83. A Shot in the Park
They walked along Bruntsfield Place, the whole cub scout pack in an ordered line, past George Hughes & Son Fishmongers, past the Yoga Centre, the antique shop, the Himalayan restaurant and Hasta Ma~nana. Olive, at the head of her six, commented loudly on each landmark as they passed it. “That,” she said, “is Mr. Hughes’s fish shop. I have been there twice. Mr. Hughes catches all those fish himself.”
Bertie frowned. “I don’t think he does, Olive. I think that he goes down to the harbour and buys them. I saw his van going down the hill once.”
Ranald Braveheart McPherson, trotting behind Olive, rallied to her support. “You mustn’t argue with the sixer, Bertie.”
“That’s right,” said Olive. “And you mustn’t argue with your girlfriend. There’s nothing worse than a boyfriend who argues with his girlfriend.”
“You’re Olive’s boyfriend?” asked Ranald. “You’re lucky, Bertie.”
Bertie blushed deep red. “I’m not,” he muttered. “I never said…”
“Oh yes you did, Bertie Pollock!” snapped Olive. “You’ve been my boyfriend for ages. Everybody knows that.”
“Then why does he never go out with you?” Tofu challenged. “Boyfriends take their girlfriends to the cinema. When did Bertie last take you to the cinema, Olive?”
“I’m not really allowed to go,” he said. “My mother…”
“I’ll take you to the cinema, Olive,” said Ranald, adding, “you can come with me and my mummy.”
“Hah!” shouted Tofu. “Mummies don’t go on dates, Ranald.”
“Thank you,” said Olive. “Did you hear that, Bertie? Did you hear what Ranald said?”
Such pleasantries continued, and it was not long before they reached Bruntsfield Links and saw, in the distance, the tree-lined paths of the Meadows. Now a buzz of excitement arose. Compasses, which had been issued to each team, were grasped in small, damp hands; woggles tightened; laces tied up. And then minutes later, when they had walked across to the other side, they were divided into their groups, maps were issued, and the challenge began. Everybody dispersed.
Bertie and Tofu stood in a huddle with Ranald Braveheart McPherson.
Tofu addressed Ranald. “You’re meant to be the leader,” he said. “So tell us where to go.”
Ranald looked anxiously at the map. “I think that we go that way,” he said.
“No,” said Bertie. “Look. That’s a picture of the tennis courts. That’s them over there. See? And there’s Arthur’s Seat. That big hill. So that means that the map goes this way.”
They consulted the compass. The needle, wobbling on its base, spun round indecisively.
“If we watch where the sun goes down,” said Tofu, “that’ll show us where west is.”
“But it’s only two o’clock,” said Ranald.
“Then we wait,” said Tofu. “Best to get things right.”
“I don’t think so,” said Bertie. “If we wait here until the sun goes down, then it’ll be dark.”
They looked at Ranald.
“You’re the leader,” said Tofu. “You decide.”
Ranald Braveheart McPherson shivered. A chill breeze had sprung up, and his knees, small, bony protuberances on thin legs, were turning red. In the absence of Olive, his authority seemed a slender, insubstantial thing. He had no idea where they were, nor where they should go. Perhaps it was not such a good idea to be a cub scout after all; perhaps he should have stayed inside.
Bertie assumed leadership. “That way,” he said, pointing in the direction of Arthur’s Seat, glimpsed above the tree tops. “We’ll go that way to begin with, and then we’ll turn up there and follow that path. Agree?”
Tofu and Ranald were both pleased that Bertie was taking over, and Ranald quickly passed him the map. Then they set off. But it so happened that at exactly that time, the Royal Company of Archers was holding its annual ceremonial competition shoot – for the Edinburgh Arrow, a trophy awarded to the member who actually hit the target. On years when nobody hit it – and this was a not an uncommon occurrence – then the arrow was awarded to the archer who came closest.
Dressed in their fine green uniforms, feathers protruding proudly from their bonnets, the archers stood in ranks near the corporation tennis courts. A few arrows had already been fired, including a wildly inaccurate shot from one of the brigadiers, in which the arrow had slithered along the grass in the direction of the Royal (Dick) School of Veterinary Studies, to be intercepted by a playful dog, who had seized it and carried it away in the direction of the Sick Kids Hospital.
Bertie, Tofu and Ranald, standing by a hedge, watched the competition with great interest.
“They’re the Queen’s bodyguard in Scotland,” explained Bertie. “They’re very important.”
They watched as one of the archers stepped up to the plate and fitted an arrow to his bow. He was a powerfully built man and he drew the string well back. Then, taking aim at the distant target, a large, straw circle, he let the arrow fly which it did, convincingly so, but not in the direction anticipated by the bowman. Caught in the breeze, the arrow curved a slow arc across the sky and fell to earth at exactly the point where a man was walking along the perimeter of the park. Although its force was largely spent by that stage of its flight, there was enough velocity in it to pierce the sleeve of his jacket and lodge in the fabric.
The archers had now finished their shoot, and were packing up to leave, to return to Archers’ Hall, their fine headquarters off Buccleuch Place. The archer who had fired the last shot looked furtively about him, and slipped off at a fast walk.
“Did you see that?” whispered Bertie. “Did you see him shoot that man?”
Ranald shivered. “Let’s go home before they shoot us,” he said miserably.
“No,” said Bertie. “We must get on with what we’re meant to be doing.”
He looked at the map and pointed out the route they should take. This led them past the place where the victim of the misfired arrow, a handsome-looking man dressed in black, was still standing indignantly, wrestling with the arrow that was protruding from his sleeve. He had pulled it out of its resting place, but its tip had become caught in the material and was proving difficult to extricate.
“We saw who did it, mister,” said Tofu. “We saw him.”
The man greeted this information with interest. “Could you point him out to me?”
“I think so,” said Bertie. “But they’ve all walked away.”
“I know who they are,” said the man. “It’s that Royal Company of Archers. They’ve got a clubhouse of some sort back there. That’s where they’ll be heading.”