The Day Before (Saturday), not the day before Saturday, I mean Saturday the day before Aubrey comes home. Just so we are clear.
Ben called D-Mac to make sure his last order was going to be picked up and D-Mac started to laugh on the phone saying that it would and it would be so cool to do it for him. Ben put the phone down and went into cleaning mode. His room first; new sheets, clean towels, washed floor (gold dust and all), windows washed, halls dusted and vacuumed, reception area vacuumed, more logs cut and placed in all the rooms and by 4pm he was stuffed. He had one cup of tea two shortbreads and fell asleep. Raphael gently woke him up and told him dinner was ready. Ben stretched, thanked Raphael and went about setting up the main surprise for Aubrey and Zara, and hopefully it didn’t scare the hell out of the Merrows.
Ben even water blasted the stone steps leading down to the water’s edge and the little boats and then he stood back and leaned against Lamb Shanks kennel. THE KENNEL!!!!. It still looked like a blast furnace. So Ben got a couple of guys to help him put the roof back on and tie it down so it looked like a dog kennel instead of an industrial kiln for smelting iron. All was almost ready for the homecoming.
The Dunmours were excited and Zara kept giving helpful hints about how to impress Aubrey. He left treats and notes all over their room for her, including some jewels from the sub in a beautiful antique box he found downtown a few trips back.
Zara even groomed Hambone. Now this was peculiar, because Hambone always looked rough and untidy at the best of times, but now, he was smooth and sleek like a well-trimmed greyhound. Ben wasn’t sure about it and he knew Hambone didn’t like it because he kept putting his head through the floor in disgust. Lamb Shanks felt out of place so Ben did him as well. Lamb Shanks didn’t like it either and was trying to put his head through the floor and subsequently hurt his nose....again for the umpteenth time. Ben felt sorry for Lamb Shanks because he wanted so much to be like his cousin who could walk through walls, doors and floors. It would eventually happen but not for some years to come.
Ben must have looked at the arrival times on the sheet of paper that Agnes had given him an octakazillion times and now the paper was all worn and wrinkled like something that was put into a time capsule and opened 1000 years afterwards then washed in a pocket through a washing machine. Mind you everything that ended up in Ben’s pocket with the state of his hankies was like going into a time machine so really there is no comparison.
Everything in Amazing and Graceful had to be ‘just so’ for Aubrey and Zara and the only thing he couldn’t hide was the submarine leaning against the hotel on the ledge. That was a bit harder to hide but not a complete catastrophe. Other than that, everything was on track for the arrival and welcome home festivities. Ben rang Peebles and the Bannocks to attend the welcome home party and to pick up his mother from Dunmour Cottage on the way through as this was to be a night to end all nights. Whilst on the phone to Peebles he heard Lord Bannock saying in the background.......‘Is Sugarbooties having a party Peebs?’ So Lord Bannock’s attendance was assured as was his taste for Ben’s red wine cellar.
As it turned out the guests that were staying the hotel were all leaving Saturday afternoon so Ben was very busy ferrying guests and suitcases to the mainland and driving people back and forth from town. The idea of getting a small mini-bus flashed through his head because of all the driving he was doing. In his head he was going through all the things he was going to do and the timing had to be just right. Bit of a worry that because every time in the past he had timed something, it turned into a complete and utter disaster.
He checked the weather report in the local paper so the roof was okay. Cleodora and Lanthe had passed on the message about everyones attendance from the Dx4H, the hotel was empty except for ghosts, Agnes and Fiona, Hambone and Lamb Shanks. However, a smell that Ben could not seem to get out of his room from the shells he had been given, or it was is wetsuit hanging up in the shower giving off a seawater fishy type smell. On a closer inspection and a sniff, it was the wetsuit. Ben raced around spraying lavender highland pressure pack in the room and opening the windows even though there was a slight hint of rain in the air. He was excited to see his wife and daughter that he almost forgot to lay out on her side table the present he had made from the kiln.
On one of his trips into to town he bought a beautiful gold chain and came home and threaded the necklace into the creation he made....See... I still haven’t told you what it is hehehehehehehe.) It was placed into the little treasure box full of wondrous jewels next to her side of bed. Ben was tired now and decided to sit with Raphael and play some backgammon and have a chat.
