Dr Livingstone I presume

Well done! After years of fruitless search, that final corner turned as you followed the promised moonbeam has in fact led you to the blog equivalent of Paradise! Read on.....

Saturday, 20 January 2007

Book 1 Chapter 1

Book 1
Chapter 1 - Betrayal

15th January 1707

The bitter biting wind-chill of treachery and the pungent stench of greedy betrayal were carried by the winter squall as it skited across the freezing and polluted waters of the Nor Loch.

Andra McNeil stood defiantly impervious to both the chill and stench, but frozen in a moment of uncharacteristic despair as his throat filled with a black shame and his eyes flared with acid tears of anger and futility.

Soon to be loosed in this land once more was the false god of self-interest which had before shattered the fabric of the nation and would shortly shatter it again in the face of historic and hard fought autonomy.

He looked out over the waters to the rolling hills to the north as his mind’s ear replayed the sounds of men, women and children, living, breathing, fighting and dying for the simple right to be a nation. To build their own successes, to make their own mistakes, to learn their own lessons, but most of all to live by their own rules within a world of justice and fairness and to possess a collective dignity that is not available to subjugated people.

Had they been naively idealistic? Perhaps!

Had their ambition been a step too far? Who would ever know now?

Was it a dream worth striving for? Most certainly!

Were they now to be shackled in a caricature of liberty? Without a doubt!

But what of the sacrifices, the losses, the abject poverty and the destruction of families in an eternal cycle of more sacrifices leading to more poverty and more destruction?

Had all these been justified? Had the unmarked graves, the corpse ridden fields of massacre, the tears of widows and orphans struck down by a famine of love and a plague of hatred, had they all been worth it?

Did this foundation of decay provide any strength upon which once more a nation of real substance could be refashioned?

And how was it to be constructed and who were to be the architects, the builders and perhaps the wizard that would manifest this miracle?

Cometh the hour cometh the man?

Well the hour was fast approaching, but the resounding hooves and calls of the saviour of the Nation’s heartbeat were deafening in their absence.

Perhaps there was no such a man!

Perhaps the essential lifeblood of a Wallace or a Bruce no longer flowed through the veins of even one man. Perhaps there was no longer the wit and wisdom to look down on this divided country and shout to the masses,

‘Stop! The enemy at the door is not the English; the invader is here within us. It is the evil of internal strife, the disease of greed, the decay of thoughtless inhumanity! The English are merely encouraging and taking advantage of it’

Andra closed his eyes for a moment, his mind spinning as it searched out that one target, any target to hit out at and vent his frustration?

But there were too many targets for one man with so much frustration, so little ammunition and so few days left!

Had it all been in vain?

In ten years, fifty years, a hundred years, the fibre of what once had bound the people, the concepts that created more in common than caused division would surely be diluted by the flood of time, lazy acquiescence and convenient fealty to this nascent bastard state.

Most souls would, simply through necessity be preoccupied with survival. But there would crucially also be that seemingly omnipotent cabal of soulless traitors with their enthusiasm for bulging pockets and stomachs and a premeditated apathy for justice.

This mixture of indifference and disingenuity would ensure that the shoots of troublesome identity, the buds of meddling choice, the green leaves of wearisome honour, and the vigour of useless nationhood would wither.

Both the sky and the loch were dreich and filled with nature’s promise of a destructive storm.

Andra, sandwiched between the heavens and the earth, stared at his reflection in the loch. The chopping and changing surface spotted by the early harbingers of torrential rain distorted and confused his image, mirroring his own internal bewilderment as he wrestled with embryonic but what he knew would be an ultimately futile and unfulfilling rage.

He felt the desolation of being out of control, and experienced also the weak emotion of selfishness that was urging him to give up and leave the future to its own chaotic devices.

And then in that dark valley he felt a guiding hand pulling him back from the destruction of all that he had ever believed in!

Painfully he hunkered down and dipping a new small grey flask into the lapping wavelets, he collected some of the water and disturbed soil from the loch.

As he stood back up again, he carefully corked it, cupping it for a brief few seconds in his hand before wrapping it in a binding of protective flax and stowing it away under the folds of his plain black overcoat.

His hands were still wet and for the first time in many years he thought of blessing himself.

But for what reason? “As an act of what?” he asked himself.

Would it be hope, contrition, penance, entreaty, guilt, or just plain despair?

And even more, to whose God would he be making this act?

Would it be to the one in whose name whom one line of murderous kings and queens had built their hypocritical dynasties relying upon the genuine piety and faith of the naively credulous?

Or was it to the one in whose name another line of murderous kings and queens levied tithes and taxes to fight battles, execute wars and kill the very people that they had the ignorance to call subjects?

Or was it that God in whose name this nation had been rent apart and innocents in their thousands put to the test of sword and fire?

God in his infinite knowledge and mercy, a God in his omnipotence and vengeful wrath, a God of majesty who bestowed upon some the riches of birth and on most the poverty of life and despair of death?

We knew nothing of God and we feared virtue, but we knew so much of evil and we nurtured vice!

Andra felt like a hypocrite for even thinking of it, and once more bent painfully down.

But as he did so perhaps in his questioning and even his consideration of prayer was again answered.

The wind gradually died and the cutting edge of the weather front receded.

In the reflection of his eyes in the calming waters, a myriad of moments in time sparked, flared and died only to be replaced by others as a thousand or more nights of bleary eyed discussions and arguments, seemingly interminable hours of planning and organisation, replanning and reorganisation, culminated in the torch that would burn today perhaps for so many years to come.

Most of all he could see all those people and their unwavering belief in the cause for which they would have happily laid down their lives; but a people who also knew that the bonfire of the future would be kindled on the substance of historic sacrifices and not on the latter-day perfidy.

There could be nothing stronger upon which to build the ramparts of the future Scotland!

This time he picked up four pebbles which he dried as best he could on his trews and again wrapped them in flax before secreting them with the flask. He turned his ageing features away from the now gently falling rain, thought of his youth, and with a burst of whatever magic gives power to withering limbs and body, he strode up the steep slope towards the royal mile.

As he passed from the rough hewn ground into the cobbled alleys, the black clad figure who had been watching him all the while from a hide in the bushes above the loch, stirred and deliberately but carefully followed him.

Entering the Seafarer’s tavern Andra found a bench and table where he could sit with his back to the wall. He had known for some time now that there were few days and nights left in the heartbeat of his body, and for the fourth night, after a lifetime of abstinence he sat with a jug of ale at his right hand.

He took a small initial mouthful marvelling at the restorative nature of the taste but even more thankful for the numbing effect on the interminable pain from whatever beast was destroying his insides.

He finished one tankard and as the second went down he looked around at the rough and the ready, the rich and the poor, the happy and the sad, but all in their own way knowingly or otherwise trying to escape from their devils or create a different reality in which they could breathe and thrive.

There were highlanders, lowlanders, clergy, politicians, vagabonds, merchants, rich men, poor men, poor women, urchins, and thieves.

There was tuneful and tuneless singing, bawdy shouting, furtive fumbles at the passing wenches, huddles in corners, and raised voices in anger at real and imagined sleights!

Children in single years offered ill-gotten gains, begged, or simply loitered with the clever forlornness of the streetwise all looking for something or anything that might assuage even for a few hours the gnawing pains of hunger.

There were even men sitting on their own just like Andra; some with empty eyes and confused minds, some with clear dangerous eyes, some even with a book to keep their attention, some with the news-sheets of the moment and a lot with suspicious eyes in the back of their heads, not looking for anything in particular but recognising it when they saw it!

Andra took one final long draught, smiled to himself without really knowing why, stood up and bade everyone and no-one in particular a guid evening!

“I am getting far too comfortable with this” he thought.

On his way to the door, his path was briefly blocked by one of the serving girls.

He reached for his purse and offered her a few coins for her service.

“What do I want with your money, I was looking for some pleasant company to pass the time and who knows what” she smiled!

“ A thousand men much younger than I would be delighted with the opportunity, and I only offered the money as a gratuity, not as a bribe. Take it anyway and go and share it with your friends” Andra replied.

A silence filled the yard between them as she looked at the money in Andras hand and glanced nback to his eyes, holding them as she spoke.

“ A man such as yourself could find a way for a lass such as myself to make a living away from establishments such as this”.

Andra was briefly flattered by the attention of such a girl, but then became embarrassed as he realised that the conversations and activities at the surrounding tables had subsided and he and the girl were subject to prying eyes and ears.

He smiled uncomfortably but looking around he noticed a gentleman staring into an almanac or diary and approaching him, he borrowed a pen and picking up one of the discarded news-sheets he wrote down some contact details and instructions that the lassie might find profitable.

She looked at him suspiciously, scanned the writing slowly and with some difficulty, thanked him and stashed the address away in her skirt.

“Of course I may as well have the money as well, just in case your suggestion proves pointless” she laughed and those who knew her joined in.

Andra could have argued his point, but he handed the few coins in his hand over and headed once more for the door.

As he left the tavern the scrum of begging hands reached out and voices of rehearsed despair called to him. They pushed and pulled and harried until Andra felt his years wearying him and he reached inside his coat for some small coins that in fairness to all, he dropped as gently and evenly as he could upon the floor and being granted some respite he headed back into the streets.

This time two figures followed him.

One a boy of no more than ten years scurried quickly brushing past Andra through the closing door and made a sharp turn to the left back towards the poorer area of town; and the other the same figure that had followed him from the loch walked unthreateningly 10 paces behind, but this time the dark clad stalker followed the boy!

They were no more than thirty paces apart but the alleys and turns were short and sharp and the wee laddie knew exactly where he was going.

The darkness was silent apart from the occasional hungry cry of a baby, the scream of a marital disagreement, or the call as another pot of waste was tossed from on high to hit the street with a resounding splash!

The invisible string holding fugitive and pursuer together kept them in tandem as the scurrying short steps of the youngster were shadowed immediately by the longer more considered lope of his shadow.

The boy’s sixth, seventh, and eighth senses had warned him that not only was he being followed and likely to be caught, but that he would in all probability regret whatever events of his evening’s enterprise had led to this.

He was cool in the way that only those who had nothing left to lose for themselves could be; but he also felt a selfless fear for those who would not be able to survive without him.

He stopped and listened straining his ears to filter out the normal noises of an Edinburgh night, hoping to hear but at the same time hoping not to hear the tell-tale sign of approaching menace.

Nothing and then more nothing.

He stopped breathing to create an even greater silence but all he could hear was the beating of his heart in his chest and try as he might he couldn’t dampen the regular but racing thump against his ribcage and the pulse through his ears.

Moving off again, this time he didn’t run!

Slowly and carefully, he made longer and deliberately quieter strides as he doubled back on himself, re-crossed his own path, and silently and lithely surmounted walls until he found himself outside the window of his own stricken bricks and clay.

