12 Hogmanay Special
It was just after Christmas. A grey sky hung over Glenbogle House nearly blending in with the colour of the old stone castle. The only bit of cheer on the landscape was the white fairy lights strung around the front door to mark the season. Paul came out, dressed in a winter jacket and woolly hat. Mist formed when he exhaled. He noticed a patch of ice on the ground and slid his boot over it a few times, pleased with the feel. Paul found winter bracing.
He got into the old beat up Land Rover. It should have been put out of its misery long ago, but nobody was willing to part with it since it would mean having to replace it. He turned the ignition key but got barely any juice from the engine. He waited a moment and tried again. This time, he got even less. A few more tries and nothing.
Disgusted, Paul got out of the car and trotted towards the house. Just before reaching the doorway he slipped on the patch of ice. His right foot skidded forward as he tried to maintain balance on his left. He ended up sitting on his left foot, and leaning back on his hands.
Paul scrunched his eyes shut and let out a low guttural groan. He sat there for a moment and grimaced as he swung his leg out from under him.
"Watcha doing on the ground. Did ye have a tumble?" It was Duncan, who like any sensible person was dressed for the weather, in a warm jacket, scarf, and long johns under his kilt. "Let me help you up." Duncan grabbed Paul's arm and began to pull.
"No," Paul hollered.
Startled, Duncan let go and held his hands in front of him defensively. "Sorry," he said.
"Ts'all right. I think I did something to my ankle. Don't touch me until I tell you."
Paul pushed himself into an upright position and bent his good leg in preparation for putting weight on it. "Okay, carefully, hold me under the arms and lift me to standing."
Duncan did so. It was hard work for both of them.
"Okay, come around my left. Don't let go. Put your arm around my back. Okay. I'm putting my arm around your shoulders." Paul had his right foot on the ground. The left foot was raised. He was about to touch it to the ground to see if he could put any weight on it when Lexie walked out the door. Feeling a bit silly, Duncan and Paul both grinned.
"What are the two of ye up to?" she asked. "Practicin' for the three legged race?"
"How awful," Molly said, when Paul returned home with a bandaged foot and stilts. Archie and Lexie were also gathered round to hear the news.
"Don't worry about it, Molly. It's only a sprain. I'll be fine in a few weeks."
"What do we do about our guests coming tomorrow", asked Archie. "They expect a guide for their climb up Ben Bogle."
"I've been thinking about that," said Paul. "I could ask Golly. You say he's experienced.
"Yeah, he led our family on trips many times, in the summer, of course."
"He's outdoors all times of the year. Winter conditions shouldn't bother him." said Paul.
"I dunno," said Lexie, I wouldna want to do it."
"Don't worry," Paul said eyeing her large belly. "Nobody's going to ask you."
In the kitchen, Golly, Duncan, Jess, and Ewan were seated around the counter table having lunch. Golly's walkie-talkie started making noise.
"Paul's back he has a sprain.
"That's too bad."
"So we were wondering if you'd fill in for him leading the climb up Ben Bogle?"
"On Hogmanay? In freezing temperatures? With snow predicted? Archie I'd love to, but I'm afraid I have to wash my hair."
"You were right, Lexie," Archie said. "He said no."
"I guess we'll have to call the Mountain Goat Club and cancel," said Paul.
"I hate to do that. It makes us look bad," said Archie. "I wish I could go."
"Why can't ye?" asked Lexie.
"The Bairn," Archie said. "Aren't we getting pretty close to the E.T.A.?"
"It's over 3 weeks away," Lexie said. "The chances of it bein' any more than 2 weeks early are extremely small."
"Well if you're sure it's all right," he said tentatively. "We know the mobile works up there, so you'll call if anything happens."
Lexie nodded affirmatively.
"Alright, Paul," Archie said eagerly. "Tell me what I need to know."
The next morning, Archie, Lexie, and Ewan were waiting in the front hall for the Mountain Goat Club to arrive. Duncan pulled up into the front drive in the new car. Important guests were never subjected to the Land Rover.
"Welcome to Glenbogle House. I'm Archie MacDonald," Archie greeted the first guest, a white haired gentleman with lamb chop sideburns fashionable in the 1800s.
"Pleased to meet you. I'm Hilary Jones, head goat." Two more older men, appeared, one with curly grey hair and a handlebar moustache, the other, tall, slim, and bald. They all looked quite fit.
"They look like the "Old Goats Club" to me, Lexie whispered to Ewan.
Finally a bronze-haired young woman entered with a rucksack on her back. She was followed by Duncan, carrying two duffle bags and a rucksack. Ewan went out to fetch more luggage. Hilary introduced the rest.
"This is Cyril Pritchard," he said referring to the shorter man, "and this is Bucky Mason," he said referring to the taller one.
"I'm Sophie Macado," the woman said, introducing herself and extending her hand to Archie.
"This is my wife, Lexie." Archie said. Sophie extended her hand to Lexie as well.
Molly entered the hall, and Hilary turned noticing her. "Molly," he exclaimed. "I don't know if you remember me."
