by Michael E. Lloyd
Table of Contents|
Book I: Windmills Everywhere
Chapter 3: Dreaming the Blues
part 2 of 3
‘Are you feeling better now, dear?’
‘You fainted. Lucky my husband was standing beside you! You fell right onto him and he caught you.’
‘Where am I?’
‘The King’s Arms. At the outdoor tables at the front, see? We were only a few yards away, admiring Wadham College. Ah, here’s my husband. He’s brought you a glass of water from the bar.’
‘D’you think you’re all right now?’
‘Yes. It must be the heat, again ... No, wait, it’s not. It’s the college! Have you seen what they’ve done to the façade?’
‘Oh dear, John, that’s what she was shouting about before. What do you think we should do?’
‘I think we should mind our own business and leave her be.’
‘But she doesn’t look at all well. Are you sure?’
‘Yes, I am. Come on!’
‘Oh, all right. Now you sit tight here till you’re feeling much better, dear.’
Huh! That’s it. Run away. See if I care. Oh, Shaun, please answer the phone this time .......
‘Oh, thank god! It’s Donna.’
‘I know. I have your number stored.’
‘Of course. Look, I’ve been trying to get you all afternoon, Shaun. I’m in Oxford. And I’ve seen lots of changes! We have to talk about them.’
‘OK, go ahead.’
He still doesn’t sound very concerned. I thought he was as worried as I am ...
‘Well, first off, Hertford Bridge has been swapped with the Bridge of Sighs in Venice ... but only at the front!’
‘What’s that tapping, Shaun?’
‘Oh, have you found a job?’
‘No ... I’m ... in an Internet café.’
‘Oh. So what can we possibly do about the Bridge?’
‘I’m surprised they didn’t swap it with the Rialto, actually. It looks a lot more like that ...’
Huh? This is no time to worry about their sense of aesthetics! But he is right about the bridges, of course. He must really know his Venice!
‘Yes, it does. Too big, of course! But look, we need to make a plan, Shaun.’
‘What else have they done?’
‘Well, this is even worse. They’ve exchanged the entrance towers of Exeter and Wadham — lock, stock and barrel!’
‘Hold on ...’
‘What’s the matter?’
‘Nothing ... someone’s trying to ask me something ... won’t be a minute ...’
‘Shaun ... are you there ...?’
What’s he doing?
‘Sorry, Donna, all sorted now. So, those must be the changes I heard about on the radio. You mean they’ve even swapped the oriel windows?’
He does know his stuff!
‘And the little castellations above the bays? And the big castellations at the tops of the towers?’
‘This is serious, Donna.’
I know that already, you idiot!
‘Oh, I’m so glad you agree, Shaun. So what shall we do?’
‘We need to think. Where are you now?’
‘I’m sitting at the corner of Parks Road and Holywell Street.’
‘Right ... and I guess you still have some more buildings to check out ...’
Why can’t he stop tapping away at that damned PC and start giving me his full attention? I need inspiration again.
‘... and you’re planning to be there for the rest of the day ...’
‘... and ... OK, I think I have a theory of how these people are working. Do you want to hear it?’
‘It seems to me they might be moving quickly on from one great city to another, to keep one step ahead of us.’
‘Well, maybe ...’
‘And if that’s so, where’s a logical place for them to go next?’
‘Well, another university city, maybe?’
‘Exactly. It wouldn’t surprise me if you soon came across something that’s been swapped with Cambridge ...’
Don’t think that really addresses the problem of the moment. He ought to be coming up with an action plan. But it’s a fascinating idea.
‘Fair enough, Shaun. But ... oh, no, no, no!!’
‘What is it now, Donna?’
‘It’s the Clarendon Building, Shaun! The rear was fine this morning ... and the front was perfect when I went past only fifteen minutes ago. But I just looked up and it’s suddenly changed! All the statues have disappeared from the roof, and the columns have gone from Doric to Ionic!’
What a strange way to show his surprise ... wait ... oh my god, he’s right again!
‘Yes, that’s it, Shaun! Of course it is! Emmanuel College, Cambridge! They’ve left the Clarendon’s steps behind, but everything else matches. You’re just brilliant! But this is terrible! What do you think we should do now?’
‘I think we should check out Cambridge straight away.’
Did he really say we? Strike, Donna, strike!
‘Yes, of course we must. Build a proper body of evidence before presenting our case ...’
‘Exactly. Shall we do it tomorrow?’
‘Yes! What time can you be there?’
‘Well, I don’t know. I’ll have to hitch-hike. Maybe if I start out at four in the morning ...’
‘Oh, don’t be silly. I’ll pay your train fare, and everything else ... but can you borrow the cash from your mate tonight, and promise to pay him back when you next see him?’
