her toes and gave a curtsey. The crowd roared in approval.
“C’est ne’ possible pas,” Madam Bon-Bon exclaimed. “C’est magnificeque!”
“Go one, what have you got to lose.”
“Very well,” said Madam Bon-Bon, “but you will have to change into this.”
Ruth inspected the Can-Can costume.
“Haven’t you got something more substantial?” she asked.
Madam Bon-Bon sneered. “This is not Amsterdam. We are not clog dancers.”
“Very well,” said Ruth, and slipped backstage to slip into what was little more than a slip.
The crowd whistled and cheered and then Ruth made her way on to the stage. Madam Bon-Bon grabbed Ruth by the face and turned it one way and then the other. There could be no doubt that Ruth looked stunning.
“But can you dance le Can-Can?”
“I can Can-Can.”
“We shall see.”
The orchestra started up. Ruth started to follow a long procession of girls even more scantily clad then she was. It seemed that Madam Bon-Bon was determined that the audience would get an eyeful after all.
Ruth began by shaking her tail feathers and then did a fan dance, then she did the jitterbug. The crowd applauded and shouted their approval. Who needs Anne Eyevaule, thought Ruth and then the orchestra changed its tune. The Can-Can began.
I do hope this does not expose my pantaloons, thought Ruth. She gathered her skirts together and began to swish them to and fro. She did a series of high kicks, a cartwheel and a few more high kicks. Then she joined the chorus girls to do a couple of rounds of rond de jamb, port d’armes. Finally, she performed la Goulou and finished off with the splits.
The crowd erupted with applause. “Bravo, bravo,” they shouted. And Ruth bowed graciously while enthusiastic French men threw flowers onto the stage. They may not have gotten Anne Eyevaule but they certainly saw something worth seeing.
“C’est Bon,” remarked Madam Bon-Bon, “C’est tres Bon. Le star est born.”
Madam Bon-Bon gestured to Ruth to take another few bows and then to follow her back to the changing room.
“Tres bien,” said Madam Bon-Bon. “Vous must sign la contract.”
“Oh, no,” said Ruth, “I could not do that. I’m just a humble but truly excellent dancer fulfilling their lifelong dream. Besides I am sure Anne Eyevaule will be well again soon.”
In the dressing room, Ruth was introduced to two well-dressed gentlemen.
“Allow me to introducez le Baron Von Klinkenkloppen from Germany. And this is General Blinkintwat from La Angla-Terre.”
The Baron clicked his heels together like Dorothy in the Wizard of Oz wishing to go home. Then he took Ruth’s hand and kissed it. Bit forward, thought Ruth.
“Enchantez,” said the Baron. Ruth swung a leg round and kicked the Baron’s top hat from his head.
“The first one’s a warning,” said Ruth. “I’m a decent married woman. Try and get saucy again and the next one will be planted right on your conk.” It must be said that the Baron had quite a large conk so it would be fairly easy for Ruth to plant one on it.
The General started to snigger, and then pressed a glass of Champaign into Ruth’s hand. “You tell him, my dear.”
“I’m not your dear,” said Ruth, “and I don’t want some old pervert trying to get me tipsy.”
Just then John arrived at the dressing room. He rushed to Ruth and took her in his arms.
“If you’re quite finished, we need to get back to check on the twins,” he said. And began ushering her out the door.
“Hold on,” said Ruth, “I can’t go out like this, I’ll catch the death of a cold.”
“I’ve got your coat,” said John and again began to lead Ruth out the dressing room.
“I’m not sure I want to go home just yet,” said Ruth. “These two gentlemen were going to offer me a drink.”
John, who knew full well how Ruth could get after a couple, shuddered. Then turning to face the two gentlemen shuddered again.
“Baron Von Klinkenkloppen, General Blinkentwat,” he said and tipped his Beret.
“John Stewart,” remarked the General, “fancy meeting you here. And don’t tell me this charming young lady is your wife.”
“Indeed she is,” said John.
“Do you boys know each other?” asked Ruth.
