Generally speaking, a do-all Pendragon, such as the Chieftain o the Pudden Race, Nigel, is neither so proud, nor so gormless, as to insist upon a sticking point on a misperceived 'matter of honour'.
And I didn't blink! because you see, although it was in the future, 2084, Jasmine and Lulu and I, and Little Levy's friends, had travelled there from the past, well, a couple of weeks before the present, and before I'd received the emails and found the little paper triangle, so there was no bell to ring, no realisation that this was the woman, because she wasn't, at least, not yet, anyway; and we were getting on like a house on fire, to such an extent that when she suggested we take a look at the Neanderthal thing – everything was free as this was the Promotional Pre-Opening Extravaganza – I couldn't refuse, because I didn't want to and anyway, absit omen, maybe; when we came out of the tunnel, sitting in the little log cars running on a small gauge railway, I gasped at the view – we were on the hillside where Gattonside should be and across the river should be Melrose, but there was no Swing Bridge, no Abbey ruins, no town, nothing! just grass and woodland on the rise up towards the North Eildon, with Mid Hill peeping out from behind and a billion conflicting images and memories fizzing around in my head: "this is where I live." I whispered into Robin's shell-like, leaning close and inhaling her perfume, "except that it's before civilisation, before the Romans, and it's life-size! it's amazing!" and she slipped an arm around me: "so are you, Teri," and my heart pounded as she held me close; the little train swooped down and around in a curving tunnel and climbed back out of the ground where the BGH will be in thousands of years, and followed the contours as it swept closer to the three hills – well, three and a but if you want to count little Hare Hill on the west side of the South Eildon; we3 came to a stop by a little station, where passengers could disembark if they wanted to approach to entrance to the Great Cavern up near the shoulder between the Mid and North Hills, or stay aboard if they wanted to ride through the tunnel which would let them see inside the series of caves and caverns in which the Neanderthals lived: "what gets you closer to the action?" asked an American, winking and leering at a Tour Guide and giving the impression of being a rakehell, but she merely pointed at the train and walked away: "let's go up the hill," I said, "taking Robin's hand and leading her away from the railway' "and I can tell you what's here now, so you can visit me when you get home," forgetting that 2084 is her present, and my future, while my own present is in 2019, long before she will be born; I'm clearly not well-adapted to travelling across the Space/Time Continuum, but these thoughts weren't in my head as I pointed out the site of Dingleton Hospital, which would be a famous pioneering psychiatric diagnosis and treatment centre until a decision was taken to provide Care in the Community for long-term patients and provide short-stay at Huntlyburn, in the grounds of the General Hospital: "there's going to be a golf club down there, that's Dingleton Hill, there's where the Parish Church will be and High Cross, where I live with my aunts and cousins," and Robin asks: "hoo big's yer hoose?" so I explain that it used to be a Church School, and wrinkle my nose catching a familiar scent, as has Robin: "it's carbonado," she grins: "ye're no vegetarian, ur ye? c'moan, am fair famished," and despite her unsuitable footwear, she pulls me up through the broom and heather, laughing as we run and follow the alluring aroma!