He looked around! Still nothing!

Crouching on his hunkers below the sill he sneaked a look through the bottom left corner of the window gap to see his mother, worn and tired but apparently contentedly breast feeding his three month old little brother.

He felt the package that he assumed his pursuer was after, inside his worn ill-fitting jacket and whispered through the window!

‘Mammy, Mammy, take this I will be back later.”

He pushed his hand, arm, and a brown leather wallet through the window. He hadn’t even checked if there was anything in it, but if there wasn’t then the wallet itself might bring in a few coins that would keep the rumblings and weakness at bay for another few days.

His mother looked up from her gentle talking to the wee one, protectively tightened the torn shawl around his ears, and with a mixture of love, panic, and resignation she just screamed;

“Run Charlie, Run!”

The nursing wean let out a sympathetic startled wail but as with all weans immediately returned to the priority of feeding.

Charlie, despite the gloom seeing the flashing urgency in his mother’s eyes and with the inbuilt instinct for survival at all costs, recoiled as fright and flight took over. Everything in his mind told him to spring backwards and under that autonomous nervous direction, he immediately started to turn and simultaneously pull his arm, hand, and the wallet back through the gap.

But what of his mother? If she was panicking then there must be trouble. He couldn’t just desert her! A single glance once more in her direction delayed him for that one single moment and destroyed any hopes he had of escape.

Like a swinging vice a long powerful black sleeved arm and black gloved hand to the left and inside the window came down gripping Charlie’s wrist. Simultaneously the shadowed full height of the pursuer appeared in the window frame his right arm wrenched the wallet from the struggling boy’s grasp.

With one subsequent heave, Charlie’s rebellious bag of gaunt skin and bones was hauled through the now fully open shutter and firmly but with surprising gentleness placed by his seated mother’s legs.

Charlie didn’t cower.

He held his mother, not in fear but in protection and defiantly stared down the stranger who leaned against the wall, head still, eyes scanning the cold barely lit room; from mother to baby to Charlie to the one set-in straw padded bed around the poverty stricken possession-less room, single candle lit and empty pot in an empty hearth

He loosened his outer coat and, as it fell open, Charlie could see a sheath and a polished handle of what looked like to a boy’s fertile imagination, a very long knife.

This time Charlie’s imagination played no tricks.

The stranger unfolded the wallet and checked the contents!

“Is this it all?” The question brooked no silence.

“Aye” said Charlie.

“Well that was foolish! You went all round the houses and you didnae hide any of it?”

Charlie hesitated for a moment, nit because of any particular unwillingness to answer but because of the way the stranger had spoken. He was no Edinburgh man. He was Scottish but Scottish with a tune to his voice. But not a highland tune. Charlie couldn’t place it, but even as they confronted each other, Charlie didn’t feel any real threat.

“Ah never hud a chance tae look inside it” Charlie replied!

“Whose is it”?

“Whit dae ye mean, ‘Whose is it?’ You chased me frae the inn; ye must knaw whose it is!”

“Whose is it”? the demand was harder this time and the tune was flatter!

Charlie stared for a moment. He could have been dead, or beaten up, or up before the assizes. But he wisnae.

“The auld man’s that threw down the scrammel”?

“How many have you taken before”/

“Nane aff him”

The stranger repeated the question.

“Loads but never wae much money in them. We a’ need tae eat, an if they can afford tae drink, they can afford tae spread their coin aroon a wee bit. Its said there’s a lot o’ poverty up the tavern!! Well there’s a sight mair doon here”

“This was no common 10 year old. He was going on 40” thought the interloper.

“Where’s yer father”? the tune was returning.

The mother made to reply, but with a swift finger to his lips and an almost comforting glance she caught her breath and her words were swallowed back to where they had come from.

All of a sudden she also no longer felt afraid for Charlie, herself, or the baby.

“Where is your father?” the man in black repeated.

“Where we’re a’ goin’ unless we get something tae eat”!

The brooding stranger went silent for a few minutes and just stared at one of those strange dagger points just six inches in front of his eyes, either visualising something upon which to rest his gaze or projecting a reflection of whatever was darting around his mind.

He looked at Charlie!

“Ach well, no one should be condemned for looking after their own.”. The words were almost a song now!

He took two of the Scots pounds from the wallet and placed them on the table.

“Take care of your family Charlie! Just don’t get caught doing it. Others will not see it the way I do. What are you, 10 years old? No father, but a mother and brother to care for and them to care for you. It may appear unfair, but you have no time to learn to grow up. You must be grown up now. Perhaps you should turn your mind to something a bit less fraught, something a bit less solitary, something where your mother could have confidence that you would be coming home. You can do that Charlie, even at ten years of age. I’m sure your mother would quite like that as well!”

And with that he turned out through the door, re- entered the night and was gone!

Charlie and his mother stared for a few moments at the two pounds on the table! The only sound in the room was the regular suck of the baby at his mother’s breast, desperately starting out his own campaign to survive in a world that offered only the ever-present pangs of hunger, the rasp of thirst and the forlornness of hopeless escape. At least it was hitting out at something or anything!

Charlie glanced quickly at the open window and suddenly dived for the table, gathered up the money and passed them to his mother before any inquisitive eyes could see the undreamt of bounty adorning their table top.

His mother took the manna in one free hand and carefully secreted it behind a loose brick next to where she was sitting.

Charlie hugged her and then he too was gone back to the shelter of bleak anonymity and the fortune of whatever opportunity loomed around the next corner. But this time he did so with some purpose. Charlie knew exactly where his night lay!

His mother swaddled the baby as best she could with some linen, laid him on one side of the straw mattress and picked up a well worn book that had also been the product of one of Charlie’s disreputable exploits and gently began a whispered read.

As the baby beside her fought the ever increasing weight of his eyelids, her words slowed, then hushed even more and finally drifted to a stop. She raised her eyes from the page, looked out on the encroaching night and pulling the only blanket up to her chin she allowed one teardrop to fall. A tear not for herself, but for Charlie and the baby’s future.

It was dark evenings and sometimes even the days of an Edinburgh winter tended to be, but at least the sharp weather front had receded and it was now still and surprisingly quiet as Andra made his post-refreshment way to the Cowgate and home.

“And is this the lull before tomorrow’s tempest?” he wondered.

“But the coming tempest is one that that we not only cannot avoid, it is also one that we must not avoid if all that we have planned is to have any chance of success.” He shivered this time at the thought, but realised it was only the formality of years that feared for the dreams of his ambitious youth.

As he rounded his house from the rear, passing close by the disused stables, and as always he checked for the presence of the agreed signal.

It was there, a deliberately placed crossed pair of twigs lying at the entrance to the hay barn! The appointment had been confirmed, and his visitor would be inside the barn.

He entered and immediately turned to his left where he expected as previously to see the outline of his tall visitor standing in the shadows.

He turned hesitatingly right and peered expectantly into each darkened corner of the straw strewn barn. But there was nothing!

For a few brief moments, Andra felt that the battle of emotions starting again in his stomach. Patrick had never laid the sign and then not been there. Andra suddenly was taken with the urge to leave quickly; a confusion stirred his thoughts. Jeannie would be waiting; everything had gone wrong; someone had laid a trap; everything had been in vain; where was Patrick?

And then he remembered who he was and readied himself to stand firm in whatever storm was about to engulf him.

He felt the presence before he heard the movement of the man or the disturbance of the air.

A man of about six feet confidently strode from the shadows. Slightly breathless he had come in the same entrance as Andra but turned right and hugged the wall until he had come level with Andra’s shoulder!

Andra smiled to himself and trying not to reveal his latent concerns, he took Patrick’s hand in both his own and shook it warmly.

Patrick returned the affectionate grip and also smiled and in a mocking but jesting manner ventured,

“Andra McNeil, unless both my eyes and nose fail me you have been drinking. Can it be that the unimpeachable temple upon which we all rely is no more than an old sot?”

“You watch your words wae me” Andra replied again with affection “I have indeed discovered the liberating effects of the hops and the barley too late in life. Or perhaps not too late. Perhaps the curse of drink is only a curse to those who find it young. Perhaps it is a gift to those who can harness its essence within the spectrum of experience.”

“Maybe it is a reward” smiled Patrick “A treat to say ‘well done and now relax it is time for others to take the torch forward and light up the path to the future’!”

“In truth” interrupted Andra “it is a strange reward indeed for it is but the only the way to kill this damn pain that pervades my body. Each waking moment, each faltering step, each breath is accompanied by a constant reminder of my mortality and for those who hold such myths dear, my approaching judgement. I am now treated by self-appointed, self-regarding, clever, conceited physicians, whose talents have allowed them to carelessly mislay or dismissively ignore the knowledge of the Greeks and the Eastern Ancients. They regard me as a no more than an interesting experiment, a walking cadaver, as they cut, prod and probe my body with the enthusiasm of the explorer and the skill of the butcher. And after all their efforts my only relief comes in a tankard or goblet! When the pain gets even too great for that, I give in to my atheism and embrace the ways of religion, well at least that enlightened monastery which produces uisge beatha. Even religion has its good points!

But enough of that for we have little time left!”

“Tomorrow is the day when the tidal wave of avarice and fear finally overwhelms and begins to drown the culture which our families hoped would thrive and flourish. It is inevitable and while in the immediate years to come we may wonder if life has been squeezed forever from the body of freedom, we will all ensure that we keep breath in its lungs and a beat in its heart.”

“It is time to move on from the role that you have discharged to date. You must now become familiar with and influential in the roles of all the others involved. This must happen now for it is likely that I am now a liability as the forces that would prevent our ambitions bearing fruit will already have identified me as a target for the blade and by tomorrow evening, we must assume that they will have identified the others. You they do not know, no-one knows!”

Andra and Patrick moved further in to the rear of the stable, where pulling back a long back curtain hanging from the platform overhead, Andra lit a low light lantern and swept the stray blades of loose grass and straw from the table.

He reached inside his coat and with a sudden confusion appearing upon his face and an increasing panic he searched every pocket, every fold, not once but twice and with almost reckless abandon he searched the floor and threw back the curtain shedding a low glow to compromise the darkness.

He was about to turn in desperation and drag Patrick back down the route he had been when he felt the hand of his young friend grasp his shoulder.

“I am sorry! I should not have waited, but I suppose I have not yet totally shed the irresponsibility of inexperience. Here is your wallet!”

As quickly as the racing heart had driven his panic, Andra’s frenzy subsided!

He suddenly realised why Patrick had not been waiting his arrival. This young man had been raised to watch over him, and even when Andra had not been aware of Patrick’s presence, the guardian eye had been on watch.

“I am careful of the unusual in those in whom I lack trust and while there are many like that, you are not one. But I can tell you for it matters little now, that I was fearful that everything we had hoped had been ripped asunder. But all is well again and we can proceed as we planned. How did you come by this?”

