Preparations for the fight back
The Professor then examined his great storage chest.
From it he took out a cracked skull with one empty eye socket and a red jewel in the other, a chipped crystal ball, a very battered magician’s hat with the brim missing, a pack of fortune telling Tarot cards, (‘Half of them not here’ he grumbled), and a very large pair of boots, both of them with the soles worn completely smooth, and one with a large hole in the toe.
‘Seven League Boots’ said the Professor. ‘Absolutely useless – air would rush in to the boot with the hole in it and drive your legs apart, and with those soles – you would slide all over the place when you set foot on the ground – break an ankle as easy as wink. You go so fast, you see, in seven league boots, – need a lot of tread when you touch down. Ah, what’s this?’
He then drew a cloak out of the chest. On one side it was coloured. Deep blue, the deepest, darkest, richest blue that Elisabeth had ever seen, and on the other side it was coloured – well, it wasn’t coloured. It wasn’t anything. When the Professor wrapped it around himself she could see right through it… and through him – and through to the other side, just as though he wasn’t there. Except in places. Well, except in quite a lot of places actually. They could see a bit of one of his breeches, the toes of a shoe, a pocket of his jacket, some of his collar… and his right eye.
‘As I thought.’ he said. ‘The confounded thing’s torn. What’s the use of a cloak of invisibility if it has holes all over it? Nothing to mend it with – invisible thread won’t be invented for another hundred and fifty years. I must remember to buy some if I ever get to go shopping again.’
Then he tugged at his beard, pondering. ‘Ummm… Better take it along, I suppose. It might be handy in an emergency, if the user was very carefully wrapped and stayed stock still. Anything else remotely useful in here?’
He bent down again and rummaged about inside the chest; ‘Magic lamp – base broken off – genie got out long ago. More broken crystal balls, more useless boots, an enchanted wine flagon that was always full – banged down too hard on the table during a drinking song – bottom fell out – nothing in it now. A double headed silver piece – we’ll take that. Ah! – Oh, drat it!’
He was just drawing forth an extremely ancient top hat when a very puzzled looking white rabbit jumped out of it, peered around the Tabernacle in amazement, hopped out of the door, and scampered away.
The Professor shrugged. ‘I don’t expect that would have been much use anyway.
But now I had better pack my travelling bag.’
From under his desk the Professor pulled out a rather grubby long canvas bag which had the word ‘Reebok’ stitched on one side, and on the other was sewn a badge which read ‘Winter Olympics – under 25 Bobsleigh Team.’ Into this he put a pair of slippers and a dressing gown, and some pyjamas and a telescope and some boiled sweets, and a set of scales with little brass weights, and some coloured candles and two silver candlesticks, and a carriage clock and a kettle.
The bag appeared to be full but the Professor passed his hand twice over it, blew on it, and gave it a little shake. The contents must have settled down, for he then added a magnifying glass, a tape measure, a hip flask, a pair of scissors, a thermometer, some test tubes, and a small oil lamp. Now it was definitely full…
No, it wasn’t. He passed his hand over it again, blew into it again, shook it again, and then added a trivet to stand the kettle on, and a pendulum, and some coloured chalks, and several small jars of different coloured sands, and a pocket spell book, and some matches and a ball of string, and a large penknife, and a bag of small white bones, and a great green crystal, and a spotted red handkerchief, and a toothbrush, and a packet of tea and a bag of sugar, a pair of long johns, a woolly vest, a bright check shirt, some socks, and a small soft toy dragon with moving eyes – well, it looked like a toy. ‘Better take him along as a mascot – although he can be a bit of a problem sometimes…’ said the Professor, and at last the bag really was full up.
Later Doctor Johnson and James Boswell stepped on to the terrace below the battlements nearby. The air was still and crystal clear, and thousands of stars glittered in the clear sharp night air.
‘You appear content now, my friend, with the amazing circumstances in which we find ourselves.’ said Boswell.
‘Not content sir. Rather somewhat overcome but also challenged, both in my established attitudes and by this adventure in which we find ourselves. The place of conventional reason in our judgements has to now encompass greater considerations than ever before. Normal standards of objectivity and scepticism must not unwittingly be suspended in novel and mystifying situations. But if a man cannot avoid being beset by miracles and he wishes to survive, then he must withal accommodate himself to them.