"Hilary," she gasped. "Hilary Jones. It's been a long time."
"I was so sorry to hear about Hector. He and I weren't very good correspondents but I've always had fond memories of him."
Lexie gave Archie a questioning look. He responded with a shrug of his shoulders.
"Dear Hilary," Molly continued. "He often spoke of the fine times he spent with you. And how is your wife?"
I'm afraid she passed on five years ago."
"I'm so sorry."
Eight were seated at dinner that night: four MacDonalds and four Goats.
"There used to be ten of us," Hilary explained. "Now we're down to three - four counting Sophie. Sophie's here as a kind of replacement for her late grandfather."
"Nobody could replace Granddad," Sophie said good naturedly.
"Mac was one of a kind," Cyril agreed.
"And you call yerselves Mountain Goats because you climb mountains?" Lexie asked.
"Once a year on December 31st we climb a mountain small enough that we can reach the peak by nightfall, and tall enough to be a challenge." Hilary explained.
"The point is to be on the top by midnight," Bucky continued, "at which point we send off a few rockets, drink some champagne, and generally have a jolly good time."
"We spend New Year's Day walking down," Sophie added.
"I wish I were coming with you," Paul said, looking directly at Sophie. Her deep brown eyes made a pleasing contrast to her shiny bronze hair.
"Instead you'll have to spend Hogmanay with boring old us," Molly teased.
The household was up well before sunrise, which was not hard this time of year with the days so short. Archie and Lexie were among those rousing themselves from sleep.
"How are you feeling?" Archie asked.
"I'll tell ye once I've been to the loo," Lexie said, as she hauled her large self out of bed and shuffled out the door.
When she shuffled back, Archie was dressed and ready to go. He looked at her expectantly for an answer to his earlier question. "I'm fine for 37 weeks pregnant," she smiled weakly. She placed her hand on her back for support.
"So you don't think anything's going to happen? Because I can still cancel. Golly came round and said he'd fill in for me in a pinch."
"I don' think anythin's gonna happen today. Ye go, and if I do have the baby, Golly can hold my hand in a pinch."
"He'd better not," Archie said. "That's my job. You call me if there's anything, even the slightest twinge, you hear me?"
"Aye, I hear ye," Lexie laughed. "Have a good time."
They kissed and Archie gave her tummy a little pat. "See you soon," he said.
The climbers ate a quick breakfast and then met in the front hall where they had left their gear. They began putting on their outerwear: snow pants, jackets, boots, hats, and mittens. The looked like they were outfitted for the arctic.
"So we've agreed that you'll take the easy path up," Paul addressed the group. "You should be most of the way up by sunset. You'll make camp in the remaining light, if you're lucky enough to have it. Give yourselves two hours to make it to the summit before midnight. It will be extremely windy there. You'll be glad you're not going to spend the night."
"The forecast is for light snow later today," Archie added, so we will be hiking with the white stuff. The mountain top is always covered with snow this time of year, so we'll be proceeding with caution. But I guess you Mountain Goats are more familiar with these conditions than I am. Is everybody ready?"
The hikers picked up their rucksacks walking sticks. "Ready," they responded.
"Did you remember the first aid kit?" Paul asked Archie.
"It's in the outer pocket. I have the mobile too. Do you have yours?"
"Its right here," Paul patted his shirt pocket. "Thanks for doing this."
"It's no problem," Archie said. "You just keep an eye on things here."
When the climbers left the house the morning twilight was just beginning to show in the eastern sky. Never-the-less they turned on their head lamps for increased visibility.
"This way," Archie called as he began marching towards a path in the woods.
"Tallyho," Hilary urged, as he fell second in line.
The others followed, their boots making a crunching sound as they stepped on the frozen ground. They began their ascent.
Duncan had another delivery to make: Lizzie and Martha were arriving at the train station for a visit. Flem wouldn't be coming until the next day, as New Year's Eve was not a time for a lounge pianist to turn down a gig.
"Mummy," "Lexie", "Paul", Lizzie greeted everyone in turn. "Duncan told me about Archie leading the expedition and your ankle, poor Paul."
"Mama," Martha tugged at Lizzie's coat. "Lizzie picked her up and reintroduced her to relatives she hadn't seen for nearly two months. "And this is Auntie Lexie," she said. Remember about her baby?"
"Where is it?" Lexie asked. "Do you know where the baby is right now?
Martha shook her head no.
"It's hiding, right here." she said pointing to her belly. " Do you want to touch. Maybe you can feel it kick."
Martha nodded yes. Lexie guided her hand to a likely spot.
"I felt it," Martha said, wide eyed.
"So you knew my father," Archie said to Hilary when they got a chance to walk side by side.
"We were in the army together," Hilary said. "Officer's Training Corp."
"Really, how long did you stay in touch?"
"The last time I saw him was at your place. You must have been just a baby. I think it was you," he said recounting. "There was your brother Paul, a little girl, and a baby."
"Yes, I was the baby, but it was my brother Jamie you met, not Paul."
"I thought he said his name was Paul."
