Author Talk Dunoon Book Festival Friday, 2 October.
Author Talk/Presentation Leith Library, Edinburgh Wednesday, 7 October.
It is March 1940 and Britain is at war with Germany. William Carsell-Brown has received his call-up papers and will enlist as an officer with a local regiment heading for France. He is an accountant who lives with his pretty young wife of two years in a rural Scottish village, situated on picturesque Loch Fyne. However, he is not a man to engage in conflict and with his father-in-law a World War 1 hero, William feels that he will not fulfil his family’s expectations. Depressed, he heads for a public house in the village to drown his sorrows. Two hours later, a stranger appears in the small quaint outlet and spots dejected William slumped in a corner. The stranger approaches and attempts to befriend him. After a chat, an inconsolable and intoxicated William stands and then staggers out of the public house. The stranger follows him to a sports car parked in a nearby lane. As William is about to get into his car, the stranger insists on being the driver. Eventually, William listens to reason and hands over the car keys.
The following day, William’s wife Olivia waits anxiously for him to arrive home. Whilst preparing dinner, Olivia ponders over what happened yesterday evening and her subsequent chat with a man called James Carlisle. By driving William home, he prevented a serious accident. Olivia hears the front door open and then close.
“Is that you, William?” Olivia stirs a pot of stew on the stove.
William hangs his charcoal double-breasted jacket on the hall coatstand, then enters the kitchen.
Olivia stops stirring and looks at her husband. “How do you feel?”
He gives her a kiss. “Still a tad fragile.” William sniffs the air. “But have an appetite.”
“I did what you asked and met with James Carlisle to thank him.”
“Splendid.” William gives a faint smile. “And I will curtail my drinking.”
“Promise.” William walks to the white ceramic sink, fills a tumbler with water, then takes a swig. “That’s better!”
Olivia resumes stirring the pot. “William?”
“Yes?” He places the tumbler on the sink.
“Do you recall your parents telling us about Aunt Lydia’s accident?”
“It happened not long after our wedding.” William loosens his necktie. “She was staying in Glasgow and had a fall in her hotel room. Why?”
“Did they mention James Carlisle being in the vicinity?”
“Yes, they did.” William picks up a newspaper from the wooden kitchen table, then sits down on a nearby chair.
“Why was he in Glasgow?”
“Not sure.” William unfolds the newspaper. “Whilst there, he visited Lydia, found her lying injured and then alerted the hotel staff.”
Olivia sprinkles salt into the pot. “Before moving to America, which lady member of the family lived at your parent’s property?” Olivia glances at William. “She sailed on the Titanic.”
“Elizabeth?” William opens the broadsheet newspaper. “Yes, Elizabeth.”
“Was she involved in an accident?”
“I’m not sure.” William reads the front-page.
“Did the housekeeper not tell Geoffrey and yourself about the coachman who prevented her from being trampled on by a runaway horse?”
William pauses. “Yes, I remember now.” He turns the page. “I believe the coachman pushed her out of its path, but was injured in the process.”
“What happened to him?”
“He ended up in the hospital at Lochgilphead.” William turns another page.
“After that, what became of him?”
“He left.” William coughs. “However, Nancy believed that he would return one day.”
“Can you recall his name?”
“John, I think.”
“James?” Olivia glances at William.
“It may have been.” William sneezes.
“He also worked for a short time as a coachman for the first residents of the property, Charles and Mary.”
“Before the new century.” William looks at Olivia. “Why all the questions?”
Olivia stops stirring. “I would speculate an accident was also averted there.”
“What are you eluding to?”
“Did Nancy discuss the first family?” Olivia adjusts her white patterned apron.
“Only on one occasion, a problem which related to the coach.”
“Something to do with one of the wheels.” William turns another page. “The coachman took it to a firm for repair.”
“Why would Nancy tell you?”
“I overheard her conversation with my mother.” William lays down the newspaper and looks at Olivia. “When Mary Carsell-Brown received the bill for mending the coach, she was not pleased.”
“Nancy thought how ungrateful. If the coach had not been repaired then someone could have received a nasty injury.”
“Mother concluded that Mary blamed the coachman and that was why he left.”
Olivia pauses. “William, I feel this could be the same person who brought you home last night.” She stares at William. “He is at the scene of a potential accident concerning our family, intervenes and prevents serious injury. Also, he has the same name.”