What we have already experienced here is so far beyond the bounds of normal rational understanding that those of our acquaintance who have not been exposed to such wonders would be incredulous.’
‘We have two alternatives I suppose.’ said Boswell. ‘We can either deny the evidence of our senses and regard this all as a dream and so dispassionately endure whatever next befalls until we survive the experience to reach a satisfactory awakening, or accept what we cannot deny and allow it to be part of what determines our views and our conduct for the rest of our lives.’
‘The latter option is the only one we can adopt for we do not have to pinch each other to know that this is no dream.’ said Doctor Johnson. ‘For my part should we survive this adventure I have no doubt that I shall be more open minded, more tolerant, more prepared to look less askance at apparent outlandish beliefs. I am now persuaded that I may have been wrong in my approach towards certain matters and this will doubtless condition my attitude to other issues in what little time I have remaining. On a positive note, it confirms me in my lifelong held belief that there is far more beyond what we endure in this life, even if the unknown may not be quite what I had envisaged.’
‘There is another aspect.’ said Boswell.
‘What may that be sir?’
‘How you, and to a much lesser extent myself, will stand in the eyes of posterity if our experience became general knowledge and we, no longer living, were unable to influence opinion or rebut condemnation. It would be unendurable if we were to be cast in the same mould as poor James Bruce, whose Abyssinian adventures are disbelieved by many, or our explanations be shaded with scepticism as is the case of MacPherson and the Ossian poems, where I also share your doubts. If we survive and are public in our account of these matters, contempt, disbelief, and perhaps worse, may be our fate, and the value of your example and wisdom could be dreadfully devalued.’
Doctor Johnson sighed. ‘You are right, my dear Bozzy. It is our standing and credibility with others, without which we cannot do good, that would suffer greatly, so we must keep it to ourselves. This must be a secret expedition. I trust you not to refer to it in that account of me I understand you will undertake when I am gone?’
Boswell agreed wholeheartedly.
‘Very well,’ said Doctor Johnson. ‘Then in this case and place wherein we find ourselves it behoves us to devote ourselves totally to the enterprise with these good and worthy people, and apply any skills we have to the best of our ability. Nothing shall be wanted that we are able to supply to secure the success of this venture. This is not a fairy story, nor some flight of mythic fancy. It is an opportunity to actually combat evil with real practical work wherein we can make a contribution.’
‘We are then of one mind, my dear friend.’ said Boswell. ‘I am at ease with our predicament. I feel now enervated, determined, nay strangely excited by the prospect before us.’
Tom now appeared from the shadows, yawning.
‘So you will stay with us then, won’t you gentlemen?’
‘Yes, young Tom, of course we will.’ said Boswell. ‘But should you not be abed?’
‘Elisabeth is sleeping but I kept waking up. I feel very strange. I am very excited, but also frightened. It was terrible when I thought they had caught Elisabeth. She is very brave and I try to be, but she always looks after me, and now I wish I was the eldest so I could look after her.’
‘She is a fine person, your sister.’ said Boswell.
‘And your feelings do you credit Tom.’ said Doctor Johnson.
‘She is the best sister a person could ever have – but I pray you sir, do not tell her I said so.’
‘Of course not Tom.’ said Doctor Johnson, putting his great arm around Tom’s tiny shoulders. ‘This is just between we men, eh?’
‘But what is to become of us sir?’
‘At worst we shall all hide until the pirates are gone. At best we shall give them a sound drubbing, stop them taking the bells, and get back whatever else they have stolen. At times like these it is best to be clear about what needs to be done and to busy oneself with the doing of it. Tomorrow you will help Elisabeth and your parents secure your family valuables and retire away from your home to safety. I know that you will keep cheerful, acquit yourself well, and that we shall be proud of you.’
‘I don’t feel so frightened now sir. You are very old and very wise and very kind.’
‘Did you hear those words Mr Boswell?’ laughed Doctor Johnson. ‘Pray make a note of them. No man could have a better epitaph.’