"It is, but he's my half brother. He didn't live with us then. The one you met before was my brother Jamie. He died when he was 18."
"Oh, I am sorry."
"Thank you, so are we," Archie replied. "But life goes on, doesn't it? It's amazing how it does."
"Yes it does and it is amazing," said Hilary contemplatively.
They sat in the great hall, with the Christmas tree twinkling, to give and receive belated presents from Lizzie and Martha. The room was soon awash with wrapping paper as people opened their gifts.
"Scottish Vegetarian Cooking," Lizzie announced with pleasure holding up the book. "Where did you find this, Lexie?"
"Archie got it," Lexie said.
"Oh this is lovely," Molly said. "A locket with Martha's picture in it."
"And see, there's the other side where you can put a picture of the new baby when it comes."
"Thank ye, Lizzie," Lexie said holding up a blouse. "I'll look forward to wearin' it when I can fit into it again."
"It's a wolf puzzle and a soft wolf," Martha announce, clutching the toy to her chest.
"Lovely, Martha," Lizzie said.
"The Big Book of Scottish Humour," Paul read out loud. "You lot will make a Highlander of me yet. You know, I got a kilt from Molly and the jacket from Archie and Lexie," he told Lizzie.
"Have you worn them yet," she asked.
"No, I suppose I'll do it tonight," he said as if he were contemplating a dentist appointment. It will be my foray into the world of...of"
"Weird dressing," Lexie suggested.
"I was thinking more of drag."
"That's not the proper spirit," Molly chided. "Any Scotsman will tell you he feels like a warrior in his kilt. It's the feel of the tartan against the skin that does it, or so they tell me."
"I thought I came here to put my warrior days behind me," Paul said, "But I'm willing to give it a go, as long as it's you and not my old mates that see me."
"So you and my father actually climbed the Himalayas?" Archie asked Hilary. It was snowing lightly now .
"Just one of the foothills," Hilary replied. "But mind you, it was bigger than most mountains in the Swiss Alps."
They trudged on some more.
"It was one of the happiest times in my life. Your father's too, I think."
"Really?" Archie said. "I would have thought the happiest times of his life were always accompanied by a dram of malt. They didn't provide that in the army, did they?"
"Not by a long chalk," Hilary laughed. "I received a letter that your father wrote shortly after my last visit. I'll give it to you. It said something to the effect that apart from the birth of his children, climbing that mountain, reaching the peak, and gazing up at the stars, was the most profoundly spiritual experience he had ever had."
"Blimey, he wasn't even around for our births," Archie said. "And I never thought of him as a spiritual person. I'd like to see that letter."
"Lexie, should you be taking the stairs so much and carrying things?" Molly asked. Lexie was climbing the stairs laboriously, a few small gifts in hand.
"It's awright, Molly. I'm supposed to take exercise and I'm supposed to take rest. Right now I'm takin' exercise, next I'm takin' a nap.
Molly, Lizzie and Paul were in the front hall picking up the wrapping paper while Martha was playing with the wooden puzzle.
"I was expecting Archie to be around when I put on the kilt," Paul was saying to Lizzie. "I don't want to put on the thing backwards and have everyone laugh at me."
"Ask Duncan," Lizzie advised.
"Ask Duncan for fashion advice," Paul laughed."
"Normally I'd say no, but I think he has the kilt down as well as anyone."
"MOLLEEE!" It was Lexie calling from upstairs."
Molly looked alarmed, dropped the paper in her hand, and ran upstairs.
"Mama," Martha called, sensing something was wrong. Lizzie went over and picked her up.
All eyes were on the stairwell until Molly reappeared.
"Her water broke," Molly called downstairs, attempting calm. "Would you call the midwife. The number's by the phone."
"Is she having any contractions," Lizzie called back.
There was a pause while Molly got the information. "Not yet,"
Paul took out his mobile. "Archie had me program the number".
The climbers had made it about three quarters of the way up. Aside from a few shrubs, there was nothing but snow. The snow was still light, but the wind was heavier. They were setting up their tents: two doubles and a single. Finished with his tent, Archie started the gas stove. Sophie came up to him.
"What's on the menu," she asked. "I'm starving."
"Beef stew," he said showing her the package of freeze dried ingredients. "Just add boiling water." He took an aluminium pot that had been hanging from his rucksack, filled it with snow, and put it on the stove. "This may take a while."
"I think I'll have another Power Bar," Sophie said reaching into her pocket. "It's beautiful up here, isn't it?"
"Wait 'til you get to the top. That's truly magnificent, although you won't be able to see anything at night."
"They're tittering back there," Sophie said referring to the three older men. "Cyril and Bucky think its scandalous that Hilary and I are sharing a tent tonight."
Archie cocked his head with interest.
"I've known Hilary since I was a little girl. He and my grandfather were best friends and they always shared a tent on these expeditions. So it seemed only natural, with me coming in my Granddad's stead, that he and I should share the tent. I think the others are worried about my reputation." She laughed.
"They're probably jealous," said Archie. "Hey, I didn't even think of it before, but if you'd be more comfortable, you can have the single tent and I'll share with Hilary."