“You need to be more careful of the numbing effect of ales and wines, my friend, but if you truly trust me you will know that no harm has been done and apart from one small modification to the contents, everything is as it was”

“What sort of modification?” enquired Andra whilst searching the pockets of the leather case.

Patrick smiled again!

“It is two guid Scots pounds lighter than it was, but I judged that there was a greater need than to have them gather mustiness in the folds of your coat.”

Andra removed the other ten pounds and handed them to Patrick.

“Make sure that these also go to a need which is more deserving than all the vultures that may come to pick on my bones!”

Patrick took them and placing them into his own empty purse, he nodded.

Andra again pulled back one of the pockets of the wallet and this time took out a folded piece of paper which with some discomfort he bent over and spread and smoothed open on the table!

Patrick similarly bent over and peered carefully at the document lit poorly but sufficiently in the low light from the lantern!

There were few words written down, but a structure of names and groups each listed at the end of one arm of the Saltire.

Each of the four simple groups was headed by an emboldened name!

Group one, was a column of names recognisable to anyone with even a passing acquaintance of the body politic in Scotland. It comprised just about everyone who was likely to vote for the Union that day and was headed by James Fletcher Hamilton.

List two was a column of well kent agriculturalists, businessmen, academics, writers, and thinkers some of whom who were pro-union and some who were anti-union, and was headed by Gavin McCrae

The third list was a dangerous column of ardent Jacobites, none of whom who had a vote, but all of whom had a sword and would on the least provocation swing it with murderous intent in support of the restoration of James and the Catholic Stuart line! The Leaderwas Alexander Steward!

And list four? Well list four wasn’t a list at all it had only one name on it and that was Thomas McNeil, Andra’s son.

At the intersection of the arms of the saltire, seeing all four groups where no group could see any other was the name Patrick McGee..

Patrick stared for a moment, not understanding with a thousand questions but he knew that most of these would be answered if he listened.

Andra continued in a voice full of a sense of history, a sense of love and truth but with most of all a sense of incorruptible destiny.

“What we start this day and tomorrow will succeed like all great ambitions only if it is built on solid and honest foundations. The protection of those foundations and the structures that will be erected upon them are fundamental to that success. The privilege of providing that protection thus ensuring the integrity of Scotland’s future, no matter how long it takes, is yours.

“Each and every life on this earth is no more than a rocky meandering path. We see things that are wrong and sometimes we can do little about them. We see things that are right and sometimes we can not or do not capitalise upon them. As we tread our own path, our moods develop, our ambitions change, and our priorities alter. We become more concerned with what we have, and less with what we strive for or where our path is supposed to take us; and sadly most of the time we don’t even realise it.

If this thing we call consciousness is to have any meaning, is to make any sense and who knows, perhaps even to have a silver thread through to a God, then surely at some stage, all our paths must converge. Being the fittest, the fastest, the richest, the strongest, the most pious, the most acquisitive, and the most self-serving only has meaning in a world where there is no conscience, no real love, and all paths remain separate!

“And that is what this bastard union will be built upon!”

“Most old men believe they are wiser, but wise old men know they are just older.

“All societies underestimate the value of reckless youth and its ambitions. We fail to see that ‘reckless’ is only our definition for our own fear and a threat to our own comforts.

“We must be like the wise old men and pass on the lessons of our own experience but we must also know when to pass on the flame of our overriding ambition. The real wisdom comes in choosing the person to whom the legacy will be bequeathed; choosing the person who will be reared to pursue the ambition and still has the raging fire to raze all obstacles in their path, and who understands the need to pass on the dream when their own comforts start to take priority!”

Patrick remained studiously quiet but he had been raised in a family that could only have been closer to the McNeils through bloodline. He had been raised to recognise Scotland’s nationhood and the sovereignty of that nation. He had been weaned on the milk of humanity and equality and had been taught the values of the true nobility of man, nobility that was epitomised by his own forbears and by Andra McNeil and his wife Jean.

He was also taught that these were dangerous thoughts to have. They upset the status quo of power. The institutions of hegemony, the church, the Stuarts, the English establishment, the superstitious, and the merchant class saw only a threat in such thinking and Patrick’s role to date had been simply to ensure that no harm should come to the keeper of that flame, Andra McNeil.

As it had turned out, there had been little difficulty in discharging this responsibility. Dangerous as Andra’s views had been, the arrogance of the powers had paid the man little regard or respect.

After all, most of his time had been spent speaking out quietly if forcibly for the cause of the Saltire. Each speech, entreaty or utterance had been noted, the dismissive reaction gauged, and then forgotten by those who viewed him as a voice in the desert.

They hadn’t been aware of his less visible actions..

But now with the advent of a vote for an incorporating union between the parliaments of Scotland and England, every self-interested eye was cast upon those that might even in the slightest way disturb that aim.

Andra, dismissed in the past or not, was one who would be under examination. Nothing could be left to chance by the southern Queen Anne, Queensbury and the pro-union establishment.

As the pivotal day approached Patrick had therefore come across to Edinburgh to both watch over Andra and watch out for the watchers.

But what Andra was suggesting was clear. The union was inevitable and that those who had been working for whatever reason to prevent it must not only continue after the fact but that the cause for which they fought must not only be protected and nurtured, but its standard must be taken up with the same enthusiasm, vision and perseverance by the generations to come.

These discrete movements would only flourish if they were coordinated albeit unknowingly by one person. Andra had been to this day that one person.

Disturbingly however for Patrick, it was only in these last few brief moments that he had realised that Andra was handing him the responsibility for this chalice of Scotland’s blood!

He pushed his fears away for the moment and listened further as Andra continued.

“Tomorrow at 9.00 precisely you must return to my house, there you will wait in the side room but alert to all that is going on and all that will be said in the main room. I will have four visitors each of whose names appear as leaders of the groups on the document before us.

“Consider carefully that these others, my only son amongst them will do anything to achieve their part in our avowed ends. They will if confronted by those who wish failure upon us give up their lives rather than give up their cause. You must ensure that they as individuals must never be confronted with that choice there must be no futile martyrdom for without them the future will be no more than a sterile limbo!”

“Remember each has no knowledge of the others existence. However each knows who I am and this is a major weakness which will be resolved tomorrow. Also each has key tasks to perform apparently unrelated but all on converging paths which will return Scotland to the world. You must protect these foundations and structures with everything but your own life!

“You must listen to the conversations and then following the departure of the final visitor you and I will have one final conversation”.

Andra stopped for a moments and breathed deeply as the initial numbing effects of the alcohol started to lift. Composing himself he continued:

“I have no doubt that as each including yourself come and go we will be under close scrutiny. You and I must assume nothing less! You must ensure that the scrutineer becomes the scrutinised and take whatever steps to protect the cause of the Saltire, again without endangering your life.”

Andra’s voice softened then and became almost wistful as having cleared a final hurdle he could see the home strait and probably the finishing line looming!

“Some day very soon, if another place exists I will see your father again. Perhaps we will talk over times gone by, perhaps we will look down on the years to come, and perhaps we will have our new dreams to satisfy. All I hope is that we have some wine, ale or even uisge beatha to spark the meandering words and not to dull these damn earthly pains.

“Only he, I and possibly God know of you and your place in this world. Soon it will only be you and that putative celestial power! Within that constraint you will find it almost impossible to lead a normal life, but if you are to carry out your role you will find that you have to lead a normal life”.

Andra almost apologised to Patrick but didn’t. If Patrick was the correct choice, an apology would not be necessary. If he was the wrong person, then an apology would be no comfort.

Andra drew the conflab to a close:

“ I do not wish you luck, I do not wish you success for I know that wishes have no more substance than an echo of a voice called out in a cave.

“Success will arrive through application and work. No-one is better equipped than you for that labour. Be successful; that is not a request Patrick. That is a both an instruction and a prayer, an agnostic prayer admittedly, but a prayer nevertheless! Scotland’s and perhaps even a wider constituency’s ultimate destiny depend upon your success

I must be away now. Wait for at least one hour before you leave.!”

As he prepared to go, Andra reached into the inside of his coat and pulled out the flax wrapped small flask.

“This contains water, soil and air taken today while Scotland is still free. Keep it safe and make sure that one day it is returned to Scotia’s bosom when once again the bells of liberty ring out”

Andra took an even more deep painful breath and left. As he did so he looked down at the crossed twigs in the moonlight, kicked them apart and rounded to the front of his home, where through the shutters he could just make out the glow of the fire in the hearth, always lit, always warm and always welcoming!

He quietly opened the door and with the knowledge of many years crossed to the bedroom, where he gently lowered himself into the blanket and mattress and lay staring straight up at the ceiling.

He felt the gentle touch of a familiar hand on his cheek and turned his head slowly to see the smiling eyes of Jeannie staring at him and lightening up the gloom.

“Is everything right with the world Andra?”

“It is now!” he whispered “After tomorrow, it will be for others to dream”

“And will their dream be as yours Andra. Will it burn with the same fervour? Will it be infused with the same ambition, and will it most of all be built on a foundation of love for man?”

“We gave them that dream Jeannie. You, John and Ellen McGee, and me. We fed them, taught them, laughed, cried and lived the dream with them. Surely we could have done no more and can only have faith in our actions and in all of our children!

“Sleep now and tomorrow as with every waking day of our life together, I will love you even more than before!”

Andra knew the question coming.

“Aye but will you love me more than Scotland?” Jeannie asked with devilment for she also knew the answer that he would give!

“You are Scotland!”

Andra kissed her gently on the forehead and holding hands they drifted off together into one dream where they were both young again!

Patrick stood against the barn wall for some time carefully reflecting on the conversation he had just had with Andra and on the earlier words that had passed between himself and Charlie.

Had these just been two of the same kind. Immediately he had stepped into the paupers’ abode that passed for accommodation he had recognised the strength and character of Charlie’s mother; a strength that had converted the four cold clay walls, irrespective of lack of possessions, into the warm living aura of a home.

Here he was having been given a plan, detailed instructions, and resources and being made the master of his own destiny. Yet he was daunted to say the least. But earlier, so glibly, so casually, so imperiously he had told Charlie that there was a better way for a ten year old to look after his Mother and brother. Patrick wondered if Charlie had been daunted. He wondered if Charlie had admired him for saying what he did. Somehow he doubted it, not in the way that Patrick admired Andra anyway, and definitely not in the way that Patrick had admired Charlie.

His mind switched paths back to the immediate discussion. Perhaps Andra had felt empathy, perhaps Andra had seen in Patrick some of himself, or perhaps Andra had seen in Patrick’s parents an empathy with his own upbringing.

But what Andra had said to him suddenly felt like an unbearable cross, and surely he hadn’t meant to burden Charlie with something like the terror that he now felt in the pit of his stomach.

Why did Charlie keep re-appearing in his thoughts.

