Chapter 19

A Short Stay

 

Nobody answered and so he got out with a shrug. His eyes were burning, his head ached to bursting but he was fascinated by the sight. Talmine was a small coastal town at the Atlantic and certainly no ranting, raving city. Vim van der Slampe never had seen anything the like. The houses in the street looked all alike: white walls and grey roofs, probably slate, he thought. Straight on he saw a long mound ending at the little port. To his right he saw something really delighting him: a mountainous island in about two kilometres distance from the mainland.

He could not know that this was Rabbit Island and so he turned back to the houses and studied their numbers which were hardly eligible from wind and weather. Relieved, he nodded when he found the number the helpful policemen had given him and walked through a small garden to a wooden door the dark colour of which was flaking off. Just when he wanted to knock at the door – for he nowhere found a bell – somebody called out behind him. Tired and worried, he turned round and saw an elderly lady coming towards him through the garden.

“I’m on my way, young man!” she shouted and he relaxed a little.

Surely in a few minutes he would be able to sleep and the world would be all right again. The elderly lady introduced herself as Mrs. McCrow and fumbled at the lock. He stepped in and curiously looked about him. He passed a dark hall and all he noticed was an old chest of drawers with a bowl of fruit. The boards were creaking when he walked through the hall and cast a glance into the living room. There it was: a cosy bed right at a window with sea view. There was an old fireplace beside the bed and a large basket with peat. Oh, he would kindle the fire and then go to sleep. Certainly there would be some food in the kitchen and if not, the fruit would do for a start.

“Young man, have you fallen asleep?”

Vim van der Slampe gave a start and realized that for quite a while he had been standing in front of the bed and looking at it.

“Well, Ma’am I’m a bit tired and…”

“Ay, so my son told me. He’s working with the police, you know. Last night he rang me up and told me he found an odd bird without nest! Funny, isn’t it?”

“Yes, er, very, Mrs. McCrow. If now I could get some rest…”

“And he asked if I have a room vacant. I’m letting, you know, and as this cottage is vacant, I agreed.”

“That’s most kind of you, Mrs. McCrow. If now I could get some rest…”

“My son always is so obliging! The other day he found a tramp rummaging a dust bin after he tried to break into a grocery. And now listen to my words! My son let this criminal go with a warning!”

“Yes, Mrs. McCrow. If now I could get some rest…”

“Right a pity that he has to work so much and has no time to look in at his poor old mother. Anyhow, he at least rings me up now and then. That’s better than nothing, don’t you think so?”

“Certainly, Mrs. McCrow. If now I could get some rest…”

“Of course he has to get some rest. And cooking. I always tell him to look out for a nice young lady so that he has not such a lot of work at home. But today’s women only want to marry money and a policeman…”

“I want to sleep, Mrs. McCrow!” the truck driver shouted and his lips trembled of fatigue and rage.

“Well, you need not shout because of that! Do I shout? You see! Well, I don’t want to disturb. If you need me, I’m living two houses down the road – towards the port. There are bread and cheese in the kitchen. Don’t forget to leave the house until 9.00 a.m. tomorrow for I’m expecting guests towards noon.”

Mrs. McCrow turned and walked back trough the hall to the creaking of the boards. The next moment the door closed noisily.

Vim van der Slampe took a deep breath and let out a loud sight. He fell onto the freshly made bed and closed his eyes. Nothing better but a bed! Now he would huddle into the cushions and go in hibernation like… like a … hamster? The hamsters! For goodness sake! The hamsters still were in the truck, what sort of mischief would they be able to think of? He was up and out in a trice, running through the front door to his truck. Some locals marvelled at him as he unlocked the passenger door with trembling hands and dived into the cabin. Once more he took a deep breath – nothing had happened. Not yet, he thought, took the bucket standing under the passenger seat and scrambled to the bunk. One after the other he took the sleeping hamsters and returned to the house. He did not mind the curious glances of the locals but carried the bucket into the hall and set it down there. Then he sank onto the bed, closed his eyes and dreamt about the cheese market of Alkmaar.

“Why is it that bloody cold suddenly?” Flecki asked with a yawn and looked around.

The mayor, startled up, shouted: “Can we be in the bucket again, people?”

“Now isn’t that a cheek? This guy left us in the flipping cold! What for?”

“Calm down, Flecki”, chief Botchy soothed her. “Surely there’s some important reason. Let’s first see to get out here.”

Desperately the hamsters tried to climb the smooth wall of the bucket but without success. One hour later and after a lot of bruises and small injuries they gave up and did what perhaps they should have done one hour earlier: they started thinking. After a lot of thinking they had a plan. Now they jumped to a fro until the bucket began to sway. Suddenly all hamsters toppled over each other, there was a bang and the bucket had tumbled over.