Now, as it happened, Isa and Milly were on a late shift and I fell asleep watching Shetland and somehow my dreams got tangled with something that must have really happened in the future, or at least partly, because there I was, with Jasmine and Lulu and two life-sized Action Figures, Columbine and Luc, and older versions of Isa and Milly, and three New York journalists, Hyman, Sadie and Rose and we were on Prince Edward Island in Nova Scotia in the middle of some kind of Carnival, to mark the Official Opening of MacFarlane Neanderthal World peopled – if you believed the spiel of the barkers, and probably grifters, outside the various entrances, and souvenir stalls and concessions, several selling samples of Genuine Neolithic Impervium, guaranteed for 100,000 years - "with Real Live Cavemen and Cavewomen and Cavekids of all ages to watch and play with!" after watching a display of Scottish Highland Dancing, accompanied by a scrapegut and squeezebox pair, I stopped at a coffee stall, got myself a large latte and a slice of cheesecake and found a table with a couple of chairs, when a woman, a little older than me, around forty, I'd guess, asks if the other seat is free and when I nod, my mouth full of cheesecake, she sits and puts her own coffee and a doughnut on the table and says: "hi, ah'm fae Scoatlan – are you Canadian?" and I laugh, say, "snap! from Melrose in the Borders," at which she says, "oh, wow! ah've nevva bin tae ra Boarders, ah'm fae Auchenshoogle, in Glesca," and offers her hand; we shake and I ask her if she's over visiting family, and she confirms this: "ma cousins, frae ma da's faimly, their graunparents cam ower wey back; ma da ne'er managed oot, but they cam ower tae Scotland a coupla year ago, ye ken, tracing their roots, an invitit me fer a hodilay; dae you hae faimly here?" at which I shake my head and combine that with a nod: "I think there probably are distant family somewhere in Halifax, but I don't have any addresses, just some possible names – they must be descended from the black sheep, or else they were running away from the black sheep, so I'm here with some friends, it would be nice to track down relatives, but I don't know how, or where to start," and I know she is sussing me out, I can tell from the way her eyes move, they have that predatory way of lingering and then focussing; she's not really my type, if I have a type, but is very attractive – more Dolly Parton than Amanda Hart – and I can't help feeling pleased that she is trying to pick me up, as it's a while since that last happened; although there are a group of us who hang out in The Ship Inn and lesbian visitors usually know that this is the nearest there is to a Scene in Melrose, I'm not exactly Top of the Pops – since Isa and Milly finally committed themselves and set the date for their marriage, Midsummer, in the Parish Church with the Reception in Darnick Village Hall, Jasmine and Ludmilla are definately the honeypots that newcomers are invariably drawn to, but we are a caring, sharing bunch and there are enough of us to go round, but it is nice to find someone new, quite unashamedly flirting with me and, whether it leads to anything, or is just a Brief Encounter, I'm happy to respond if it confirms my natural pronoia, which some people describe a just another of my irrational traits, though they see nothing pathological in their own paranoia: "where are your cousins?" I ask, and she glances around, then shrugs: "probbly in a derk vennel," and laughs, "twa's cumpny an ah'm ra gooseberry," at which I say, before I can stop myself, "och, never, you're a sweet strawberry blonde!" and I blush to my roots at the shameless way I have exposed myself, but she laughs and says: "cheesy, bit sweet," and points at the last piece of my cheesecake; "I'm Theresa," I say, "Theresa Somerville, but everyone calls me Teri," and she replies: "hiya, Teri, ah'm Robin Goodchild!"
I stare ahead, to where the driver sits, wondering; then dismiss the thought – he is a Melrose man, lives in a flat at Morrow Gardens with his wife, has been known as the Grumpy Driver since I was a schoolgirl and his name is Ben Nevis; I scan the backs of the seats ahead of me – no triangles of paper tucked into their frames, so I quickly move to the back – it's a quiet time and no-one sitting there; I check the other seat backs but again, no more white papillotes; who could possibly have known that I would be coming home on that train? that I would catch this bus? that if it is empty, I always sit on that seat, halfway up the bus on the near-side? suddenly the thought strikes me that if I am being stalked, my snidey replies to Robin Fairchild could be regarded as provocation! the bus has gone by my stop and yet I don't move until it pulls up by the car park at the end of Buccleuch Street; feeling rather shaky, I leave the bus and slowly – for I'm finding the difficulty of trying to think while putting one foot in front of the other challenging – haul myself into the Greenhouse Café – for years this was Melrose Coffee Shop, known