He tried to concentrate.

Andra had so much faith in him and yet he felt so human and insignificant standing in the dark. Was his whole existence simply a pretence or a hundred pretences? Who exactly was the real Patrick McGhee?

Irish father, Scottish mother, loving and caring childhood, but scared of the dark but never admitting to anyone but himself of that fear. And yet here he stood once more peering into a dark future, once more terrified and yet once again defying the fear.

There he had stood with Andra neither willing nor daring to show his fear!

Would it have mattered if he could have voiced the alarm that sometimes prevented him from sleeping soundly and then aroused him as day broke? Would comforting words have made any difference? Perhaps not! Perhaps it was the constant worry that kept him sharp and alive. But with it came an inherent distrust for most of his fellow man, and that gave him a great sadness!

But the strain at times was disabling. Surely there had to be someone that he could unload or even rationalise this terror with. He didn’t want to disown it; he just needed to talk about it!

And anyway, why was he hiding it? And just who was he hiding it from??

He couldn’t hide it from himself, because he knew that fear like no one else.!

Everything had to be analysed in his head. Every repercussion considered, every outcome weighed and always the assumption that the most inauspicious one would arise. Every alternative had to have a get out. So he knew all about the fear already and inside at times the fear almost but never quite won the argument with his other hundred selves!

It couldn’t be Andra from whom he was hiding it. With his senses and experience he must have known that what was about to be undertaken was infused with danger; in his own ventures to date Andra must have known and overcome that fear. He must also have understood that fear was the essence of survival and success!

It was then that he came back to that same old answer; Even now the only people he was trying to hide his terror from were probably the ones who knew of it so much more than he had ever realised.

His mother and his father! Those whom he had long lost but whom he knew still looked after him. But because he knew they were watching, he would never allow the fear to win!

And then always the big argument with the ten, twenty or was it a hundred voices inside his head all offering advice. Some calming his apprehensions, some stirring the waters of latent terror, some looking on in empathy but others with sideways glances of deceit!

Or were all those voices just echoes of each day that he had survived this weary world, a reflection of a thousand faces in a thousand mirrors?

What was the fear anyway? It was no fear of dying. It was no fear of pain.

Surely it had to be more than simply a battle with the voices. For then it was no more than a battle with himself and his own fears of inadequacy for not just the challenges ahead, but even the simple hurdles of lasting the race from dawn to dusk and then starting all over again.

Was this calm and collected man who stood against and for so much really him, really Patrick McGee? Or was Patrick McGee no more than a pretender who absorbed all that his mother and father had wished him to be and now lived in terror that Patrick McGee was a thousand shards of shrapnel and grapeshot never to be fully reassembled!

His head would pound until the world seemed to close in on him, till every sound of the world seemed to be shouting and attacking until he once more faced the demons, took his breath in deeply and shouted back at them, shouted back without words but just shouted back at them within his head and demanded their obedience!

And then it would go quiet again and the looming madness of self-destruction would recede in exactly the same way it does with all truly brave men who control their fears and doubts!

The battle of the spectres lasted almost the hour that Andra had suggested he wait and then as the night reached its myopic blackness he made his way back into town and back towards Charlie’s haunts. He had an errand to accomplish!

As he left again by the stable door, listening, smelling, sensing everything around him, he left behind the dark quietness of the barn. As he departed, above the spot where he and Andra had stood, a slight figure immediately but quietly rose to his feet and hurriedly brushed the dried grass from his sleeves and body, and picked those he could find from his hair.

Andra had said that he would be watched. Andra had feared that he would be watched and that the spy would for his or her own gain scupper before it was fully born the venture about to be set in motion. Without the secrecy, without the invisibility of Patrick’s identity and role, without the insulating safety of total anonymity, the hand of cards about to be drawn would be visible to all.

The figure completed the removal of the stray straw from his legs.

He had heard the whole conversation between Andra and Patrick McGee but for the moment, it all just confused him. He hadn’t been able to make out the piece of paper they had been so closely pondering, but the whole tenor of the conversation and the strange surroundings in which it had been held more than suggested that it wasn’t exactly a meeting that they would want blared out across the town!

He had always had a quick eye for a chance, a talent for being in the right place, and the brazenness for making the most of whatever came his way. But this was different since he didn’t really know if a chance had come his way, whether this had been the right place, or if there was anything of material benefit to actually make the most of! But money had changed hands and it would probably be a good idea to find out what its destination would be!

So with a smile to himself that almost lit up the road ahead, he decided that the events of the night decreed that Patrick McGee would be a quarry worth nurturing and he too then headed in the direction of more familiar territory.

This time Patrick McGee was stalked and Charlie was stalker!
George Coulter was Scots by birth, highly intelligent by nature and totally amoral by inclination. If it was good for George then it was good for the world!

And what was good for George was really quite simple.

Those who enabled him to live in security and in the style of the well to do would be seen as good by George. And in order to reap these rewards he did not scrimp in being his paymasters’ eyes and ears, travelling the length and breadth of England and Scotland, listening, absorbing, filing, acting upon, and reporting back what he had found out or even reporting back what those paymasters wanted to hear.

It could be true, it could be rumour, it could be false. It could be criminal, libellous or scandalising.

In the course of his occupation George Coulter had seen and heard (and probably been involved in) it all, and through that practical experience he was able in most circumstances to form educated judgements and draw educated conclusions with a rationale that would invariably match what was best for George.

If his instinct suggested that in spite of scant supporting evidence that something detrimental to his health or wealth was afoot, the George would simply fabricate the supporting information!

And now he was in the full time employ of those in the English establishment who were in principle similarly amoral, but on a scale and with an impact that George Coulter even in his most wild of reveries could never imagine.

These after all, were the people who through the power of wealth and greed, had willingly and gratuitously ensured that the Darien adventure would turn into the Darien disaster. These were the people who through their vainglorious sloughing of the scales of justice and decency, had driven this northern nation to virtual bankruptcy and sneeringly had left it to starve.

These also were the people who at the first opportunity had obliterated the Scottish connection to the united throne through the co-opting of the Dutch William and Mary, and by dint of their manipulation of the fear within the Scottish Established church had split the influential powers within Scotland and vanquished the Catholic line forever.

Oh, on the surface their wigs perfumed and powdered with the disguising fragrance of tolerance masked the disgusting reality of disdain. They lived a lie of accepting those who had already sold out and planned the living lie of those who would soon sell out to scornful airs and graces of the southern lands.

These were people who had viewed Scotland if they thought about at all with a confused derision. Those who took all that life could throw at them and viewed success as surviving were simply ignored. Those who espoused its traditions, its culture and its independent mind were to be kept at arms length, their every ambition thwarted through the corrupting power of money and the enslaving force of arms.

Their narrow minded and jealously guarded arrogance would always be threatened by true independence of thought, relative broadmindedness, and the ambitious intelligence of those in Scottish society who stood outside the little group of anglophile sycophants.

Scotland as a principle was regarded as at the very least an unwanted neighbour and at worst as a dispensable nation of the sub-species.

And most of all these were the established powers that had been stridently adamant that there would never be a political union!

But suddenly their arrogance was exposed as their imperial and egotistical omnipotence came under threat not because they were fighting France for European and high seas dominion, but because through the Franco-Scottish relationship, the work of the Irishman and Celtic kinsman Nathanial Hook, the independent Scotland offered another front for the French forces to attack the English heartlands.

Invasion of the croquet lawns and powdered corsets loomed.

And now the ill-fitting principles that hid their true intentions like the cosmetics plastered on each morning to disguise their physical blemishes were stripped from them and discarded as they panicked for survival of ill-gotten wealth and position!

The strident siren voices of ‘never-never’ changed with the threat to ‘now-now’! By bribery and graft, votes had been bought and the sound of treacherous silver ringing in the coffers proved that Judas’s corrupt lesson had not been learned. And where even that was unsuccessful the threatening presence of massed troops promised a vicious revenge if the vote should go against their wishes.

Queensbury and his acolytes brought coach-load upon coach-load of gold to Drumlanrig to be stored and used in case a final push was needed.

Hamilton, the ostensible threat in whom the people really believed was in turn threatened and blackmailed, as insidious vermin like George Coulter, dug around in the middens of his life, finding scabs to pick, sores to infect, and weaknesses to undermine.

As the day approached those nebulous ‘they’ had to know that their support was holding strong, and that if there was any backtracking, money, scandal, force, and blackmail could be applied n time to get the tumbrel of shame back on the rutted track!

And George’s role?

As a walking talking microcosm of the southern establishment and all its machinations, George simply had to know who was doing what, who was saying what, who was whispering in corners, who was in character, out of character or especially who was lacking in character. He had to detect danger in the air, eliminate it where possible, or where he couldn’t ensure that the information and identities were communicated to his masters in the south.

George was a ferret, a toady, a listener at doors, a looker-through-keyholes, a tell-tale, a clipe, a briber, a blackmailer and a shoe-sticking shite of the Order of the English Empire!

That was why he was in Edinburgh, why he had sat in the taverns and inns for the best part of two weeks, and why he had in particular befriended the fair and not so fair hostesses of those establishments.

Edinburgh after all was not just the centre of society, government and Scotland’s capital; it was also the centre of intrigue, the hub of gossip, the magnet for criminals and a bottomless pit of hypocrisy. Edinburgh was the place where the only thing that really mattered to the powerful and wealthy was acquiring and protecting more power and more wealth.

Egos inflated by meaningless possessions and ostentatious dictatorship were also attracted to the trappings of the abundant, often poor and desperate female company to be found in the inns and taverns.

George was well aware of how drink and a welcoming bosom could loosen tongues and trews in equal measure. He knew well the effect of such an explosive mix. He reaped the information fallout and filed it away for opportune use when favours were needed or pressure had to be applied, or punishment meted out!

Even just sitting in the taverns with an open ear, voices garrulous with ale or raised in slighted anger could produce enough of a clue for an astute observer and apparently drunken listener to construct at least a frisson of intrigue from a combination of name and claim appearing in the same sentence.

In the world of the immoral, the powerful man’s rumour monger and finder is even more powerful. George Coulter was a powerful man indeed!

What’s more, he was a man with money, and in a world where money is king then the man who can seemingly spread it around is always welcome at the courtiers’ garden parties. This gave him power!

A girl in every tavern was George’s objective and his limit. Any more than one and stupid concepts such as jealousy came into play on one or other of the girls’ parts. That would be dangerous for him and while he was in no way a coward, he was intelligent and intelligent men don’t unnecessarily put themselves in the path of a runaway horse!

It had been tiring, but after the two weeks, each inn that was frequented by the main supporters and opposition of the union, parliamentarians and church elders had been subjected to the ‘George’ treatment.

A half an hour each evening in each, a kiss, cuddle, fumble, and frolic was enough to keep him up to date on what was going on.