“Get out, ladies and gentlemen, inspection of our new lodgings starts in a few minutes!” Goldi bawled and in a most determined style found his way from the passage into the kitchen.

“Ey, guys, we’re right here! Come on in to scoff!”

Cheerfully, the hamsters first hopped onto an old shabby kitchen chair and then to the rocky table. As most hamsters are not overmuch interested in ambience, soon only greedy smacking was audible.

“And what do we do now?” Dodo asked and licked a few crumbs off his fur.

“Well”, chief Botchy said, “according to my calculations we have to be in Oban.”

“But this does not look like a castle”, Sasy objected.

“Just so”, Flecki agreed, “and your calculations often have been wrong.”

“What do you mean by that?” the chief engineer furiously gnarled, raising his hackles.

“That you’re a botcher, Botchy”, Goldi grinned, pouring oil into the flames.

“What? Me? A botcher?”

“Yep, take the reservoir dam…”

“That’s old hat”, Botchi interrupted Flecki. “What else?”

“Take the new swimming pool when half of Hamsterton was flooded.”

“Fault was with Tuffy who held the plans upside down!”

“Oh, and the new parking block matter?”

The chief did not answer but interestedly looked at some butter sticking to his left paw.

“Parking block? Which new parking block? We don’t have any parking block”, Hamstilidamst cried.

“You were too small to know the whole truth”, Goldi smirked. “We once had a parking block and were to get a new and better one. Well, now we have none at all.”

“Except a smart heap of debris, chief, haven’t we?”

“I had an off time then, wasn’t in good shape and…”

“Do tell!” Hamstilidamst yelled with shining eyes.

At that moment all the hamsters gave a start and pricked up their ears. What sort of horrible noise was that? Trembling, they sat on the kitchen table and goggled toward the hall. Taty and Tealeafy had fled behind a sugar bowl and had knocked over the salt cellar on their way. It had crashed onto Trample’s paw and he would have loved to yell in pain but did not dare. What sort of horrible noises were that?

“Hey, it sounds like a few days ago when we stood in front of the mayor’s door and…”

“Yes”, the mayor quickly interrupted, “I remember, my dear Dodo, and I think all will agree with me if I let’s say mention that we are not – I repeat – not in danger. In a way these sounds mirror the state of an exhausted creature…”

“That guy’s snoring? He leaves us in the cold and goes to sleep? That’s the peak of ruthlessness!” Flecki wailed. “But I’ll give him a piece of my mind! Come on, come along!”

Flecki scurried ahead and her friends followed her over the passage.

“Ey, there are delicious fruit, we could…”

“Later, Goldi, I want to get that clear first! It’s about our future and not about munching!”

A few moments later the indignated hamsters were standing in front of the bed where a completely exhausted Vim van der Slampe was sleeping soundly. Loud snoring filled the room. What now? How were the hamsters to wake the man to make him account for his deeds? Helplessly the hamsters were standing in the room and looked about them. How could they wake up this snorer?

“If only I had some dynamite!” Goldi yelled for normal conversation was impossible with the truck driver’s noise level.

“Perhaps we’ll find something in the bathroom to make a bomb of”, Tuffy proposed.

The all keenly followed that proposal for a more quiet room would be more pleasant. Flecki succeeded first to climb onto the panel at the mirror which was a bit blind already.

“How about shampoo?”

“Nope, doesn’t bang”, Goldi grumbled.

“Tooth paste?”

“Forget it!”

“Scrubbing powder?”

“Show it! Nope, no use.”

“Loo cleaner?”

“Much better, good fire accelerant.”

“There’s nothing else.”

“Okay”, Goldi said, “let’s take a look at the kitchen.”

The kitchen finds did not make anybody cheer but finally they had a ‘certain basis for a wake up equipment’ as Goldi put it. Now they went back into the living room where it still was quite noisy. Goldi nudged Dodo and pointed to the basket with the peat.

“Put all that onto the basket!”

Groaning and moaning and with the assistance of mayor and chief engineer Dodo pushed the loo cleaner, a bin of beans and some oven cleaning spray up to the peat. Then he fell down to the ground exhaustedly.

“Don’t lie about here that lazy”, Goldi cried. “It’s going to be a bit hot here in a moment!”

His eyes searched the room. Then his face lit up for he found what he was looking for: matches. A few moments later all hamsters ran like mad back into the hall and peeped to the fireplace from behind the doorpost.

“Rather a pity that we have to sit here in the cold hall while over there a warm fire is burning”, Flecki said. “But as far as I know Goldi we are safer here!”