‘Mon Ami, you amaze me with your attention to detail and a willingness to attend to everyone else but my friend, what of you? How iz your heart as you sit here with me?’ asked Raphael who for the first time started to sound like a father to him more than a friend. Ben gave it some thought and answered... ‘I feel at peace with all things Raphael, including the Merrows, but I need my wife and daughter back because I miss them being next to me.’
‘Ahhhhh, I see my Australian friend, missing the company of a female drains even the strongest man of his own rational feelings,’ said Raphael to Ben as he backgammoned him so quick Ben was still rolling the dice thinking that the game was still in play.
‘How the hell do you do that Raphael?’ exclaimed Ben as he set up the board for another game.
‘I cheat mon ami,’ and he heard Raphael laugh. Ben knew he didn’t cheat he was just dam good at playing the game.
The hotel was ready, the surprise on the roof was ready, the submarine was still leaning against the side of the hotel and would for some time to come. Agnes and Fiona had worked their butts off in the kitchen getting the meals and menu ready for the homecoming dinner and fresh fish had been caught and prepaid and was chilling in the huge fridge in the kitchen. The kitchen area was Fiona’s domain and she was brilliant at it. As long as she knew the guest list, menus were prepared and under the door of the guests bedrooms at night and early in the morning. No problems there either thought Ben as he double checked his room one more time to make sure it was perfect. It was, and he collected flowers from the land where he kept the car to take guests back to town that were put into a vase in readiness for his wife and daughter to refill his life one more time.
Ben decided to walk around to the sub-side of the hotel and see if his friends were close by. Part of him felt like he had neglected the Dunmours and Raphael but Lamb Shanks was with him peeing on everything that didn’t move, marking his territory and he kept Ben company. The sub looked daunting yet peaceful as it leaned there and Ben wondered if it was responsible for sinking allied ships in the English Channel and Baltic seas. It was highly possible as it did have torpedo tubes and they were not there to just look pretty. The water around the rocks trembled and a familiar face appeared. It was Lanthe and a very small Merrow that almost looked like a baby.
‘Hello Lanthe how are you doing and who is this little bundle of joy?’ said Ben sitting down on a great big rock trying to stop Lamb Shanks from diving into the water.
‘This, land person Ben, is my son. His name is Alwen and I bought him up to meet you in person before tomorrow’s big night,’ said Lanthe who let her son swim over to Ben to touch his foot that was close to the water. Ben reached down and shook Alwen’s hand. Even for such a small boy he already had a strong grip.
‘I am very pleased to meet you young Alwen and tell you how proud of your mother you should be. She was of great help to me in a very dangerous situation and you should be very proud of her,’ said Ben with all the courtesy of a dignitary from a distant land that he was. Alwen smiled and Ben really wished that he had not because his teeth were just as big and scary as his mother’s for someone so small. Lanthe approached Ben and said...‘I cannot thank you enough for returning the life weapon to me. It was a great honour and service you did for me in front of our Queen.’
‘S’ll right, I just hope you have a good night tomorrow with all my family and my clan here to welcome home my wife and child.’
‘Yes the Queen is so looking forward to it, and so am I.’
Ben saw Lanthe gather up Alwen and swim to the edge of the Dx4H then wave back to Ben and Lamb Shanks. Ben waved and both them were gone in a blink.
‘Well Lamb Shanks me old buddy, old pal, we better put on a good show tomorrow and welcome home everyone here to the new found friendships and family that will be around for a while to come. What say you,’ said Ben patting Lamb Shanks head. Ben stopped patting his head when Lamb Shanks let go a happy woof that echoed around the Loch and hills. Hambone was poking his head around the front wall of the hotel in an instant and came to Lamb Shanks side and lept in and out of him in excitement.
Lamb Shanks had found his voice.
‘Now let’s go and eat and go to bed early, there is a lot to do tomorrow.’
Both dogs woofed the rust off the submarine as they went back into Amazing and Graceful and then they ate a sumptuous dinner that was laid on for all of the people who remained in the hotel for the night. Ben even opened a special bottle of red wine to celebrate with his friends and their hard work to get the place ready for Aubrey and Zara and the introduction of the Merrows to the Bannock Clan.
Twas to be a grand night and one no one would forget...forever.