Money on the table meant food on the table and refuge away from the poor house for the maids, and George’s demands were the stuff of their dreams. He wasn’t overly taxing, he was rarely cruel, and he wasn’t as a rule drunk. George In fact could be excellent company and the personification of charm; albeit charm with the eyes of a cobra!

All the girls had to do was of an evening to make a play for the targets he pointed out, and to stick with them, plying them with ale and promises of untold pleasures until they bragged one brag too many, claimed a boastful intrigue or generally yapped and chattered like a murderer pleading clemency!

Each day George would follow the same targets on the look out for questionable habits, acquaintances or suspicious behaviour. He would watch their homes, their comings and goings, who they spoke with, who they employed.

Each titbit offered by the girls would be assiduously followed up.

And now after two hard but eventless weeks there was still virtually nothing. No hint of trouble that would shake the confidence of his employers. Nothing that suggested an unsatisfactory vote would be forthcoming.

No rumours of secret meetings, plots or unusual changes in habits.

At least his despatches would have kept his employers happy and confident, although he used to wonder if they didn’t actually prefer bad news so as they could take their aristocratically bred masochism out on some poor peasant who actually talked slightly out of turn, an aphorism for the truth. George of course was blind to the consequences of his actions, but while he was sure that he had covered every possibility, his inner self was worried by the total absence of any unexpected opposition to the union.

The newssheets were clear. They were against it. The people in Glasgow, Edinburgh, Dunfermline, and throughout Scotland were clear. They were against it!

He may have been a traitor in many people’s eyes, but at heart he still knew the instincts of the Scotsman; this apparent inaction simply didn’t tally with his intelligence.

It was the early evening of January 15th as he set himself down in the Seafarers’ inn.

It had been threatening a storm most of the day and the streets had been quiet. But now as the bad weather abated the alehouses began to spring to life as candles and lanterns were lit on the walls and tables and the City’s thirst for ale, wine, whisky or anything that would enliven the apparent futility of struggling to swim against a tide of death once again became the night’s pastime!

George sat at a small table and ordered some food and a large tankard of red ale. He took out his brown leather covered bible, unlocked its clasp, opened it up at the bookmark and balanced it on the edge of the table as it rested on his knees.

This was no ordinary bible. There was no Genesis, Exodus, or Letters in this almanac. Only revelations and more revelations than a hundred of the more religious bibles could contain.

This was the Bible according to George Coulter and contained in neatly written text every name, event, date, analysis, and conclusion that was relevant to his undertaking at the time.

The words should have been scrawled in the blood of the victims and if those pages could have spoken they would have screamed in anguish at doors battered in the dark savage hours of winters evenings, of men and women dragged from their beds and tortured, of children left homeless starving and destitute.

And all claimed to be in the name of Gods will?

Claimed perhaps but in reality they were in the name of a corrupt plutocracy and the comfort of George Coulter!

At his home in London there were a hundred of these bibles, all neatly stored and ordered in locked cellars and false walls hidden from the prying eyes of those who had been wronged, exposed, or had their reputations and wealth destroyed by George and his pointless ambition.

To any casual reader of his latest work the names contained, the actions recorded, the assumptions made, and the destinations of the reports dispatched would have meant little. Only knowledge of the codes would reveal the true, comprehensive and at times devastating import of the information. But George kept that secret stored in his head!.

Anyone who did happen to have a cipher the names all shouted off the page as much as there owners shouted in their own constituencies and spheres of influence. Harley, Douglas, Johnstone, Locke, Fletcher, Stair, Hamilton, Mar and more. Some against the union but most for. Dates and times of conversations with whomsoever and visits to work, shops, inns, and prostitutes.

Unusually in the internecine battle of selfish supremacy, George had found little to condemn, little to cause concern, and a lot to suggest that all was going well.

It had however all been based not upon any subterfuge but simply on either the addiction to hierarchical privilege or the inevitable manoeuvring for indulgence and reward as the day of the vote loomed

So although the vote seemed secure, especially with the Scottish establishment church selling out to safeguard its own independence, George had also gathered much information that was less than complimentary to the saints and sinners of his bible.

While there was straying and deviations from the one true path of enlightenment, in the form of affairs, assignations, quarrels, and one-upmanship of men who were raised in a pretend fog of enlightenment, it did not appear to threaten the desired vote.

The subjects may have been denizens of gutters which undermined Dante’s lowest levels of hell, but as in all walks of life only two things really mattered. Don’t get found out and if you do make sure that you have similar material on your accusers or even more importantly the influence and money to ensure their silence. After all George, his peers, and his paymasters all stunk of the same gutters, and a lot of other wanabees stood in line for the privilege of joining them.

George simply reported back the relevant comforting messages, but kept for potential future use the more irrelevant juicy bits. In the absence of any return information or instructions he rightly assumed that those who mattered to his well-being were indeed well-pleased in his efforts!

George of course was not exclusively greedy and immoral. This convenient twin personality was merely the fuel that stoked the fire of his ambition and further inflamed a dangerous jealousy of those who had scaleds the protective echelons of the highest office in English civil society.

Each level of this civil society, deriving its hierarchy and authority from a mongrel bloody history of twisted personalities, dysfunctional families, and misappropriation and corruption of Christian ideals, existed in a forelock tugging, bonnet doffing, green –eyed subservience to the level above, while grinding the level below with the mud ingrained heel of their boots and the cold threatening steel of their swords.

Only the top level, the highest level was free of subservience. But even at this rarefied height eternally vigilance and sensitivity was needed if factional interests and their machinations in an apparent common cause were to be detected, disarmed, crushed and vanquished!

George operated at the second stratum and operated on the basic premise that only once he was at the top level would the self-serving history of his deeds to get there, no longer be of a threat. Fording that next rite of passage would also give George the ephemeral satisfaction of removing his own duty to the English Queen’s current incumbent of that position in Edinburgh, a certain Daniel Defoe and access to the man who would be king of Scotland in all but name, Lord Queensbury.

George lived by the principle, if that word could be used in his case, of trusting no-one, and so he had also being keeping a close watch on the movements and actions of his apparent peer in intention but superior in authority. These findings were also both recorded and reported back to his sponsors who had there own ambitions of progress.

The jottings in George’s almanac on this subject were undoubtedly dangerous; dangerous for George and dangerous for those who read his reports and authorised his activities, not because of their content, but because they were there at all!

Treacherous ambition however sat comfortably on his shoulders and anyway even if the information fell into the wrong hands they would first have to understand the codes and since he had used only his own cipher that remained inside his head, that was unlikely to occur.

And so he sat in the Seafarers, mulling over the contents minding but not minding his own business, staring at the pages in front of him, but with every bite of food, every draught of ale his eyes took in the whole room, recording and remembering who sat with whom and who was watching him.

He watched the night unfolding as the normal dregs an drips of society came and went. He even laughed as Kate had confronted one of his erstewhile targets and not only had squeezed money from his purse, but had managed to get a contact for a possible position out of him.

The fool had even borrowed his pen to give Kate the details.

He settled back down to his reading.

He sensed Kate’s approach from behind and then smelt her presence standing and breathing down his neck but with a shallowness of breath that tried to mask her presence..

He casually re-clasped his book and tied it to his the right hand inside coat pocket with a purposefully designed hide strap.

He sat for a moment staring ahead as if oblivious to her presence and then with the recoil of a rattler, he sprung round to his right, grabbed her left wrist and hauled her roughly onto his lap while holding her right hand and tankard handle hard against the table to prevent any spillage from the ale in her grasp!

His eyes blazed as he rasped in her ear “Don’t ever even think of sneaking up on me again. You are here to do my bidding and get well paid for it, but so far you have brought me nothing of interest and one thing of no value, a constant itch in my crotch!”

Kate twisted her neck and stared back at him her eyes equally ablaze.

He was burning her wrist and driving the blood from her fingers with the force of his grip and she felt the acid of angry tears begin to rise in her eyes!

“I gave you no itch” she fired back “that is of your own sodomising and if you do not let me go you will have neither warmth here nor knowledge of something that may or may not interest you”

Kate cast each carefully designed barbed word as deliberate bait knowing that one way or another George would bite. She knew that he was no sodomiser; she knew the accusation would anger him into proving her wrong; but mostly she knew that the sexual innuendo of prospective warmth in her embrace would divert his attention to the gentle kneading softness she was placing on his thighs. Even then if neither of those baits were bitten then undoubtedly he would be hooked by the potential promise of something ‘that may or may not interest’ him!

George loosened his grip as his natural instincts for his own best interests kicked in!

Kate was for George no ordinary alehouse girl. It was true that she had fed him no red-meat of guilt or suspicion, but she had confirmed so much of his own analysis and conclusions drawn from his little collection of tit bits that he had felt comfortable with the likely smooth passage of the union proposals. This corroborating comfort supplemented by her additional charms made Kate more than worth the few pounds that flowed from the English coffers into the secrets of her skirt.

The apparent anger and incipient threat vanished as with the skill of a master thespian he both released the hold on her left wrist, and warmed the ambience to one of expectant flirting.

He moved his hand into an almost romantic caress of her stay flattened stomach and hugged her waist. He could feel the gentle pressure from her breasts upon his forearm, imagined being with her in the privacy of her room and transmitted that eagerness to her.

His right hand he placed on the handle of the tankard, and with one swift move he took a full draft, returned the tankard to the table, and wiped his lips with his sleeve before gently blowing on her neck and whispering!

“Kate, there is no such thing as ‘may or may not interest’ me! You are magnificent in your mind, magnificent in your form and magnificent in your room. Now tell me what is on your mind and we shall then take your form to your room and I shall try to match your magnificence”!

Kate giggled at him and his words knowing that he had probably said them a thousand times, but also knowing that he liked to think that she believed that this was the first time they had been given breath!

As she had often said, she was no more than a rural peasant of Campbell stock whose immediate family had sold out to the English coin. She was however also clever; and clever in a way that went beyond simple knowledge. Kate understood people, she understood their desires and wishes but most of all she understood their needs.

Grasping someone’s needs was one thing, but knowing more about the weaknesses and insecurities that nurtured these needs and manifested themselves as desires and wishes that was the art form.

As long as she kept the weaknesses and insecurities as the objective she could address the desires, satisfy the needs, and impart a sense of invulnerability to her victim.

Kate was a Diva in the opera of satisfying needs!

Of course she had her own needs, desires, and weaknesses had to be the priority., and knowing them intimately as she did gave Kate the advantage of the Black Widow spider.

George’s need was information, her immediate need was money. Satisfy these needs and they could get on with demonstrating their mutual gratitude.

No! Kate Campbell was no ones fool; she was another watcher but one who knew the markets and the streets, one who knew the habits and humour of those who needed watching, and especially one who had an intuitive skill in detecting the out of the ordinary.

George knew all of this and that was why he valued Kate so highly!