"On, no, that's okay. I think we'll stick with the original plan, unless he wants to switch...I just hope he doesn't snore."
"The midwife's on her way," Paul said. "Now what do we do about Archie?"
"Call him like he said," replied Lizzie. "He'll come down the mountain, and hopefully make it in time."
"The problem is that the sun is setting soon. He'll have only another hour or so of light. It will be dangerous for him to come down now."
"If he waits until dawn to climb down, he won't be here until about this time tomorrow. He'll certainly miss the birth that way."
"I feel terrible," said Paul. "If it weren't for me he'd be here now."
Lexie leaned over the balcony from the second floor. "Have you called Archie yet?"
"Not yet. We're trying to figure out what to tell him."
"Tell him to get his bum over here. I'm not plannin' to have this baby by myself."
"Lexie, it will be dark soon. It's not safe for him to climb down now. But he probably would if we called him."
"Mebbe he should break his leg. Then the Rescue Squad would get him down in a helicopter. Hey hold on a minute."
Paul and Lizzie looked at Lexie with the same understanding.
"Flora" they all three said in unison.
The five hikers were sitting in a ring around the camp stove eating their beef stew. It was dark now.
"It's amazing how something this awful can taste so good when you're hungry," Archie said. "Excuse me," His mobile was ringing. He reached into his pocket to retrieve it. "Yeah Paul...Really?...Oh my God, I'm on my way. What? Uh huh... Uh huh...So what am I supposed to do? You're kidding...So when will she get here. I see. I'll be waiting for her call. Can I talk to Lexie?.. Well tell her I love her when she wakes up. Yeah, thanks... Bye."
"My wife is in labour," he announced to the group. "Well not in active labour because she's asleep now. The midwife is on her way."
"Well you can't go down now," Hilary said. "Do you think she'll hold out until you get there?"
"I hope so," said Archie. "I swear, I'd be on my way down right now, except that my family arranged for a friend to pick me up by helicopter."
"What good fortune," said Bucky.
Paul, Lizzie, and Martha were in the sitting room by a fire. Lizzie was helping Martha give Stéphane the Cat rides on the wolf. Paul was reading his new book.
"Listen to this," he said. "How many Scots does it take to change a light bulb?"
"How many," Lizzie responded.
"Twenty-one. One to hold the bulb and twenty to drink whisky until the room starts spinning."
"Ha-ha," Lizzie said sarcastically.
Molly entered the room. "She's still napping," she reported.
"Nothing wrong with that," Lizzie said. "She needs the rest. She's going to have a busy night."
"Here's another one," Paul said. "Its about the bagpipes: The Irish invented them and gave them to the Scots as a joke. The thing is, the Scots haven't seen the joke yet."
Molly and Lizzie stared at him blankly.
"Don't you get it?" Paul asked, himself highly amused. "The bagpipes, they're a joke."
"Let me see that," Lizzie said, grabbing the book from Paul. "It doesn't say that. You just made that up." She batted Paul on the head with the book before he was able to grab it back.
"You two are acting just like...brother and sister," Molly said.
"Excuse me," A woman dressed for outdoors and carrying a black bag was standing in the doorway. "I'm Winnie Foster, the midwife."
"I'll take you to Lexie," Molly said.
The hikers decided to retire to their tents rather than sit out in the snow. Hilary and Sophie invited Archie into theirs, as there was plenty of sitting room for one more.
"Cheer up, old boy," Hilary said when they were all seated. "You'll get there in time."
"When's the helicopter getting here?" Sophie asked.
"I'm waiting for a call from the pilot to let me know when she gets to the airport in Edinburgh."
"She's coming all the way from Edinburgh," Hilary said. "She must be a good friend."
"She was at a Hogmanay party. I feel especially bad for pulling her away, because I don't think she has much of a social life."
Archie's mobile rang. "Hello. Yeah Flora. That's great. Okay, I'll meet you there. And Flora. Thank you very, very much."
She wants to meet me at the top of the mountain, not too near the cliff. I need to start climbing now."
"We'll go with you," offered Hilary.
"All of you? You'll get there a lot earlier than you planned." It was now only 18:00 and the others wanted to be there at midnight.
"I'll check with the others," Hilary said. Archie went to disassemble his tent and ready his gear.
By the time Archie was ready to go, Sophie was too. Hilary approached and reported. "Cyril and Bucky are already working their way through their whisky flasks. I'm afraid they won't make very good travelling companions. I had better stay here with them."
"I'll go with Archie, then." Sophie said.
"You, girl! What will you do when he gets in the helicopter, and he leaves you by yourself on the mountain top."
"I'll wait for you." she said.
"I can go myself," Archie said.
"It's not safe," Sophie reminded.
The family and estate workers began to gather for a small Hogmanay celebration. It was to be smaller and more informal than usual. Depending on how things went for Lexie, it might even be cut short. So far Golly and Jess were gathered round the punch bowl. Rosie was helping Ewan bring out sandwiches and biscuits and a black bun cake made according to Mrs Scott's recipe. Lizzie was helping Martha to a biscuit. Duncan and Paul were coming down the stairs, both in kilts. Paul was walking without sticks for the first time since the accident.