‘Yeah. He’s used to that!’
‘Great. So what time, then?’
Could try harder. But don’t push your luck, Donna.
‘Perfect. Let’s start at Emmanuel. Do you know where it is?’
‘OK. Meet you outside. And ... I guess you didn’t find a job, Shaun.’
‘I’m sorry. And I’m very grateful that you’re willing to take some precious time out with me ...’
‘No problem, Donna. Anything for another little kiss!’
‘Silly boy! But I know you know it’s much more than that ...’
‘Our mission, I mean.’
‘Right. So, good luck with the rest of the day in Oxford. And call me back if you spot any more outlandish giants.’
‘Hah! Will do. Thanks, Shaunie. See you tomorrow!’
* * *
Four o’clock now. Weather’s still good, and there’s plenty of time left. Feeling rather tired, though ... this thing is really draining.
Back up The Broad, then. I won’t look at the Clarendon as I go past. Can’t cope with that again ...
Trinity seems OK — set well back, probably a bit more secure. No special literary vibes coming at me here ... just the Newman effect. Balliol College next ... Yes, another beautiful window above the gate, but none of those mock turrets this time. All looks well. And now I’m drowning in words ... Huxley and Belloc, Swinburne and Southey, Hopkins and Dawkins and Greene, tra-la. They must issue very fine fountain pens in Balliol. And there is something extra special in the air here, isn’t there, Donna? Matthew Arnold’s dream inspires ...
I’ll go up St Giles now, towards St John’s College. Always had a soft spot for its grounds. Ah, there’s the Randolph Hotel, of course ... lap of luxury in the heart of the city. I always feel tempted! Anyway, the Ashmolean’s looking as splendid as always. And to think of all the European literature sitting quietly on the Taylor Institution’s shelves!
And here’s St John’s. Very rich and very smart, but the same unassuming face as usual, thank goodness. With Graves and Houseman still in residence, I feel.
Wow, I’m really tired now. Stop and ponder, drooping Donna.
Shall I just get a nice cup of tea somewhere, and then do one more big session? Or shall I call it a day and start again in Cambridge tomorrow?
I know — I’ll splash out on a full cream tea at the Randolph, and think about it properly ...
* * *
Don’t feel like moving again after all those scones and clotted cream! Naughty girl, Donna!
It’s going to take a bit of an effort to drag myself over to the railway station, and all the way back home, and then make some dinner, and then travel up to Cambridge tomorrow. All those changes of train! And then that final long walk into town. Really ought to rest my legs ready for the next big inspection ...
So — it might be a much better idea to stroll round to Gloucester Green and jump on the next Express coach. It’ll only take three hours or so, and I can sleep all the way, and it’ll drop me right in the city centre.
Course, then I’ll have to fix up a hotel room in Cambridge. Bit of a hassle, that, especially since it’ll be about nine o’clock by then. Or I could try and sort it out by phone, now. Nah, can’t be bothered. But I do fancy the easy option of the bus trip.
Go on, Donna. Treat yourself. You’ve always wanted to. All that money from selling Mother’s house. You’ve hardly spent a penny of it. Have a word with this waitress ...
‘Excuse me? Do you happen to know if the hotel has any rooms available, with toothbrush?’
‘You’ll have to ask at Reception, madam. But I’m fairly certain we’re not full tonight.’
What a lovely room. And so it should be! Need to test the bed first ...
* * *
What time is it? Wow, half-past seven! I’ve slept for over two hours. Still, I must have needed it. Feeling good now. And hungry again! Hmmm — I really fancy Jamie’s new restaurant. Only five minutes’ walk .......
The menu looks brilliant. And it says there’s no need to book — just wait for a place. OK, I’ll wait ...
* * *
‘That was all perfect, thank you. Goodnight!’
Right, a nice gentle stroll back to the hotel and straight to bed, I think — got to be up very early tomorrow. I’ll go via Beaumont Street this time, and have another peep at the lovely Ashmolean in the dusk ...
‘Oh, not another one. No! No!’
* * *
‘Wake up, girl, we’re closing now.’
‘You nodded off after your third double. Decided to leave you in peace for a while. So ... got anywhere to stay tonight?’
‘Yesh, as it happens. The Randolph, acshally.’
‘Hah! Thought I’d seen it all! Never mind. Worth a try.’
‘Which way is it, pleashe?’
‘Straight back down St Giles. Two minutes. Run along now, little-rich-girl ...’
‘OK. Thanksh. See you ...’
* * *
What the hell is that?? ... Oh, it’s only the frigging phone!
‘This is the Concierge, Madam. Your six o’clock call.’
‘What?? Oh yes, of course. I’m sorry! Thank you.’
