I wrote to Morag McTavish, Bordeaux's ex-housekeeper, and a few weeks later I took some time off work and I took the family to Edinburgh on holiday.
Have you been to Edinburgh, or to Scotland generally? I can really recommend it so beautiful it is.
Anyway, I left the family in Edinburgh and I travelled to Oban. It's a small sea side town in the North West of Scotland where Mrs McTavish lives.
Oh what a beautiful and peaceful place it is. It's so wonderful to stand there by the seaside and wash all your troubles away. If I had the choice, and could do it, I would leave my busy job in London and come and live here in Oban. I understand it has Scotland's smallest distillery which was built in 1794.
As I left the railway station I had some time to kill so I bought a local map and headed for the Cathedral Church of Saint Columba where I spent some time in prayer thanking God for being with me all the way.
What a journey and adventure I had been through these past few weeks. It all started with me hearing the cry for help from Mrs Scrivener's parrot and entering the house. I could have passed by like those two people in the parable of the Good Samaritan. But I chose to answer the call.
Was I stupid and reckless? I could have got into a lot of trouble. What if the burly man had attacked me? What if the police had suspected me of stealing the parrot? What if my wife and family had asked me not to get involved? What if my boss had lost patience with me being late for work and fired me? What if ... what if ... what if ...
What if Eunice Murgatroid had not been constipated? What has that got to do with it?
I left church and went to Morag McTavish's house.
She opened the door and welcomed me in. A small lovely woman in her early sixties I would say.
"Och aye ..." she said, "I been expectin ye. Welcome to Oban. Would ye be havin a wee dram of whisky to keep out the cold? It is from here in Oban. Best whisky in Scotland I would say!"
She was right. It was a very nice whisky indeed.
"Have been preparin somewhat to eat, would ye be joinin me?" she continued, "best haggis and black puddin in the world, with bacon and sausages and eggs. Also Scotch mutton pie. It'll grow hair on ye chest ye ken! It's a late breakfast one might say. But who cares? I live alone and I eat wha' I want when I want. Nae problem. Whit's fur ye'll no go past ye."
I smiled and sat down at table with her.
"And there'll be black bun for after with a nice cuppa tea and toasties with marmalade from Dundee!"
For those who don't know it, black bun is a fruit cake completely covered with pastry. The cake mixture is a combination of raisins, currants, almonds, citrus peel, allspice, ginger, cinnamon and, would you believe, black pepper.
It was a meal, or late breakfast fit for a king. I was astounded at her kindness and generosity to someone she had never met.
I offered, as politely and as tactfully as I could, to contribute to this sumptuous meal. Perhaps by making a financial donation, or taking her out for a meal that very evening.
"Awa' an bile yer heid!" she said with a laugh. Which literally translated means go boil your head, but actually means, forget it ... don't mention it ... in this case meaning thank you, but you're welcome to what I have to offer.
"Yer bum's oot the windae!" she laughed loudly and heartily. I wondered why she thought my backside was out of the window but she explained that it meant I was talking nonsense by offering to pay for the meal.
I asked her if she knew what François Bordeaux was working on in his retirement as a scientist.
"Och aye ..." she said, "he always worked in his laboratory mixing this liquid with that and talkin to imself! I asked him once why he dinnae relax in his retirement and took it easy. He said he was on the brink of inventin somethin that would revolutionise the world"
"Do you know what it was?" I asked.
"Aye ..." she replied, "he said he'd invented the cure to male baldness. A grey cream it was. He even tried on himself!"
"Aye he did ..." she continued, "he showed me ... he looked for a place on his body where no hair grows. Like the bottom of his feet. He put some cream on it. Just a little. The left foot it was. After a week or so black hairs began to grow. He then put a tiny drop on the palm of his left hand. Right in the middle. Agin black hairs grew after a few days. And they continued to grow. So he put a tiny bit on his head. Just a centimetre area. He was bald at the top. And yet agin black hairs grew, even though his own hairs were grey ... white like!"
"That's amazing" I said enthusiastically, "what did he plan to do with this cream?"
"He said he were goin to sell the formula to some company to produce it and make him rich. I never believed it. I asked him if he were goin to write it on paper like. And he said ... naye ... a formula like this is best kept in the head!"
"That's very interesting," I said to encourage her to keep talking, "tell me Morag, is it OK to call you Morag? Tell me, did François Bordeaux have a parrot do you know?"
"Och aye ..." she laughed, "he was obsessed with his red parrot. He called him Archibald. Meaning genuinely bald ... ye ken. That's what he told me any road. He called him the Third because the other two he had died. He was as mad as a box of frogs, Professor Bordeaux was. But a braw man nonetheless!
"I once caught him tryin to hypnotise the bird. He sat there in front of it swinging his pocket watch on a chain and sayin ... ye gettin sleepy ... eyelids gettin heavy ... very heavy ... sleepy ...