"Isn't he the dog's wotsits," said Duncan, displaying his protégé proudly.
Everyone clapped and cheered.
"Do you feel like a warrior yet?" Lizzie asked.
"Not yet," admitted Paul. "But I don't feel like a complete and utter fool, either, so it could be worse."
Martha let go of Lizzie's hand and went over to Paul and patted his kilt. Then she knelt down, and stuck her head underneath.
"Excuse me, Miss," Paul said as he backed away and separated himself from his niece.
"Martha," Lizzie called out and grabbed her hand.
"It's just the sort of thing she would of done as a kid," Golly confided to Jess.
"Mama," Martha said, not at all perturbed. "It's not like you said. He is wearing his knickers."
Lizzie's mouth fell open and others tried, unsuccessfully, to suppress their laughter.
"I told him," Duncan said. "I told him the proper way to wear a kilt. He didna believe me."
"Paul," Golly called out. "If you wear it as instructed, ye will feel more like a warrior."
"Martha," Lizzie knelt down, "We never look under a man's kilt. Do you understand?"
"She has to pray fer a good wind, like the rest of the lasses." Ewan whispered to Rosie.
"Oh," Rosie said. "I never thought of that before."
Molly came downstairs. "She's progressing," she said. "But she's still in the mood to receive visitors, one at a time. Does anyone want to go up?"
"Martha and I will go," said Lizzie. "We've caused enough damage for one night." They proceeded upstairs. "Then I'm putting you to bed, my girl."
Archie and Sophie began their climb. The farther they went, the windier it became. The
windier it became, the harder it was to climb. Sophie slipped once. Archie slipped next. They ended up linking arms to use each other for support.
"Why do I keep hearing Jack and Jill running through my head," Archie shouted.
"Jack and Jill, the nursery rhyme."
"Oh, Jack and Jill, I get it."
It had been awhile since the last report from Molly, so Paul decided to go upstairs and check. He hobbled upstairs and hearing no alarming sounds, knocked on the door. Molly let him in.
"You may come in for a little bit," she said.
Lexie was sitting up in bed, wearing a long flannel nightgown. "Hi, Paul."
"Is anything happening?" he asked.
"No' at the moment," Lexie said, "but yeah, it's happenin'."
"Normally I'd have her walk around to speed things up," Winnie explained. "But with Archie not here yet, we're tryin' to slow things doon."
Just then, Lexie got a telling look on her face. She gazed straight ahead and clutched the bed sheets. She made an O with her mouth as she exhaled. She gave a soft whimper. When it was over, she heaved a deep sigh. She turned to Paul. "See, it's happenin'."
"That's 6 minutes since the last one," Winnie said. "I should examine ye noo."
"Okay," Paul said. "I guess that's my cue to leave. Good luck, Mum. Safe trip, Kid."
"Thanks," Lexie said. "Oh, Paul, nice kilt."
Archie and Sophie soldiered on. Sometimes when the wind came directly at them they had all they could do from keeping from falling backwards. They couldn't walk forward at all. It was pointless trying to make conversation with the wind howling, so they each were alone with their thoughts.
Archie's heart fell when he realized he might not be able to hear the mobile if it rang. Up until now his worst fear was that Lexie would give birth without him. But, at least, he told himself, he'd be there by phone. Mother would give him the play by play description, which would culminate with "It's a boy," or "It's a girl," Then he would talk to Lexie and she would know he was there for her, even if he wasn't there.
"Hold on, Lexie," he thought. "Hold on, Bairn. I'm coming."
When Paul came downstairs he found that the party was already breaking up. Lizzie had gone upstairs because she had some phone dates with friends who needed support on the biggest drinking night of the year. Duncan and Rosie, the love birds, had made some excuse to go back to Duncan's house. Golly was taking Jess were home and Ewan was on his way to the Ghillie's Rest.
"Where's Portia tonight?" Paul asked Jess.
"In Greece with her family."
"Oh, poor thing," Paul joked.
"They go every year," Jess explained. "Now that the family is grown, the kids bring their significant others with them."
"So why aren't you there?"
"Because my name is Jessica, not Jesse," she said wryly. "Portia hasn't come out to her parents yet. She was supposed to tell them this week. She's calling me tonight."
"Well, good luck to her. How are the wedding plans going?"
"Fine, I think. I expect to be invited. I can tell you all about it."
"That's okay," Paul said. "I'll see you next year."
"Want to come to the pub with me?" Ewan asked.
"I can't," Paul said. "I have to stay here and become an uncle."
"Okay," Ewan said as he headed out the door. "Don't strain yerself."
"Yeah, if you find someone to kiss, give her one from me." Paul called after him.
It was New Year's eve and Paul was all alone.
Archie and Sophie were continuing their climb arm in arm. It was snowing lightly but the wind was strong. The sky was completely dark now, and they were relying completely on their headlamps for light.
