“…and the fallen bridge has cut us off completely, so we can’t get any special food for WinterTide and my little brother and sister won’t get their presents this year.” Robin read again, “Please help us, Professor! Everyone says how clever you are – you invented the telephone and those Hopper machines that carry the post…”
She set the letter down. It was a rather sweet and affecting story to be sure, although – “Odd place to build a house, on a rock spur in the middle of a canyon,” she noted, looking out from the edge of Higham Canyon towards the house in question.
From the other side of the wooden frame and rails they were putting together, Professor Wilson Scarecrow beamed benevolently at her. “Well, with house prices as they are, dear assistant, I suppose some people have to take what they can get.”
Robin did her best not to seethe at the ‘dear assistant’, instead she looked across at the house on the spur. “Will there be enough space for you to land?” she asked.
“Of course! Dear assistant, I have planned for every eventuality!” The scarecrow simpered smugly. “I have a scientific and exacting mind, you know. You could learn a lot from it.”
Robin clenched her fists. Generally, the Professor wasn’t a bad old stick to work for – well, broom-handle actually; he got very annoyed at the implication that his backbone was a stick. He paid well; working hours were good. He’d given her a three week holiday for WinterTide, and had bought her a ticket on the new train the Dwarves were running, that would take her nearly all the way to Naughtingham. She was greatly looking forward to that. It felt like an age since she’d Left Home To Seek Her Fortune. However, good though he was, when he was enthused and active, the Professor could get – well, ‘pompous’ and ‘condescending’ barely covered it.
She took a deep breath. Once he was flying, she could be off home.
She began setting up the counterweight on the frame, as the Professor moved his large ‘Plain-Sailor’ flying device onto the frame’s wooden rails and connected it to the rope from the counterweight. It was a larger Plain-Sailor than the other ones he’d experimented with – it had to be. As well as the presents that the postman hadn’t been able to bring across the gorge, there was the fearsome array that the Professor had bought for himself, together with three large hampers of festive food and drink, a spool of metal wire, and a tin horn to connect the house to the phone-lines. As he got the Plain-Sailor settled on the rails and clambered in, the Professor chuckled to himself.
“Ah, dear assistant, it’s a fine thing we’re doing here today. Helping someone in need at WinterTide, when they’re marooned and in danger of having the holiday spoiled by the uncaring ways of the State.”
“Actually, the bridgebuilders reckon they’ll have the bridge repaired in a week.” That would too late for WinterTide, but Robin felt the Professor was getting a little overblown. As usual.
“But they their humble entreaties reached my ears!”
“You don’t have ears, Professor.” Which was true – the grass-haired football he had for a head had some nice ears painted on, but not actual ears.
“And I shall save WinterTide with Science!” the Professor bellowed.
“It’s the kind of thing they write heartwarming festive stories about,” Robin said caustically. She agreed it was a nice gesture, but he was making a bit of a meal out of it.
“Indeed!” The Professor affected to look modest. “The Professor Who Saved WinterTide. It has a nice ring to it, wouldn’t you say?”
And who was it who spent the last two hours helping you assemble a frame in snow? And was up all night helping you make the Plain-Sailor? “Quite.”
“And your diligent service will not be forgotten!”
Robin sighed. “Ready to go?” she asked.
“Indeed! People in need, as posterity too, wait for no man – or, more correctly, for no scarecrow!
Robin moved towards the lever to release the counterweight. Then paused. “Er…Professor?”
“But… you’ve overlooked something!”
The Professor swelled up with pride, looking mortally affronted. “Indeed I have not! Nothing has been overlooked! Mine is a keen, finely-honed mind. It overlooks nothing! Certainly nothing you could have discerned!”
Robin growled, “Very well, Professor. Launching.”
She yanked the lever. There was a loud thud, then the Plain-Sailor was hauled from the rails. It shot forwards, sailing majestically over the gorge and trailing the telephone wire behind it. As that played out, Robin took out her mobile telephone-horn and length of wire, and hooked it onto the longer wire.
Watching, she saw the Plain-Sailor come to a halt – very nearly going off the other side of the spur in the process. She saw the Professor, very far away but just discernable. She watched as he clambered out and was swarmed by children. She could only just see him then, as he began to dispense packages and hand the huge hampers to a woman. Then, taking up the wire, he carried it proudly to the house.
Robin waited, then heard the horn whistle. “Hello?” she said, her voice travelling clearly across the taut wire.
“I landed!” the Professor boomed. “It worked! And you should see all these happy faces! My word!”
He did, to his credit, sound happy at the joy of others. So Robin felt a slight pang of guilt before bursting the bubble. Only a slight one, though.
“How are you going to get back?” she asked.
“Eh? Oh, I’ll launch…” A long pause followed as the Professor trailed off. “Ahhhhh… I may have made a blunder!”
“No! Surely a keen and finely-honed mind such as yours couldn’t have made a blunder!”
The Professor coughed. “I…I wonder, dear assistant, could you…”
“Oh, I don’t think I can do anything, Professor! Not when I have so much to learn from you. After all, if you can’t work something out, what could I do?”
The Professor coughed again. “I…eh, I believe that I may have been somewhat hasty, dear assistant, but…”
Robin grinned. “The bridge should be finished in another week, Professor. I’m sure that the Professor Who Saved WinterTide will be welcome in the family home until then. Merry WinterTide!” She unhooked the wire as she turned to walk away.
This would be a good holiday. She wasn’t the least bit worried about her job. Where else would the Professor find someone willing to put up with him?