"I laughed so hard in secret that I pissed maeself. What a stupid man ... hypnotisin a daft bird that didnae know todae from tomorrae ..."
"What happened next?" I nodded.
"Well ... I heard him talkin gobbledygook to the bird ... things like 5 milligrammes somethin or other ... 2.5% dilution in some long word I never heard before ... temperature something degrees Celsius ... incubation period ... he also mentioned algae something or other and pig's excrement. He kept it in the garage, the pig's poo. Put me off me black puddin it did! He kept repeatin all these things to the parrot over and over again.
"I tell ye, I was out in the corridor out of sight hearin him ... and I laughed and laughed so much I pissed maeself till mae underpants were drenched. I wanted to change them but I had none with me. So I took them off and went without all that day! I tell ye ... it was cold that day down South with no underpants on. But it were worth it all the laughin I had done! Have ye ever worn a kilt and nothin underneath? It's really cold fer yer danglin bits, I tell ye!
"I was careful mind that day when we were in his library and he asked me to get up the ladder and get him the books from the top shelves. He always asked me to go up the ladder. He feared heights, ye ken! With me havin no underpants on ... I went up the ladder and he held it fer me. I didnae want him to look up mae skirt and see mae backside! What a shock that would be fer the wee man! Seeing the moon in full daylight! That would have made hair grow where he had none."
She laughed heartily for a moment or two and then continued.
"Ironic really ... he had a mortal fear of heights ... what possessed the mad person to go up the roof on his ladder? Nae wonder he fell to his death poor man. I liked him dearly. He were kind and gentle. When he died some solicitors paid me handsomely and I came here!"
"Yes, his death was very tragic," I said, "tell me Morag, whatever happened to his cream? Did he have any left over somewhere in his lab perhaps?"
"How should I know ..." she shrugged her shoulders, "after I left I was told by the solicitors that all the contents that were in the house were sold as well as the house. Any pots of cream or various liquids and stuff he had was probably thrown away as rubbish ... trash ... who would want to buy a grey cream they know nothing what it's for?"
I bit my lip in silence and thought ... if only ... if only ...
"One last thing, Morag," I asked, "did you ever hear the parrot, Archibald the Third, talk?"
"Och aye ..." she said, "talked all the time non-stop. Talked like a parrot. Singin too. Am Archibald the Third I am. Yes I am. I am. I am. Am Archibald the Third I am. I am. I am. I am. I am ...
"To the tune of that song I am Henry the Eight I am. By Herman's Hermits it were.
"He also said many rude things that the professor taught him as a joke like ... Show us ye knickers ... meaning underpants ... or ... were ye born with this nose or did ye pick it yerself? ... also ... and from whose nose were ye picked then? and ... were ye born annoying or were ye educated at college this way?
"One day the vicar came to visit ... may he rest in peace ... and the parrot said to him ... ye're boring man ... wouldn't wanta spend eternity with ye in Heaven!"
"The reason I ask," I said, "is that the present owner of the bird, Archibald, said that she has never heard him speak in the three years she had him!"
"Aye ... that's true," said Morag, "from the day I saw the professor hypnotise the bird ... he never spoke a word. For at least six months or more I was there after he hypnotised the parrot, and he didnae speak one word. Then the professor died, and the bird was sold and I left. So it is possible he does nae talk at all. Maybe he took a vow of silence ... like them hermits ..." she laughed heartily again.
On my way back to Edinburgh on the train I could not help wandering about everything I had just learnt from Morag McTavish.
Can you imagine? Somewhere in the past three years someone in Cambridge discovered the cure to male baldness. What a discovery that would have made! No wonder the director of that firm was so eager to get his hands on the formula. Instead, the formula is imprinted in the bird brain of a dumb parrot.
And no wonder he can't talk. He needs the professor to hypnotise him again and unlock his brain from its silence.
Unless ... unless ... one day he might talk again all by itself. After all, I did hear him talk. I did not imagine it.
But some good has come out of all this. Veronique and Mrs Scrivener became great friends and visited each other often. We too as a family became friends and went up to the mansion often. Eventually, and very slowly, Veronique started visiting our church on Sundays, and has started getting involved in church activities.
I even understand she has been seen a few times with a young man her age.
This story is dedicated to a scientist I once knew. Even though he was retired he continued writing scientific papers, give various talks, and spent his spare time experimenting on this and that.
FOOTNOTE: As you know, dear readers, this story has been written "live" over a period of eleven days. I wrote one episode each day and set myself a target and discipline to write the next episode within hours. I did not know from day to day how the story would develop. But your support and encouragement by visiting me each day here, and some of you commenting, has kept me going. I hope you have enjoyed this story as much as I have enjoyed writing it. I thank you for all your kindness and generosity.
Perhaps I shall get these eleven posts published as a story in book form. I'll try to keep the price as low as possible. Hopefully you'll buy a souvenir copy.
Thanx and God bless.