Sophie cried out as she stumbled and fell and Archie fell partially on top of her. He got up and helped her up. She was grimacing.
"Are you all right?" he shouted.
"It's my knee," she said, pointing. "I really whacked it." She had fallen on a jagged rock.
Archie knelt down and directed his light to her knee. "Your trouser leg is torn. Do you think you might be bleeding?"
"ARE YOU BLEEDING?"
"I CAN'T TELL," she said. She was able to walk with some difficulty.
"The good news is that we're AT THE TOP." Archie said.
Sophie hobbled about and found it quite flat but didn't go far from Archie."
Archie pulled the mobile out of his jacket pocket, took off his mitten, and punched some keys. He put the phone in between his head and his hood.
"Hello, hello, Is this Flora's phone?"
"Oh really, yeah it's Archie. We're on top of the mountain."
"Yeah, wait a minute... I think I can hear you."
The whirring sound of a helicopter was becoming louder.
"I can see you now, I can see your lights. You're right on top of us." Archie and Sophie ducked instinctively, as the helicopter passed low overhead.
"Do me a favour, don't land on top of us."
The helicopter flew a short distance away and hovered.
"FLORA HAS A FRIEND WITH HER. I WAS TALKING TO SOME GUY, BRUCE," Archie said.
Sophie nodded. They watched the helicopter being buffeted by the wind as it attempted to land. They winced a few times when it looked like it might come down sideways. But finally it did land.
"COME ON," Archie said as he began to trot over to the chopper. Sophie limped along after him. He slowed down so she could catch up.
"YOU SHOULD COME BACK WITH ME," he shouted.
"YOU SHOULD COME BACK WITH ME," he repeated pointing to her and then the helicopter until she understood.
"NO," she said, shaking her head.
"YOUR KNEE," Archie said, first pointing to his own knee and then to hers.
"IT'S OKAY," she waved him off as if it were nothing.
"NO," he said, shaking his head. He pointed to his knee and made like it was buckling and causing him to fall.
They walked a little more towards the helicopter. Sophie winced and nodded her head yes. She would return to Glenbogle with Archie.
Bruce helped Sophie up into the helicopter, with Archie assisting from behind. Archie climbed up. The doors shut and they were off in a snowy, windy night. Inside the chopper, Sophie was able to call her companions and let them know her plans.
Fifteen minutes later they were landing on the lawn in front of Glenbogle House. Archie jumped out of the chopper and ran towards the house, leaving Flora and Bruce to help Sophie out of the craft and make her way to the house. Archie burst into the house and began peeling off his outerwear. He hung his hooded parka in the front entry, but not very carefully, so it slipped to the floor. His woolly cap and mittens came off in the great hall and landed on the sofa. Wet boot marks followed him everywhere. He sat down on the stairs to take off his boots. Paul came out from the parlour.
"You made it. I think you're in time."
"Hi, Paul. Have you seen her? Is she okay?"
"I saw her about an hour ago. She was hanging in there, valiantly. Molly's with her."
Archie left the boots where they fell at the bottom of the stairs and pulled off his snow pants, which he dropped on the stairs. He raced up the stairs and down the hall in his stocking feet. "Good luck," Paul called after him. It was to this scene, of bits of Archie all over the place, that Flora, Bruce, and Sophie walked in.
Archie pushed open the bedroom door and ran to Lexie's side. "Lexie," he panted. "Are you all right?" He grabbed a chair, sat down, and took her hand.
"Uh Huh," she said, panting heavily.
"Archie, you made it," Molly said from the other side of the bed. "Your wife's been a real trouper." Molly brought a sports bottle topped with a straw to Lexie's lips and Lexie took a sip.
Archie glanced over and gave her a little smile.
"Okay, Lexie. With the next contraction you can push," Winnie said. "Hi Archie, yer just in time."
"Hrrrr," Lexie growled. She clutched Archie's hand.
"You're doing great, Lex. Keep it up."
Lexie groaned and pushed.
"That was brilliant," Archie kissed her hand and Lexie managed a weak smile.
"I saw the head," said Winnie. "Give another good push with the next contraction."
With more pushes, groans, and a few howls from Lexie, more words of encouragement from Archie, and more offers of water from Molly, Lexie's labour proceeded more slowly than anyone would have liked.
It was nearly an hour later when Archie reported excitedly, "The head's out. Can you see it Lexie?"
Then the rest of the body slid out.
"It's a boy," the midwife announced..
"It's a boy, Lex", Archie repeated, as if she didn't have eyes or ears .
"Yeah, Arch, that's great," Lexie said grinning."
The midwife held the baby face down, tipped him forward a little and tapped him on the back a few times. The sounds of his crying filled the room. "He's a wee one but he looks healthy," she said. Within minutes, she had the little boy wrapped snug in a blanket and stocking cap and in Lexie's arms. Archie reached over to stroke the baby's cheek with a finger. The baby was quiet and alert now, his eyes locked with Lexie's. Winnie cleaned up the "work area" and got Lexie settled under the covers. Then she and Molly left the new family to be alone for awhile.