“Tonight George is likely to be your last as the vote is tomorrow and you will be off. I know enough to understand that you are on the look out for anyone that will undermine that vote from going in favour of the union. I presume that you have followed up on all those who are both for it and against it. Everything seems to be going the way you want! And yet, for four nights now something small to us but unexpectedly out of the ordinary has taken place You are aware of Andra McNeil?”

“Of course I am aware of McNeil. I asked you to pick up on anything. He is anti-union but he has no vote and so unless he intends on succeeding were Guy Fawkes failed, he will not be able to hurt my objective. I have watched him some days and he consorts with those who are also anti-union. While I would like to undermine his position, he lives a bland blameless intellectual life. I have larger beasts to hunt down. I also saw your little charade with him tonight! You may play games with him, don’t do it with me!”

Almost ignoring his warning she continued.

“The vote is tomorrow George, and as I say perhaps it is of no interest but on your last night I would have thought that two good Scots pounds would be small price just to make absolutely sure. For perhaps you pointing me out to him was an inspired suggestion.”

George’s adrenalin of needs suddenly took over again and Kate first detected the ardour of desires and wishes die away, then the tightening once more of his hands round her wrist, and finally the urgent threat of his words in her ear!

“Do not bugger with me Kate. You will tell me now, and if it is worth double the agreed price then that shall be your reward. If not then I have other things to be doing and other people to see. Now speak and speak straight with no riddles!”

Georges eye’s were afire again, but Kate new that while what she had to say would incriminate no one, it would actually intrigue George to the point of distraction and while at heart he was no more than an emotionless creation, she had the advantage of having been born with manipulative hands that could make a stone weep!

She whispered as gently as a shadow cast on a moonlight night in his ear “Gently George, have I let you down yet and not only can you have the information but if you think it worthless then we can retire to my bed and the night also will be free.”

Leaving that thought in George’s mind, Kate continued seamlessly. “Did you know that till four nights ago Andra McNeil was a dedicated non drinker. And now four nights in a row after a lifetime of abstinence he is a regular. Andra McNeil has started started drinking! And only a few nights before the vote.”

“A thousand reasons” said George unconvincingly “A thousand reasons and most of them totally unrelated to the vote”

“Aye” whispered back Kate breathing gently again in George’s ear and touching his lobe with the passing fancy of gossamer in the wind! “You’re right indeed, most of them with nothing to do with the vote, but what of the others?”

She knew she had him, as he shifted in his chair his need for information now satisfied and the priority of desire now returning like a flood. Kate’s need awaited being met, but George unfeeling as he was also knew how to play the risk and reward game and moving his hand down past Kate’s stomach onto her thigh he grabbed her hand once more but this time with the gentle expectation of affection.

He kissed her again on the neck and without a word but the understanding of two cooperative experts he guided her willing hand under the folds of his coat and into his pocket where she detected not only the two pound coins which awaited her grasp, but also the passionate urging of George.

Both sets of immediate needs were now satisfied and they pushed back the bench chair.

Kate slowly withdrew her hand allowing a brief linger, George took one slow but deep intake of breath and fixed Kate’s eyes with his own!

They stood up and moved towards the rear private door where Kate’s sparse but adequate bed-chamber awaited.

An appointment with their wants and desires was reaching the overdue stage!
It was approaching midnight when George and Kate untangled themselves as their urgent wishes had at least been satisfied. Kate lay still but awake, staring in the candlelight at George and his projected shadow as he dressed.

For someone who had just been involved in both willing and highly enjoyable love making there was strangely nothing romantic or loving about the look.

It was a mixture of question and answer. Each little question of why he was the way he was answered inside her own head by her own answer about herself.

He approached the bed and bent down to kiss her, but surprising even herself she turned her head away. He touched her hair!

“We will meet again” George stated, the emphasis on ‘will’. This time he was the one to be surprised!

“I know we will,” said Kate “But I really do fear it will in a place that is a lot warmer than a Scottish winter and where I doubt very much if they sell ale!”

“Aye but the company should be damn good, because just about everyone I know will be there!” he almost laughingly retorted and then turned on heel and passed back through the private door, leaving Kate to her thoughts, her two Scots pounds, and the two English pounds he had also left for her to discover at daylight.

He knew that he could have stayed with her that evening, but he had to get back to his digs in the Tollbooth Tavern where he could think about Andra McNeil and his drinking. Needs really could be the most inconvenient of motivations but their imperatives simply had to be obeyed.

The final dregs of Edinburgh society, at least the ones still with either money or evil intentions for the remainder of the night were still sitting at the tables. This time much more sparsely spread around.

As George passed through, those who could raise their heads to look up did, those who could not, just raised their eyes and the others just continued to snore.

George checked with a squeeze of one elbow that his musket was still there and with a squeeze of the other that the large sharp serrated throat ripping knife was also strategically placed.

Quickly, with darting sideways glances that strain the lateral vision to the extreme but don’t cause offence to the sort of thugs who take great pleasure in taking offence, he passed through the door and into the street. He turned immediately to his right and almost collided with a tall black clad man striding purposefully down the Mile towards the lower end of town!

Both of them made avoiding moves and uttered coincidental apologies.

Two of the drunken louts from the inn, staggered past George and made their way across the Mile towards Parliament Square, each of them singing different songs, different tunes, in what can only be described as perfect discord. They appeared happy!

George gave them some time to head on their own way home although to be fair, if he couldn’t have handled both of them in the state they were in he shouldn’t have been on the street at that time of night.

He was still standing outside the Seafarers, when in the gloom across the street he caught site of what appeared at first to be a hunched man bobbing and weaving in and out of the shadows. The figure moved quickly in bursts but without a sound in the better lit areas but stopped in the shadows to take stock and then shoot off once more, heading in the same direction with just about as much purpose as the figure that George had almost collided with.

As his eyes grew accustomed to staring into the gloom, he realised it was no hunched figure but that of a young boy dogging in the previous man’s footsteps.

He watched for about another minute with some interest but with no intention of intervention and eventually the boy disappeared from view.

George looked around the streets which had now gone very quiet and slowly set off towards his lodgings. His senses, automatically attuned as they always were, also buzzed with a frisson of nervousness about this evening making him even more sensitive to his surroundings and the each unexpected noise that exaggerated his imagination. The remaining effects of the earlier alcohol both stimulated the demons in his mind and correspondingly dulled his reactions.

Tales of the wynds of Edinburgh had fascinated George for many years and now in concert with the ale and wine, confronting their reality at first hand had taken on even more presence.

Murderous story after murderous story, each more horrendous in their telling and deeds; mutilated women, children, hearts, tongues and eyes ripped out but absorbingly no other sign of violence and many still with their purses intact! Lanes populated by vagabonds, thieves and body-snatchers, but most of all by angry, vengeful spirits materialising for a brief moment to scare their victims into madness, seizure, and soulless death!

Rubbish he knew! Rubbish he believed! But with an unaccountable respect for the legends of the shadows, he kept the nervous laugh to himself.

He mentally slapped himself and tried to think on other more pleasant things. But being honest with himself, an irregular occurrence, he found very little of a pleasant nature upon which to dwell. Even the earlier part of the evening shared with Kate could not occupy his mind for more than a fleeting few seconds. Each darkened corner or sudden alleyway off to the right or left spurred his subconscious into overdrive and forced into his waking mind the shapes and movements of figures with knives, guns, and bludgeons all waiting to batter him into the next world.

He chastised himself again, but the depressive effects of the strong wine ensured that his mind’s eye translated every chink of light or movement of cat, dog or rat into ghostly but silently screaming ghouls and grimly reaping spectres.

He felt embarrassed for himself. He would never have allowed anyone to see him reacting like this as he flicked his head left, right, left again searching for audible sounds of any advancing menace. His steps had involuntarily become more staccato, shorter, a rapid quickstep.

He tried to scold himself once more both for the runaway imagination but mostly for taking too much of the wine with Kate as they had lain together earlier in the evening. He knew the drink induced slight fogging of his mind only accentuated the threat of the shadows, but even armed with that knowledge, he knew that a hallucination is real to the person who is hallucinating!

And then another lane and another black emptiness, another shadow taking shape this time and taking form jumping out from depths and wrapping it’s maniacal tentacles round George’s energy drained, catatonic body! An apparition this time that was not only upon him and violent, but one that had been obviously enjoying the bacchanalian delights of Satan’s table as it reeked stale beer, cheap tobacco, musty pish and shite, and bowel loosening danger!

This was no banshee from the nether-world this was flesh and bone, and drunk flesh and bone at that!

George as previously with Kate sharply reached for his dagger inside his coat. But he had overestimated his speed of reaction and understated the effects of the wine!

He almost immediately regretted that he had not reached for the pistol as with almost a resigned air with a flavouring of regret, he accepted that he was probably in a bit of trouble.

There are many things that a man of reasonable physical condition can do when confronted by a drunk assailant, but once you feel the cold hard sharp point of a dirk break the surface of the skin and the pinpoint warmth of a broken vein on the side of the neck, the options tend to be reduced to two.

You can either choose to stop moving; or you can elect to feel the first warm spurt of blood presaging the flood draining your vitality as you crumple to the ground as what was life washes into the cobbles of Edinburgh’s darkness, you head into the unknown vista of death and leave behind only other peoples memories, and a dark stain on the ground!

George chose to stop moving!

The fumes of the beer, breath, and decaying mouth were powerfully emetic in their probabilities. The owner of this attack on the laws of health and hygiene pressed the knife harder drawing stinging venal blood while spitting his words and sputum into George’s ear!

He felt a retch coming on as the stench wrapped around him fouling his air, his taste buds, and even his sight!

“Get your haunds on your heid ya piece of English shite!”

George decided not to argue his national origin at this stage and allowed himself to be frisked first down his left side, and then the right where the vomit smelling drunkard found and confiscated the knife and then with a squeal of delight the pistol which he cocked and held to George’s head . He slipped the knife into the rear of his own belt.

“Whaur’s yer coin?”

“In my belt” George replied anxiously but clearly and began reaching down!

He needed time. He needed to work out the weakness in his attacker and capitalise on his own strengths. Time! He needed time especially as the relative weaknesses and strengths seemed to be avoiding his detection at that second!

“Keep yer haunds whaur they ur” and with one more debilitating swing, this time making inventive use of the butt of the confiscated pistol he stunned George to the head and simultaneously battered him on the back of the knees with his left heavily booted foot!

George dropped to his knees dazed and in pain and almost for the first time in his life, silent prayer!

The robber slipped the gun into his own pocket, grabbed George by the hair and pushed the serrated edge of his knife against the front of George’s throat with just enough sideways drag to give George the inevitable expectation of having his throat slashed.

The baritone rasp came again!