“Somewhat,” said John.
“My darling Mrs Stewart,” said Baron Kikkenklop. “You must come and dance for ze Fuehrer.”
“Indeed, I think that would be an excellent idea,” said General Blinkintwat. The general was winking very noticeably at John. Then whispered loudly, “That would work well with our secret plan, John.”
The Baron pretended not to have heard but smiled again. “Yes please do, and bring your delightful husband with you when you come.”
“I thought Hitler only listened to German music,” said John.
“Indeed,” agreed the Baron. “Perhaps your wife knows some German oompha dances she could perform.”
“Well,” said Ruth, “I do know the Shushenplatter.”
“That would be perfect,” said the Baron.
“Well, goodnight,” said John. Before any more could be said, he wrapped Ruth in her coat and bodily carried her out of the Theatre.
“So,” said Ruth, after John let her down and they were walking back to their lodgings, “What did you think?”
“It was alright,” said John, “if you like that kind of thing, but it was a pity I never got to see Anne Eyevaule.”
“Don’t you worry,” said Ruth, “I’ll give you an eyeful when we get back to the hotel.” And she brandished her fist at him angrily. Really, she thought, a man should be a bit more appreciative.
Chapter 21 I should Coco Channel
After her Triumph at the Moulin Rouge, Ruth is in for a bit of a let down. John is too busy fiddling with his viola to pay her much attention, and she does not want the twins attention. So that means being left alone with her arch-enemy, John’s smelly old hound Spirit. However, Spirit reveals an unexpected side to his nature.
Ruth was not quite certain how, but she had ended up looking after Spirit. John had to go to the Conservatoire for rehearsals with the orchestra. Aggie was taking the twins for a stroll on the banks of the Seine, and that meant that Ruth was left with the hell-hound.
“Couldn’t you take Spirit with you,” Ruth had pleaded, but Aggie had declined. “I’ll hae ma hauns fou en’ouw wi’ they twa bairns.” Which Ruth believed meant no.
“I’ll swop if ye want.” Aggie continued.
Ruth considered momentarily. A day alone with the hell-hound Spirit or a day spent with her own two starey-eyed twins, half-bred demons, the offspring of an unfortunate run in with a band of Satanists, and probably unholy denizens of the anti-Christ.
“I’ll stay with the dog,” she said at last. That seemed the less of two evils, or should that be three evils, did each of the twins count as a separate evil. It was hard to keep track.
“If you like,” said Aggie and headed out with the twins leaving Ruth and the dog eyeballing each other. I wonder if he will try to rip my throat out, thought Ruth, or just tear me limb from limb.
“I’ll tell you what,” said Ruth, “How about a truce, just for today?” Spirit barked loudly. “I’ll take that as I yes,” said Ruth. “Walkies?”
That was how she ended up strolling along with Spirit on a lead down rue Cambon. How lovely Paris is in the spring, Ruth thought. When suddenly, without warning, Spirit lunged forward sending Ruth spinning across the sidewalk. Ruth found herself falling into the arms of a small but elegant woman. Ruth who was herself quite petite was amazed at how tiny the woman was, she could have passed as a child.
“I am sorry,” said Ruth and help the tiny woman to her feet.
“Sacre blu,” said the tiny woman, “oh la la. Bonjour.”
“Oh yes, bonjour.”
“Ah Vous est from L’Angleterre. Mais oui, vollez vouz bon, tres bon.”
“Sorry,” said Ruth, “English.”
“Oui, Oui, English, Vous must comez to my appartemont for le stiff drink.”
“Alright,” said Ruth, “I’ll just tie up the dog,”
“Non, bring la chien. J’adore les chiens.”
Ruth wasn’t quite certain what a chien was but followed after the tiny woman as she pushed open a door to a large boutique.
“Et Voila, le house de Chanel. Je suise Coco.”
“Very nice, Coco. What a nice place you have here,” said Ruth, looking around for the brandy.
“Ah, Vous must have a wee look round. Let me show you zeez.”