"Archie, he's beautiful. Did we do that?"
"It looks that way," Archie said, moving a finger in front of the boy to see if his eyes would track it. "Well done, Mum."
At that moment, sounds of firecrackers could be heard from the village. The grandfather clock in the great hall was striking midnight. Archie and Lexie gave each other and then the Bairn, a New Year's kiss.
Downstairs in the parlour, Paul, Sophie, Flora and Bruce were sitting by the fire finishing off the black bun cake and punch when Lizzie joined them with a can of coke. When the clock finished chiming midnight, they all shouted "Happy New Year". Flora and Bruce turned to each other for an enthusiastic kiss, leaving no doubt, if there ever was one, of the nature of their relationship. Paul, with Lizzie and Sophie on either side of him, put his arms around them and gave them each a kiss on the cheek. They returned the favour and then gave each other a friendly peck, as well. Molly and Winnie were in time to join them for Auld Lang Syne, as was Golly, who had returned to see how things were going.
"Happy New Year, Golly," said Molly giving him an unexpected kiss on the cheek. Golly kissed her back. "It's a boy," she told him.
"Happy New Year," he said, as much of a statement as a wish.
Everyone else gone, Paul and Sophie stayed up most of the night on the lounge, in front of the fire. Sophie, Paul learned, owned a stable a nearby where she boarded horses and gave riding lessons. She was an avid mountain climber who had climbed all over the world. Her parents had been lay missionaries in Africa, where she had spent much of her youth. They had so much to say to each other that it was 5:00 AM before they were too knackered to keep their eyes open.
"I don't have the energy to go upstairs," Paul said. "How about you?"
"I don't have much energy either," admitted Sophie.
"Why don't we just lie down here and see if we can fall asleep," he suggested. He pulled the back pillows off the lounge to make more room, and reached for a nearby afghan to spread over them. "Comfy?" he asked.
Uh huh, Sophie murmured. Paul leaned over to kiss her and she definitely kissed him back. "Sweet dreams," he said, as he tried to will himself to be comfortable in the narrow space.
That's how Ewan found them shortly before noon while he was collecting rubbish from the previous night's celebration.
"What's the matter, you don' have a room?" he kidded Paul when he caught him alone later.
"We were having a good time, we didn't want to move."
"Well, I hope ye kissed her once for me. I didna get anybody."
It was 5 days later. The winter light peeked through the curtains and woke up Archie. Lexie wasn't beside him, but in the rocking chair, holding the Bairn. He was gazing at her with his wrinkled old man's face.
"How long have you been up? Archie asked her.
"Only an hour."
"I'll take him. You can get some rest while I give him a bath."
Archie left the room with the baby, but Lexie did not get into bed. Instead she brushed her hair, put on her bathrobe, found the camera, and slipped it in her pocket. She walked down the hall to the bathroom.
"Hi, it's me," she said opening the door. What she saw was not what she expected. Archie was sitting in the bath, cradling his son in his arms, and letting his toes dangle in the water. "Oh, my wee men," Lexie exclaimed. "Look at ye two."
"The sink was too small," Archie said. "This seemed the best way."
"May I come in?" It was Molly. The door being half open, she walked right in.
"I just need a...Ohhhhhh." she said melting at the sight before her.
"It's the Bairn's first bath," said Lexie.
"How is my dear sweet boy today," Molly cooed.
"I'm fine, Mother, but I'd like a little privacy if you don't mind," Archie said, settling his son onto his lap.
"I wasn't talking to you, dear" Molly said. Then she poked her head into the hall. "Paul, fetch Lizzie. You both must see this."
Paul, still not walking too well just shouted, "Lizzie".
Lizzie stuck her head out her bedroom door and followed Paul into the bathroom. Martha came running behind.
Then followed an enormous amount of chatter all taking place at about the same time.
""How tiny...Hector never would have...cutest thing...just get a baby bath...if he pees on you...the first time I've ever seen...put this in the Scotsman."
"Lex, get them out of here," Archie hissed.
"Move along, everyone. The show's over," Lexie said opening the door and gesturing for them to leave. "There's nothin' to see here. Move along."
She shut the door behind them.
"May I stay," she asked.
"Oh good. Because noo I can do what I came here to do." Lexie took the camera out of her pocket and aimed.
Archie held out one hand in attempt to block the view finder. "LEXIE, NO."
It took the better part of the morning, but by the appointed time, Mum, Dad, and Baby, were not only washed, but dressed in their best clothes. Archie was in his dress kilt, Lexie in a loose red dress that accommodated her post-partum figure, and the Bairn in a white sleep suit and blanket. Archie carried his son as they descended the stairs to greet their guests assembled in the front hall.
All eyes were on the new family as they entered, and oohs, ahs, greetings, and cheers were issued by those in attendance. Archie handed the baby to Molly so he could greet his guests.
"Kilwillie, you're back." He and Archie pumped hands. "How was your trip?"
"It was grand, Archie. Nothing like it. But you know, there's no place like home."
"I'm so glad you could make it. You heard what Flora did, didn't you? She was like a fairy godmother."