“Imagine just one small slice and your air will be gaun in yer mooth and splutterin’ aw red straight oot the gap in yer throat. Yer ain choice, believe me ah dinnae mind at all! Now reach very slowly intae that belt wae yer right haund and get the coin oot”.

George did exactly as he was told; his thoughts were no longer on being robbed, beaten, or even on the money. He was thinking about one thing only and that was survival. There was no way out at the moment; the way the knife-edge was cutting into his throat suggested that it wouldn’t take much to cause the mugger’s hand to slip and then so much earlier than planned, he would be taking up residence in that place to which Kate had referred.

Goodnight Auld Reekie, hello old friends, hello the fires of Hades!

The fear of death had gone now. He wasn’t resigned to it, but somehow it didn’t in itself seem such a terrifying prospect. The real fear came in the vision of how he would die, how the knife would rip and tear, how he would gasp for breath and how the last sound he would hear would be the contemptuous laugh of his assailant.

In his conscious mind George just wanted the whole thing done, finished, and over; his subconscious was still searching for time and had taken control of his actions.

He replaced his hand back on his head this time holding the money purse.

“On yer face pig keech” came the dismissive demand.

Freedom of choice in this matter was swiftly removed as the rasper withdrew the knife from Georges throat, repositioned its point against the nape of George’s neck and knelt on his back forcing his head against the cold wet dirty cobbles!.

“Why doesn’t he just kill me” thought George “It really would be a lot easier than going through all this”

He decided not to air his views for the moment.

The money was wrenched from his graft.

The assailant firstly stood up and hauling George to his feet, he pressed him face first against the alley wall. He changed the knife for the pistol, cocked it and pushed it against George’s temple.

George’s spirits sunk. He was up against two knifes, one pistol, and the combined intelligence of a dung fly and the dung.

The dung-fly rumbled into life again,

“Now what to do with you?......... I’ll give you the choice. ……,…Gun to the head is it? ……….Knife across the throat?.......... Gutted through the back.”?

He obviously wrote menus!

George felt the point of warmth turn to a trickle, run down his neck and under his collar. It was unaccountably uncomfortable and irritating, but not half as much as his head being blown half off or his throat being sliced open. As each hurdle of resistance was passed and George could see the road to the oblivion opening up before him, he decided that the quickest death was the most attractive, and having made the decision he no longer cared. He was already at death’s door and as he turned the knob, the cold became warm, the wet became dry, the pain became pleasant, and the hate became something that he wasn’t sure of. He thought of Kate.

“Shoot me now” he mouthed as his eyes closed, his muscles relaxed and his ambitions acquiesced.

“Get yer coat aff! Ah don’t want blood all over it when ah step out in me finest on Sunday on the way tae church. Ah might even say a wee prayer for the repose o’ yer soul, and a wee thank you for the cut o’ yer cloth”.

George followed the orders and then once more found himself lying face down on the pavement as the barrel of the gun this time swiped him on the other temple, scrambling his thoughts to the point where he teetered on the silver wire that connect life and death. In the distance of his reality as his soul hovered overhead he watched the coat being donned, he saw himself lying in helpless abandon and then he was dragged back into his body.

“Fine fit indeed” came the sneer!

And then for a few short moments the sound of silence was deafening.

George could feel the stare going through his body and in the total absence of terror he prepared himself, his soul, and his future for his appointment with the unknown.

Then the gun cocked and he closed his eyes and thought of Kate.

None of us really knows what that final moment will comprise or how we will deal with it. All that can be really said is that it will not reflect the four events that things happened in quick succession.

There was a dull thump, followed by a gun firing, George shiteing himself, and finally a bone cracking crash of a dying elephant falling to ground.

George felt nothing and not really knowing what to expect in this new world of mystery he relaxed and opened both his mind and eyes.

At first, the only sensations were the heat and damp of the mire that was oozing inside his trews and the puzzlement of why he should have been allowed to take his own shite beyond the grave. As his eyes became accustomed to his surroundings, he also realised that he was not alone!

He turned his head to one side and there beside him, head oozing blood from back and side lay the face of an ogre of a man-beast. He was breathing directly into George’s face and the smell was that of the dung-fly who for the best part of twenty minutes had absolutely terrorised him. They were both still alive!

At first, George didn’t try to rise as his paralysis had set in and he remained in his subservient pose, and to be honest the emotions generated by terror, pishing and shiteing himself were not ones that he had previously experienced. The next time would be different he thought but for the moment his reaction was to simply lie there!

He then felt a hand on his arm helping him to his feet and as he struggled to stand with his bowels’ sludge obeying gravity and running down his legs, he found himself face to chin with an indistinct but definitely tall man who may have been his serendipitous saviour. But there again may have been an even worse ogre, with worse plans for a worse fate, than he had just experienced.

Through the returning torrent of confusion, relief, fear, terror, and unrivalled pleasure at his own survival, George’s entreaties of suspicious thanks stuck dreamlike in his throat. But as he looked again at the shadowed face of his rescuer, his relief quickly diminished to one of apprehension. He knew this man. He couldn’t remember from where, but he knew this man.

But then as he consciously searched for a clue to the man’s identity, his autonomous auto-pilot reasserted control, the adrenalin of protective fear evaporated and with the helpless look of a vaporous maiden, George buckled at his rancid soaking knees and fainted!


Patrick McGhee had left the barn in a hurry so much so that on passing the Seafarers arms he had almost collided with a respectable looking gent alighting onto the walkway.

Muttering his apology he carried on more intent on completing his agreed errand and hopefully then getting some sleep to restore life to his spirit before the trials which the following day would undeniably bring.

He reached Charlie’s house and gently wrapped the closed shuttered window.

Inside Marie McLean lay in fitful shallow sleep, her seventh but only second surviving and youngest child held gently in the crook of her arm each of them sharing the mutual if unequal heat from their bodies.

Charlie had been the first and though a sickly child of the hovels that were their limited horizon, he was a survivor and even now at ten he still survived in a world that wasn’t built for the weak, meek, timid, or mild to survive by their own hand! It was a world where the determined, the strong, the bloody-minded, and the unreasonable survived by their speed of thought, the power of their fists, and the ruthlessness of their hearts. However, it was also a place where those same ‘determined, strong, bloody-minded, and unreasonable’ with an appreciation of humanity, aided and ensured the survival of the weak, the timid and the mild.

Five more, three girls and another two boys, had come and gone, some quickly and some slowly, painfully wracked by agonising coughs and sores of every disease. This was the lot of those who had inherited nothing but names and diseases!

Every family was the same; more dead, buried, burnt, and lost than surviving.

But now as she lay with young Michael McLean in her arms and her care, her dreams shifted to that other Michael McLean, who she wished so deeply still lay beside her, her head in the crook of his arm.

She wished again for the strength of his will and the power of his love to make ever day worth waking for. For his courage that made every setback a smiling challenge; for his faith that made every problem one to be faced together as one, but most of all for his love that ensured that through setbacks and problems they grew stronger together and stronger as a family.

A single tear sparkling in its purity interrupted her dream as she thought of the man who could have done anything he wanted, gone wherever he wished, and done great things in a world that needed so many great things done!

“Great things” she had almost shouted at him in her own enthusiasm and love “You must go and do great things!”

He could have gone anytime, away from the grinding poverty and the insatiable landlords, the landowners, the feudal lairds and the grim existence of a slave. He could have travelled, watched, and learned and then he could have done what he was eminently capable of doing. He could have taught!

Failing all of that even, he could have stayed in his own land, lived his own life, and survived or even thrived by his own hand, taking from no-one and committing to no-one.

But then he wouldn’t have been Michael McLean!

Keenly aware that real dignity lay not in taking the wide and well trodden path of convenience, but in following the uncomfortable at times narrow path of principle. His earliest memories were framed with the experience of those who had raised him, and the ability to learn through other people’s experiences. He had as a result appreciated something that we all know but too many do not realise until the autumn or winter of our years are upon us. Without the motivation of love and a faith in the pleasures of life’s essential simplicity there would be little point in travelling, learning watching and teaching.

“Great things are the mark of great men but are built on the foundations of a thousand simple things. I am a simple man so I think I will start with the simple things and then if success comes our way, we will move together to do other things with and for other people if possible, but come what may we will do them together. I will leave it to the great men to build on our simple deeds for without us they are nothing but without them we can still lay those simple foundation stones!”

She dreamt again of Michael McLean starting that journey with the simplest of acts; marrying Marie McDonald for one reason only, the simple unadulterated love that they had for each other!

And they had stayed, worked, loved, and had children. Five had died and one that Michael had known had lived, but each had been celebrated equally and each who had died had been mourned and missed equally.

The hours in the fields in summer and late spring, summer and autumn, the factories in winter and early spring. But always the homecoming and in the evening he read to them great tales of foreign lands, of adventure and pirates, of heroes and villains and in his reading and simple things they shared, she and Charlie had learned to read, learned to imagine, learned to dream, and learned to be free in mind and spirit. There would be no slaves in the Michael McLean’s home!

But then in her dream the fear returned. The ever approaching menacing echo of doors being chapped, opened , closed, and then the heart chilling rap on her own door, her own deep breath, the factor standing on the lintel, and then the streets full of women and children running, falling, silent but fearful, not knowing what they knew but knowing, just knowing that over the hill lay disaster. Clearing the brow at first the eerie silence made a shiver run through her body, and then the sight of the smoke in the sky amplified that shudder a thousand fold as there lying in the dip among the smoking embers of a factory, she knew also lay the dying embers of a thousand lives! The tremble moved from her body, but only to shake the foundations of her soul!

The women, children, and less than able-bodied men stood in solidarity of shared anguish. Staring just staring as the injured and maimed walked shuffled or were carried out of the charnel house accompanied by cries of joy or cries of horror. The pittance that scabs of a world that treated people as fodder for the machinery of profit was now translated into the scars and burns of men no longer able to work and no longer able to fend for their families.

And then silence! Once again, she sobbed in her dream, this time not the pure sparkling tear of a remembered love, but the bloody tear of despair as no more walking, limping, stretchered, but still breathing bodies emerged from an earth visited by hell.

She and so many others searched the ashes, searched the melted looms and rooms. Searching, praying, fighting back the resignation of knowing and defiant in the face of irredeemable loss..

And then there lay Michael Mclean, poet, singer, laughter maker, husband, lover, and man, burned beyond all but the recognition of someone so intimate as his wife.

And even in her dream, Marie stirred as she recalled so many wives and children who could find neither father nor brother, so many who were left only with the grieving echo of an unanswered goodbye.

As she entered that ephemeral region that lies between sleep and awakening, Marie still wallowed in what she now knew was a dream and one to which, try as she could, she could not return and see Michael just one more time.

She heard the gentle chap on the shutter, and thinking it was Charlie she arose, gently removing young Michaels head from her arm and lit the candle. She was still fully clothed against the winter chill and quietly unfastened the shutter.