Wow, my head hurts again. So, what time is that bus leaving ...?
* * *
Wed 6 May, 7.25 a.m!
On the bus with ten minutes to spare. Just writing a few words before we get going.
Too many shocks again yesterday. First Hertford Bridge, and then Exeter and Wadham. I was a very unhappy bunny before I got through to Shaun. Thought it was all OK for a few moments, and then they hit the Clarendon!
Felt a lot better after arranging to meet him today. But after dinner I found the portico of the Ashmolean had been replaced by the Clarendon’s. That’s really sad! I was wondering over breakfast (what a breakfast!) whether I’d simply imagined it, or if I’d maybe been drinking too much. But I definitely only had one vodka all day, and then just a single glass of wine with my meal — I’ve checked the receipt.
So everything I spotted yesterday must have been real. I know I got plastered after seeing what had happened to the Ashmolean ... but that’s irrelevant. I was scared, and I must have just run again. Never even crossed my mind to call Shaun, even though he’d suggested it. And the most important thing is ... it was still the Clarendon when I came out of the hotel this morning! I tried to get the doorman to agree. It was staring him in the face, but he just didn’t want to know.
So, if Emmanuel College’s façade has been moved to the Clarendon ... and the Clarendon has replaced the Ashmolean ... then the Ashmolean has probably ended up in Cambridge! A three-way exchange! How dare they! But we’ll get them in the end, won’t we, Shaunie!
Ah, here we go. More later .......
Just woke up. Wonder where we are? Oh, Milton Keynes! Never been here before. Didn’t think anyone even knew where it was! No sign of those concrete cows, though. Still, they wouldn’t be in a shopping centre, would they? Must be somewhere out of town. Maybe in a field.
Wonder if I can risk dropping off again? Yes, of course I can — Cambridge is the final stop.
* * *
Wonders will never cease! We’re here five minutes ahead of schedule. If I get a move-on, I can be at Emmanuel soon after eleven. But I must find a cash machine on the way.
Don’t really see why I should rush, though. He kept me waiting a lot longer on Sunday ...
‘Ah, there you are!’
How about a little hug, then? No? Oh well.
‘Sorry, Shaun. Few minutes late. Had to walk over from Parkside ...’
‘Never mind. Anyway, I’ve been here a while and I’ve checked it out carefully. Everything’s OK, as far as I can see.’
‘Let me take a good look for myself ...’
Phew! Nothing out of place. And nice echoes of Walpole.
‘You’re right, Shaun. You must have been consulting all the best books!’
‘No, I just know the place very well.’
‘Cambridge. Went to school here for several years in my teens.’
‘Hah! You never told me!’
‘You never asked.’
True. Not very helpful, but true.
‘Hey, that’s great. And it’s three years since my last visit. You probably know the city even better than I do!’
‘I expect so. Shall I lead on, then?’
‘Well, I had made a rough plan, but ... yes, why not? It’ll be nice to have someone else doing the thinking for a change!’
‘Right, let’s go down towards the Anchor. We can check out Pembroke College on the way.’
Funny route to take. Oh well ...
‘Shaun, I’ve just had a brilliant idea! Don’t know why I didn’t think of it before. We should be photographing all the changes we’re seeing. Then we’d have some real evidence!’
‘Nice theory, Donna. But that was the first thing I did, days before I met you. I borrowed my mate’s digital camera and tried, but it doesn’t work. Whatever it is they’re doing to the façades, they’re not simply stopping most people from seeing them. Even though I could see the changes clearly if I looked through the viewfinder, the image on the display was always still the correct one.’
‘Nope. Same with the movie function. I even scraped together enough cash to get a film for my own old camera and take a few shots and get it developed. The prints showed nothing out of the ordinary. Whoever’s doing this, they’re very clever ...’
Wow. He’s always one step ahead of me!
‘Oh. Well, when the time comes, we’re just going to have to be very firm and very convincing, aren’t we?’
What the hell did I mean by that? Don’t ask me, Donna.
‘Probably. Anyway, here’s the Pembroke lodge. Looks quite normal to me ...’
‘Yes, it is, thank goodness. And there’s definitely something elegiac in the air. Can you feel it? And a great Faerie presence, and some very Sharpe remarks ...’
‘Whatever you say. Now, Little St Mary’s Church over the road looks fine as well.’
‘So, let’s go straight down the Lane towards the river.’
‘But there aren’t any colleges that way, Shaun. Just the back of little old Peterhouse.’
At least I might catch an even earlier hint of that Elegy.
‘I know. I’m hungry, and I have another nice idea ...’
‘But we’ve only just begun!’
Copyright © 2010 by Michael E. Lloyd