"Flora," Archie gave Flora a big hug, one that almost equalled her own. "It was an incredible experience for me. I owe it all to you."
"Bruce," Archie and Bruce shook hands. Bruce was a big man with a powerful grip. Archie could see how he and Flora might suit each other. "So you're one of Flora's Scottish Country Dancers? We'll expect to see you at the Glenbogle Midsummer Ball."
Meanwhile, Lexie was approaching her mother for the first time in over a year. "Eric had an important meetin' today, so he couldna come. I had to take the train," she said with disgust. "And then I couldna reschedule my hair appointment with my regular girl so I had to have it done by Lindsey. She never does it as well."
"Ye look fine, Mum."
"All right everyone," Archie called in a loud voice. "We're ready to begin." Lexie took the baby from Molly and she and Archie stood next to a small table on which a silver bowl and two framed photographs were placed. The room quieted down.
"I want to thank everyone for coming," Archie began. "You are our friends and our family and we're grateful to have you here. We look forward to you all becoming a part of our son's life too."
Lexie continued. "We especially want to acknowledge the two grandmothers that our child is so lucky to have: Molly and Pamela. We also want to recognize his Aunt Lizzie, and Uncle Paul, who have also agreed to be godmother and godfather. We give special thanks to our friend and neighbour Flora, who brought Archie to me in my hour of need. It wouldna been the same without you, Arch," she grinned, turning to him.
Archie continued. "And finally we want to remember two people that our son will never know personally: my father, Hector and my brother, Jamie," Archie said placing his hands lightly on the photographs. "We believe that they are here with us today in spirit and we know that they are very proud."
"Before we conduct the naming ceremony," Archie said, "I want to point out this ancient quaiche that has been in the MacDonald family for hundreds of years. Some of you have seen it before. Duncan assures me that it was filled with water from the loch early this morning and brought inside to warm."
"Aye, it was," Duncan said.
"I'll take some of this water and sprinkle it ever so gently over the head of Sleeping Beauty, here." His doing so produced a small cry from the child. Breaths were held and released again when it appeared that the object of the day's ceremony would remain asleep.
"Lexie and I will read the following words together:" Archie pulled a note card from his pocket.
Wherever you roam, whatever path you choose to take, this home will always be your home, this family will always be your family. We promise to love you and care for you with all our hearts, but also to let you go when the time comes. We welcome you into the world, James Hector MacDonald.
The guests responded with a resounding "James Hector MacDonald."
"Okay, pictures everyone, and then we'll let you eat," Archie instructed. To our amazement, Archie has asked us to take the photographs. For this, we are most honoured. Of course we brought our camera.
We start lining people up. "Mum and Dad in the middle. Grans next to Mum. Aunt and Uncle next to Dad. Everyone else in the back row."
Whilst family and guests are taking their places, we scan the great hall that has become so familiar. There is the staircase, with Hector's portrait above the landing. The phone and black marble phone table is just behind the curved oaken banister. There is the cast-iron fireplace flanked on either side by shields and spears. There are the mighty stag heads, the sofa, the grandfather clock. There are the doorways which lead to the library, the billiard room, the study, the parlour, and the dining room and the kitchen beyond.
We also scan the people whose picture we are about to take. There is Molly looking elegant as always with Pamela looking tacky as always. Lexie is holding James, as he will be called for now, along with Jamesy, Jimjam, Jamcakes, Jammy, and Sweet Baby James. Archie, beaming like we've never seen before, has his arm around Lexie. Lizzie is in the familiar situation of standing between her two brothers. Paul is in the less familiar situation of being a brother.
Behind them, Flem is standing behind Lizzie with his hands on her shoulders. Golly is in a similar position vis a vis Molly, although he does not appear to be touching her. In the true back row are Duncan, Rosie, Jess, and Ewan, Kilwillie, Flora, and Bruce.
We look through the camera's viewfinder. What we see is more or less what we expect, except that two ghostly images have emerged. One is of a white haired gentleman dressed in a tweed suit and a red waistcoat. He is standing next to Golly behind Molly and has one hand on each of their shoulders. The other is of a young man, just on the verge of adulthood dressed in jeans and a light jacket. He is sitting cross legged in front of Archie, Lexie, and James.
We look back at the grouping, all is as it should be. We look back through the viewfinder, there are two extra visitors. No matter. It's just as Archie had said. Hector and Jamie are here today in spirit, and from the look of them, they are both very proud.
We are about to snap the picture when Useless scampers into the room. He refuses to get into the picture, though. He squeezes in behind Molly and makes a whining noise. We can't see, but we think he is probably nuzzling Hector's leg.
Everyone smiles as we snap the pictures. Click click click and we're done. We take the memory card out of the camera and hand it to Archie. He knows what to do with it. He thanks us for our contribution and we thank him for the pleasure of his company. People are already dispersing into the parlour where a buffet luncheon is being served. We would have gladly helped with the catering if we had been asked. But since we weren't, we take one last look of the nearly empty room and walk into the front entry full of coats, overshoes and umbrellas, and out the front door.