The cold wet darkness rushing into the room seemed to protect its secrets from her straining eyes, but she knew that she had heard the knock. She stood and listened!

“Hush Hush” came the gentle but strong voice “ Don’t be afraid it is only the one who was here earlier”

Marie recalled only the compassion in his eyes and the act of generosity albeit with someone else’s money, and felt no fear.

“Have you come to take the money back?” she asked.

He came out of the dark.

“No I have not, but yours is not the only family in need so the benefactor has asked me to pass to you the other ten pounds that was in his purse. I leave it to you how it should be best used. It is little enough.”

He passed over the money and turned to go.

“You are possessed of great trust sir!”

“I am no ‘sir’, my name is Patrick and you are possessed of great character. Where is your Charlie”.

“Oh one way or anther he will be looking out for me and his brother. He is a man before his time and sometimes I miss the little boy that he hides away for fear of appearing weak.”

“All men do that, until the day we fall in love or until the day we die!”

“Well God willing he is nearing neither.”

“What little money you have may at least spare you the worry of him out using his wits in the dangerous world of thieves”

“Thieving? Stealing? All our lives we have been stolen from and not just our possessions. Our days, our nights, our blood sweat and tears, our rights, and for many their very souls as they have entered a grey world where anything goes in order to put bread in our children’s mouths. We cannot steal that which has been stolen from us. We can only take back a little of what we are owed. We will always be owed and we know that the debt will never be repaid”

“Tell Charlie I will look him up. What is your name?”

She surprised herself in the speed of her reply.

“Oh, Charlie will find you. Marie McLean.”

With that he was gone and as he diffused back into the night’s embrace.!

Staring now at the spot where Patrick had stood, Marie wondered what sort of man she had met, but was absolutely certain that he was indeed a man apart! And then from the indefinable darkness once more emerged a smaller man, but equally a man nonetheless.

“I was watching him. What did he want?” asked Charlie

His mother told him and Charlie climbed wearily in through the window, lay down by the hearth, and covered himself with one of his father’s old coats.

He could still detect his fathers smell on it and as his mother extinguished the candle and kissed him goodnight, Charlie allowed himself just a few moments of being a ten year old boy again as he wept silently for his father and for himself!

Patrick made his way back towards the upper town anticipating his rest but with all his senses still on alert and automatic.

He was from Glasgow! Unsophisticated Glasgow! A town looked down upon by many but a town fierce in its independence and one that every so slowly was nurturing the seeds of a society that understood where it was going.

Yet here in this Capital all that Patrick had found was a town of intrigue, a town of conspiracy, a place of dismissed lives. It was indeed a city of real contrasts. Some places were dark, cold and wet, and others were darker, colder and wetter!

Ach but there was little he could do about that, and to be fair he didn’t really feel any desire to do anything other than to do whatever he could justify to himself as ‘the right thing to do’.

Now what was he do about himself? What was his mind to make of a day that started merely as a watching brief, but then became a revelation to a world of destitution, developed into a terrifying vision of his part in the future and looked like ending with a mission of humbling but mysterious mercy?

Somehow, Patrick knew that the coming day was extremely unlikely to be much better and in fact was almost certainly going to be much worse from every angle.

At least this one had just about passed and he could sidle off to his own slumber and sleep or at least close his eyes and drift in a world of make-believe!

As he passed through Parliament Square, and headed in the general direction of the south loch, a voice penetrated his cocoon of thoughts. A voice he would have normally ignored except in this case there was a threat in its tone and a dose of drunken insanity in its delivery.

He stopped and listened once more!

There was a different voice this time but one in response to the earlier guttural threat.

The second voice was as terrified as the first one was threatening.

Patrick listened and then peered round the corner. There were only two of them!

One, a brute of a man, swaying slightly but standing and holding what appeared to be a fish-gutter’s dagger against the kneeling man’s neck!

Patrick saw a purse go to the brute, saw the pistol and coat head in the same way and heard the options for how the assailed man might depart this world. He turned away for a brief second and closed his eyes and then his natural instinct took over. With the stealth of a wolf he ghosted over the ground between himself and the brutish example of why some couples should exercise their right not have children.

He thought he heard some other footsteps behind him, but it was too late if that was the case.

The ogre’s skull was tenderer than he thought, and he was out cold before he hit the ground like a tossed caber as his nerves reacted by throwing him into the air. He landed with an echoing thud beside his erstwhile victim.

The crash of his head on the cobbles only made his incapacity more certain and more comfortable for Patrick and the wretch who now lay with his hands on the back of his head.

Patrick looked around for sight or sound of the other footsteps that he was sure he had heard. But there was only the returning silence. Whoever it was, a probable accomplice had made off into the safety of anonymity.

He looked down at the other figure who apart from one turn of the head had not voluntarily twitched a muscle. He looked as well at the spreading stain of the involuntary twitches that was now spreading across the backside of his breeks, the more liquid parts also seeping out onto the cobbled road.

The victim began a sub-consciously driven shake. Patrick laid a calming hand on his shoulder to help him to his feet, albeit that he did so while breathing through his mouth to avoid the stench of pish, wind and shite that was wafting in his direction.

It was a short lived recovery for the victim as almost immediately he fainted!

Patrick shook his head as he surveyed his new found possessions; one stinking drunk brute and one stinking collapsed bowel victim, both unconscious!

As he looked from one to the other, Patrick made himself one simple promise,

“Never again and I mean NEVER will I look forward to my slumber until I am not only safely tucked up, but I am also fast asleep and in the land where all the women are fair as a summer’s day, and I am being drip fed wine and grapes on a bed of satin!”

He dragged the coat off the brute, retrieved the bag of coins, two knifes and pistol and placed them all in the inside pockets of the coat.

“Well” thought Patrick “This fellow has been through a lot so he may as well have the bonus of gaining an extra knife for his night’s ordeal”.

As he placed the pistol inside the right side pocket of the coat, he found a book or almanac that he couldn’t remove since it was secured with a leather strap.

Thinking that it might contain some clues as to the identity of the victim and perhaps his address, he untied the knot and unfastened the clasp.

There are a thousand times in every ones conscious life where they are in the position to change the course of history. Some they realise and some they don’t. Some they are in control of and some that mere chance and serendipity tosses a coin and makes the choice for them. Life then continues on its own way as if the fork in times path had never existed..

As Patrick strained to read the jottings, the owner stirred and moaned.

Andrew re-clasped the book and went to help the poor fellow into an upright but stodgily uncomfortable position.

“I am massively in your debt sir” stuttered George “And I also seem to have embarrassed myself quite dramatically as my nerve seems to have failed me”

“I think rather it was your bowel muscles which failed you, and perhaps a touch too much relaxing ale or wine! Anyhow, here is your coat; I have returned your purse, gun and knife plus the bonus of your attacker’s knife. You were fortunate, as I believe there was an accomplice who was waiting in the shadows to join in if required and made off only once I intervened. Now let me help you to your feet. What is your name?”

“You can call me George”

“And you can call me Patrick. Now as to your lodgings, do you need help?”

George struggled to his feet and quickly donned his coat feeling even more embarrassed as the odours that had been drifting off in the night air, now were confined within his garments and for the sole pleasure of his own olfactory senses. He didn’t think he would be making a special entry for this nights work in his diary!

There was a sudden scraping and heavy footfall on the pavement behind Patrick and he swung in anticipation of an attack, but this time the original assailant was at full bounding pelt flying on the balls of his feet as fast as he could go and as far away as he could get.

Patrick turned back as George was checking his pockets.

“You have done enough and I was not really physically harmed. But where is my diary? Surely the thief did not run off with my diary.”

“Calm yourself George. The thief was after your purse. Your diary, anyone’s diary would have been of little use to him since it is no exchange value and it is extremely unlikely that he can read. Any way I have it. Here you are. I took it out ….”

George didn’t wait for an explanation; he grabbed it roughly from Patrick and checked the clasp.

“Did you read my private diary. Did you, Did you, sir?”

“I told you my name is Patrick, and while I didn’t read your diary I was about to check for any information identifying you, but there was no need as you came around. Your private musings on life and your innermost thoughts remain between you and the page upon which they are written”

George reached into his left pocket extracted the purse and handed it to Patrick. He then took to his heels and shot off calling back “thank-you again Patrick!”

Patrick looked at the his hand with the disembodied gift, reward, or was it conscience money that had been placed in it. The value was immaterial to him but he supposed it may come in handy again even if it was to just pass on to someone who really needed it. .Out of curiosity he opened it.

“Strange” he thought, “This is all English coin”

For the moment he put it to the back of his mind and headed in a more sedately manner in a similar direction to George towards his own rest but this time sticking to his recently made vow and not assuming that he was going to get there without further interventions.

George meanwhile was uncomfortable but, stooped in a crouched run he was in a fearful panic lest more ill-fate befall him. His head swung first left then right as he brandished his reloaded and cocked pistol in time with his head daring anyone else to cause him umbrage.

Entering his lodgings, he swiftly removed his clothes and as best he could he wiped himself clean or in reality just less sordid.

He sat by the candle and opened his diary at a new page and made a new headed entry for a certain Mr Andra McNeil and a man called Patrick!

Tomorrow or in reality later that day, he would follow up on it!


The mugger had a very sore head as he met up with his accomplice.

“You idiot. You waste of vomit! You erse! You had it in your grasp and you let it go and all for the sake of your perverted sense of sadistic pleasure.

“I’ll get it tomorrow nae fear, and that bastard of an English turd will pay with his life.

“You will not kill him. If he is dead the diary becomes a mere curiosity. It is his life that gives it added value and power.!

The ogre nodded in agreement, but his eyes told a story of revenge, pain, and suffering for George and whoever his friend had been.


William Shakespeare only had it half right.

The evil that men do does indeed live after them. It floats around in the ether like a disease waiting to infect unsuspecting and susceptible victims. It is through them that this same malevolence capitalises repeatedly on the insanity of egos.

The good however is not interred in the bones.

The good is the soul and flies through the mists of uncertainty and fear to a land of light where virtue belongs, is preserved for all eternity and where at last we see the beginnings of an answer to that most infuriating of all questions!

“Ah, so this is why”.

And here in a mysterious world of mysterious spirits, a cast of thousands smile as they watch the clock of life strike one to twelve and then start again. Time after time, day after day, watching awe as those they all love now fight with the goodness with which they were born against the evil they had inherited.

But there is also a virtue in sadness. Sadness for what might have been, sadness for what might still come, and sadness for what has been left behind.

In the corner of this strange theatre of spirits, she sat quietly with a beautiful sadness, rocking an cradle filled only by the melancholy of never knowing and never having been known by the child she left behind.

Her eyes stared into an eternal future of mystery, as she dreamed of the day, hidden even from her gaze, that they would be together again and this vacuum would be filled by the requited love she offered and craved!