“Lydia only had a slight fall.”
“And taken to hospital where she remained for three weeks! If James Carlisle had not discovered her, the consequences could have been drastic.”
“It can’t be the same person.” William puts the newspaper aside. “The coachman would now be about eighty years old, whereas James Carlisle is in his late thirties.”
“What if the coachman is someone who can travel through time and does not age?”
“Similar to the tale Geoffrey and I made up when we were children.” William grins.
Olivia raises her thin dark eyebrows. “Oh?”
“We found a book in the old coach house titled The Time Machine and then
told all our friends that the former coachman was a time traveller.”
“But have there not been sightings of him throughout the ages?”
“Olivia, they are just rumours. Besides, James Carlisle was not wearing a coachman’s outfit last night!”
“When I discussed my grandmother and father with him, he appeared to know them.” Olivia stares. “Why the curious expression?”
“I have remembered something from last night.” William pauses. “James spoke of your father being posthumously awarded the Victoria Cross in 1916, but I didn’t reveal that to him.”
“Are you sure?”
“I had a skinful, but would have recalled telling him.”
“How could he have known?”
William shrugs his shoulders. “Perhaps someone in the village told him.”
“You have that expression again.”
“Before Nancy retired in 1926, she made Geoffrey and I promise not to enter the upstairs coachman’s quarters in the coach house.”
“She told us part of the floor was unsafe, therefore, we
could only play downstairs.”
“And did you?”
William shakes his head. “The access door to upstairs was locked, however, we managed to find a key.”
Olivia sits down opposite William.
“We crept up the creaky staircase and then looked around.”
“The solitary interest being a closet.” William twirls his brown moustache. “The door wouldn’t budge, but Geoffrey used his strength to open it.”
“Was anything in the closet?”
“A package, cash box and a letter.”
“Whose name was on it?”
William pauses. “James.”
Olivia leans forward. “What did you do next?”
“We went back downstairs and when father found out where we had been, he gave us a ticking off.”
“Could the letter still be there?”
“Fourteen years have passed and although the coach house has not been in use, father would have gone upstairs within that time and removed the items.”
“There is no reason for him to enter the closet.”
“If the letter is not there, are you suggesting James has taken it?”
“The letter did state his name, perhaps Nancy left it for him?”
“You are only speculating, Olivia.”
Olivia remains silent.
“Besides, the door which leads upstairs is kept locked, therefore, how would he gain access?”
“Maybe he appears and disappears from the coachman’s quarters. It could be a gateway through time. The sightings of him throughout the decades have been near the coach house.”
“Since there is no time machine, how could he travel?” William grins. “Olivia, your theory is far-fetched.”
“When your parents return from Edinburgh, we will visit them and take a look around the coach house.” Olivia sits back on the chair. “There is another way to find out if James Carlisle and the coachman are the same person.”
“An eye-witness. My grandmother met the coachman, however, she is unwell at present.”
“1896. According to her, he arrived in a shiny black coach with two white horses and had come to collect a parcel for his employer.”
“No Royal Mail in those days. A coachman’s duties would include being a courier.”
“My grandmother found him charming.”
William gives a faint smile.
“I also recall her telling me that he wore a black hat, red coat, black trousers and dark leather boots up to his knees. Very smart, she added.”
“What about her friends?”
“They have either passed away, or being cared for.”
“The problem is finding someone in the village who met the coachman.”
“What about employee records? Past owners must have kept details of those who worked at the property.”
“They would be classed as casual labour and paid cash out of the owner’s pocket.”
“Are you sure?”
William nods his head.
“Wait a minute! What about Angus, the original gardener?”
“Mother spoke to him at Nancy’s funeral two years ago and mentioned he was frail.”
“He will be at least seventy.”
“I heard from a colleague that his son now runs the family business.”
“I shall locate the premises and pay his son a visit tomorrow.” Olivia smiles. “Perhaps Angus will be there but if not, I’ll find out where he stays.” Olivia stands. “As James Carlisle is at present in the village, Angus can confirm my suspicion.”
“Do not get your hopes up, Olivia.”
Olivia departs the kitchen.
William pulls out a silver coin from his trouser pocket, which he had discovered this morning under the driver’s seat. Examining the seven-sided coin, it does not have a King’s image, but that of a Queen. The date on the coin is 2021.