With those words Coco pulled a cover from a mannequin exposing a dress. It’s quite nice, thought Ruth, although it’s a bit frilly at the hem.
“Vous must try it on.”
“Alright,” agreed Ruth and took the dress into a changing room. It’s a bit tight, she thought as she tried it on. It is nice, but I am still not sure about the frills.
“Well, what do you think,” she asked, and gave a twirl as she stepped out of the changing room. But before Madam Coco could say a word, Spirit sprang at Ruth, grabbed the hem of Ruth’s dress and let rip.
“No, Spirit,” said Ruth, although in truth, she wasn’t that sure about the frill either. She did hope that Madam Coco would not be cross.
“Oh La La,” said Madam Coco. “C’est bon, c’est tres bon. C’est le big improvement. Good boy Spirit.”
Ruth looked at herself in the mirror and had to agree. When it came to fashion, the hell-hound knew his chops. It was a revelation. So much improved.
“I do like it,” said Ruth.
“Then vous must keep it,” said Coco. “Come, I promised you le booze. Let us to le back room for le drinkie-poos.”
Ruth was quite partial to a small sherry and allowed herself one every New Year’s Eve. “Just a small one,” she said. “Oh and you better give one to the dog,” she continued as Spirit glared at her.
“Mais oui,” said Madam Coco, and poured some wine into a dog bowl which Spirit lapped up.
“So,” said Ruth, after she knocked back her small shandy,” this is the house of Chanel?”
“Indeed, I am Coco and this is my maison. It is here that I create all of my magnifique creations.”
“And what are you creating at the moment?”
“Ah, le bon question. Je create le perfume. Chanel Number One et Chanel Number Two. Here take le sniff.”
“This is number one,” asked Ruth and she had to admit it did smell like a Number One. “I have to admit, I am not sure about this. It smells a bit… fecund.”
“Hmm,” said Coco wafting the bottle under her nose. “It’s still le work in progress. Let’s see what else I have for you?”
She took several retorts out and placed them on the floor looking for one to share with Ruth.
Spirit had now finished his wine and was whining to be let out.
“Not now Spirit,” said Ruth. “Madam Coco is showing us her perfume collection.”
“Oui, oui,” said Madam Coco and as if on command, Spirit did.
“No,” shouted Ruth, but it was too late. A stream of clear liquid mingled with one of the bottles of perfume, the fifth bottle.”
“Sacre blu,” declared Madame Chanel, and threw her tiny little hands up in horror.
Ruth grabbed the bottle, and handed it back to Coco. “I am sorry.”
Madam put the fifth bottle on the table, and put her head in her hands.
“Don’t cry,” said Ruth, “To be honest all the perfumes were pretty horrid anyway.” And put a comforting arm around Madam Coco’s tiny shoulders.
“It is le ruined,” sobbed Coco.
“Perhaps it’s not so bad,” said Ruth, “why not take a sniff and see what you can do to fix it. Perhaps some roses and jasmine or something might make it smell better.”
Ruth held out the bottle of Spirit’s waters, and tentatively Coco inhaled the vapours.
“Well?” asked Ruth.
Madame Coco’s tiny face looked quizzical and then puzzled and then uncertain and then confused and then… then she looked delighted.
“Oh la la,” she declared. “You have found le secret ingredient. C’est magnifique. Bottle number five. Chanel number five.” And she scribbled down number five on the label.
“Madam Ruth,” called Coco, “have le spritz.”
“Em no thanks,” said Ruth who did not want to smell like a lamppost after Spirit had left his calling card.
“It is le scent of a woman,” remarked Coco.
“Yes,” agreed Ruth although she thought to herself, it smells more like the smell of dog’s wee-wee. “Anyway,” she continued. “I have to get back. My twin girls will be waiting for me.”
“Au revoir,” said Coco without looking up.
Ruth dragged Spirit back into the street and headed home. Unfortunately, she was right, the twins were waiting for her and they stared at her intently with their strange golden eyes.as she entered the pension
I do hope they don’t throw up on my dress, she thought.