Later that night, after a hearty supper of locally caught mackerel, the four were upstairs in Irving and Fingers’s room, trying to make sense of the day’s events.
Rusty spread out the documents he had taken from McHerring’s pea jacket. One of them was much thicker than the others, and opened out into a large map which showed Scotland, the north of Ireland, and Iceland. It was marked with numerous lines and two large and enigmatic circles.
‘We’ve seen some of these lines on the smaller map I used in Iceland,’ said Rusty. ‘They’re the tunnels McHerring dug – we came here along one of them, of course.’
‘But look at the circles,’ said Victoriana. ‘The big one on the right goes all the way round Scotland and into the Atlantic. No one would want to dig a tunnel there.’
‘I’ve been thinking about that,’ Rusty said. ‘You know McHerring wants to separate Scotland from England. Well, you can’t just float a whole country away on the ocean. The crsut goes under the sea too. It’d be like trying to push a jigsaw piece sideways through the puzzle; it simply wouldn’t go. What he’s trying to do, I think, is to cut a big circle in the earth’s crust and revolve it. Look, you see those dotted lines at the top left of the circle?’
They looked more carefully. Unmistakably, the dotted lines showed a faint outline of Scotland at the opposite side of the circle – upside down.
Victorian was shocked. ‘He can’t turn Scotland wrong way round! Not even the Nationalists would stand for that.’
‘But that’s only the first move,’ said Rusty, pointing to the outline of the inverted country. It was enclosed by a second circle, also dotted and reaching farther west into the Atlantic, and on the far side of this circle another dotted outline showed Scotland again, restored to its proper orientation. It was now between Ireland and Iceland. ‘They’re going to turn it twice.’
‘Ya can’t jus’ turn a whole country like it was a table,’ protested Irving. ‘Ya’d need steam engines da size of a ciddy.’
‘I know,’ said Rusty. ‘But look at these lines up here.’ Several straight lines had been drawn from Iceland to the first circle, and dotted lines led from Iceland to the second circle. ‘My guess is that he plans to pipe molten lava from the Icelandic volcanoes under the circle, and float it on the lava so it can move, and maybe use the current of lava to spin it round like a millwheel.’
‘Da man’s crazy,’ said Irving. ‘Dere’d be lava comin’ up all over da joint, volcanoes everywhere. He can’t do dat.’
‘Yes, he’s mad,’ said Rusty. ‘And there would. But he can. He’s already dug train tunnels across the Atlantic. With the McCavity Miner he can cut his way through anything – that is, if he made one large enough.’
‘What I don’t see,’ said Victoriana, ‘is why he’s here, if he wants to cut along the Border. We’re miles north of there.’
‘There’s something he has to do first,’ said Rusty. The south part of Scotland is on the same tectonic plate as England. All he needs to do to move it is to cut it free. But the north of Scotland is on a smaller plate of its own. If he tries to turn the whole country, the north part will break loose. Look,’ he pointed at the map, ‘the plate boundary goes up this line along Loch Linhe and Loch Ness – what they call the Great Glen. And we’re at the western end of it.’
On the map the Great Glen was marked by a zigzag line. ‘He has to join the two plates together before he can move them,’ Rusty explained. ‘I don’t know how he’s going to do that.’
‘Stitch ’em togedder wit’ big steel cables,’ suggested Irving. ‘Looks like he can pull any meshuggene stunt he wants.’
It was too true, and they let the discussion lapse. Rusty carefully refolded the map and hid the documents under the mattress.
Outside in the corridor, a figure crouched with his ear to the keyhole. The faint light filtering up the stairs from the bar showed the outline of a man with one arm. He shrank back into the shadows as Victorian and Rusty emerged to go to their room, and crept silently down to the cellar, from which he did not emerge.
* * *
In the small hours of the morning, faint noises could be heard from the cellar. There was a muffled thump followed by a fierce whisper of ‘Wullyeluikwhauryergaeinyewauchlinbawheid?’ A ragged, muddy procession of twenty-five men tiptoed up the stairs and vanished through the back door of the pub into the darkness.
* * *
Over a massive breakfast of kippers and porridge, Irving explained that he had to go to Oban on some business.
‘Please will you get a couple of sticks of charcoal for the translator?’ said Rusty. We’ve only got an hour’s worth of fuel left.’
Irving pocketed the device and rode down with the carter, who was going into town to fetch supplies for the inn. He returned in the afternoon looking pleased with himself. ‘I t’ought dese Scots was s’poseda be tough when it come to bargainin’,’ he said. ‘But I coulda twisted ’em around my finger.’ He brandished a thick wad of wad of broad white five-pound notes which he carefully slid behind the heavy wardrobe. ‘An’ dat was jus’ fer de small di’mond.’ He pushed the brass plate with the other diamond in beside the money.
‘Tell ya waddelse I seen,’ he continued. ‘Dat Vulgarian airship’s still around, hangin’ a coupla miles out to sea. Don’ t’ink we hoid da last o’ dose guys.’
‘We ought –’ began Victoriana.
The door burst open with a crash, and a crowd of armed men led by McHerring rushed into the room. ‘Yethochtyecuidlockmeinma’aindungeondidye?’ he bellowed. ‘Yedoititsassenachsumphs!’ The four, helpless at gunpoint, could do nothing to resist as they were bound and gagged, and bundled down the stairs into a waiting cart.
It had indeed been short-sighted of Major Jolliver Fitzcourcy Trelawney to confine the world’s leading tunneller underground in his own premises, reflected Victoriana sadly as the cart jolted away.
This chapter by Tachybaptus. © Tachybaptus et al. 2017.