From old custom the hamsters retreated into the fallen bucket for they felt a little safer here. By now the loud snoring mingled with other noises. There was a crackle and crinkle, the smell of burnt peat filled the air. Then came loud hissing and puffing. Goldi guessed that it was the loo cleaner. The hamsters huddled together in the bucket. Followed two rather loud explosions and an inferno broke out.

Glass clanked, a man roared in shock, the house swayed and something broke down with a bang. A cloud of dust shot through the hall and the hamster panicked. The air was hardly breathable and they were afraid to suffocate. Then the front door was wrenched open, trampling of feet and excited shouts were audible. With the open front door fresh air came in and the hamsters could breathe again. They saw how someone was dragged through the passage and laid down in front of the door. Then the front door was noisily shut. There was quiet for a moment but then new shouts were to be heard and a sound like a rain shower on the roof of the house.

The hamsters stayed in the bucket for quite some time. Nobody said a word – it was obvious that they had a little overdone their alarm clock unit. None of them dared to get out of the bucket. While the mayor still wondered if he should pluck up his team with a pretty speech, the front door suddenly was wrenched open, someone stormed in, gripped the bucket and was out of the door again.

“Thank God”, a familiar voice said, “nothing happened to you. I never could have forgiven myself if you were harmed, you poor, innocent animals!”

Then they were back in the bunk of their truck. A pathetic figure was sitting on the driver’s seat. Even if Vim van der Slampe had grown more and more nervous during the last days, even if his outer appearance had gravely suffered - now he was a wreck.

“Has he got a new haircut or what?” Tuffy wondered aloud.

“Nope”, Flecki retorted, “I think he slept too close to the fireplace. However, short cut is in.”

“O my, he’s got a goose egg at his head!” Tealeafy noted.

“Might have been the tin of beans”, Goldi assumed.

By now the truck had left Talmine. To their right the Atlantic was visible again and a sign announced the village of Midfield. The truck stopped.

“Na boven, my pets, we are as far north as possible, you may get out! And get off. If you want me to take you any place, just tell me. A Vim, a word! In case you find me!” he added with a tired grin.

No need to tell the little animals twice. Soon they all were at the beach and looked out to the sea.

“Wonderful, if you ask me, and I won’t avoid stressing that we succeeded again. It’s not only…”

“Nobody asks you”, Flecki harshly interrupted the mayor. “Not on your life this is Oban!”

“Well, the driver…”

“That guy know nothing, just take a look at him. Looks like bum, all unkempt and that twitching at his eyes.”

“Perhaps he’s a little tired, but we are certainly close to the castle.”

“Summer, sun, and beach and the mayor stops thinking, eh? Switch on your brain! In those days we walked westwards and had the sun in our faces at the beach!”

“Erm, well, what would that mean?” the mayor helplessly asked.

“Sun’s in our backs! Something’s wrong!”

“Flecki is right”, Botchy agreed. “But where may we be?”

“I’m off now”, came the truck driver’s voice at this moment.

“He’ll go nowhere”, Flecki screeched, raced after him, overtook him and faced him.

“Something wrong?” Vim van der Slampe felt quite shirty now.

Flecki pointed to the beach and shook her head.

“I’m sick of you!” the truck driver yelled. “Do you realize that these are the worst days of my life? I hardly slept the last days, the complete police force of Scotland was after me, a charge I’ve got, and just now I’ve been dragged out of a burning house! I’m to pay the damage, had to leave the town! I’ve been almost battered to death by the chimney! I’ve no idea what happened and I’ve no idea who lit the fire. I can’t go on, I want to go home!”

Flecki once more pointed at the beach and shook her head. The driver ran to his truck and came back with a map. He threw it at Flecki’s paws and cried: “There, look at, little wise-ass! We’re in the north, in the northest north, there is no more north!”

When he laid his finger on the point they were, Flecki began to scrutinize the map. Botchy and the mayor joined her and looked at the map as well.

“Well, erm, shouldn’t there be a beach near the castle?”

“We made a complete mess of it”, Flecki groaned. “It was all that forward and backward language and Jenny and oven-pronunciation. We muddled it all up and so he muddled it all up, too.”

“O well, shit happens, Flecki, don’t worry!” the chief comforted her.

“O well, it does – and I don’t”, she retorted and pointed at a spot on the map. “That’s our destination.”

Vim van der Slampe had great difficulties to keep his eyes open, not to talk about understanding what was on. But when he saw where one of the hamsters pointed, he got a head as red as a beetroot.

“To Oban?” he screeched and collapsed into the soft sand. “No! I – can’t – go – on!!”

Flecki faced him with big, sad eyes.

“Ey, pals”, Goldi shouted, “Flecki’s putting on the ‘unhappy-child-show’ again!”

The torture took no more than a few minutes. Then the truck had turned and the whole troop was on the way south.