locally as Papa Jack's after it's avuncular owner, although for years it was unchanged, from season to season, year to year, because when it came to décor, Jack was a pinchpenny, until he sold it to the people who own Milestone, a Garden Centre at Newtown St Boswells, and they transformed it; Rita, one of the regular waitresses approaches me and asks if I want my usual – a Latte and slice of cheesecake; numbly I nod and, sensing that something is wrong, she sits beside me and asks if I'm okay; Rita is naturally questionous, in a good way – she should be a counsellor or therapist, or an investigative reporter, because she knows how to get to the nub of another's problem, and this first chance to talk switches something inside me and I pour it all out, in a torrent, disjointed, sequence disrupted, but somehow she manages to make sense of the of the thing and tells me to wait, while she passes on my order; she seems to return instantly and I realise my perceptions are distorted, for it would at least have taken a few minutes, but here is my steaming latte and a larger than usual slice of cheesecake, and we are joined by Rosa, another waitress who has been a friend of mine since schooldays and Rita has already told my story to Rosa, so I must be having black-outs, whole minutes truncated without me having any sense o the loss: "you need to go to the polis," says Rosa firmly – and I remember that she was stalked by an ex-girlfriend a couple of years ago, a really heavy-duty affair that nearly put her in Huntlyburn until she overcame the natural reticence of lesbians and involved the police: "fer fucksake, Isa and Milly live wi ye, they'll ken hoo tae track this Robin person doon, won't they?" and of course I agree; I take out my phone and show the email correspondence to Rosa and Rita: "aye," says Rita, "they'll be able tae find oot wha this Robin is, whaur she sent these messages frae – or he, whichever it is," and of course they're right; my cousins are police officers and work mainly on cases involving women and children, not that they are always successful – lawyers can make mincemeat out of what seem to be watertight cases – but at this stage all I want to know is who Robin is and how she or he could possibly have known that I would be on the bus, which is when I show them the curling paper, with the phone number: "div ye want me tae phone her – ah kin withhold ma ain number – pretend like am daen Merkit Research an we kin hear her voice?" but. tempted though I am, I decline Rosa's offer: "no, babe, I'm going to speak to Isa when she finishes her shift," but the truth is I'm scared, for all we know, this Robin person might even be watching us at this very moment and I don't want to risk putting Rosa or Rita into the firing line!
And then today, I'd just got off the train at Tweedbank and saw the Melrose bus waiting at the stance, engine revving and the driver looking at his watch, so fairly hurled myself aboard and ticket in hand, took a seat when my phone gave that irritating chirrup that tells everyone I've got an email – it was my little nephew, who's only six, who chose it and I haven't the heart to tell him how much I hate it – and it was another one from the schmuck who wrote to me yesterday about how to read The Adventures of Daphne and Maude but while yesterday's was signed R Goodchild, this time it was from Robin Goodchild, which still doesn't tell me very much, Robin being one of those unisex catchall names which I've always assumed parents choose so they don't have to have two just in case, but so many of my friends opt to know the baby's gender in advance that it probably doesn't arise so much now, though Robin Goodchild probably pre-dates that option, although the question made me wonder if my new best friend is younger than I had assumed (yes, Ass/U/Me, I know, but I still can't help myself): "thankyou, but I was thinking more about Genre: should I be reading The Adventures of Daphne and Maude as a Psychological Thriller, Murder Mystery or Historical Novel?" and perhaps it was the impetus of the bus and wanting to have finished with this before I got home that made me jab a reply: "Sci-Fi Police Procedural RomCom with a twist of Black Magic and Scottish Chivas Regal!" and without even bothering with Dear Robin, Dear Sir or Madam, or preferably To Whom It May Concern, wheeched it on it's way to who the fuck knows where, when my attention was suddenly drawn to a little triangular papilotte, tucked into the frame of the seat-back in front of me; I pulled it out, carefully, not wanting to tear it – you've probably guessed that I've been picking up stones and driftwood on beaches since I first went to the sea-side, collecting bus and train tickets since I first was given my own one to hold on a draughty journey to Edinburgh for the Lyceum Pantomime when I was about 5 and have kept them all in an old suitcase along with other things too embarrassing to mention here, such as those photo-booth strips when five or six or seven squeeze in and pull faces, or those wristbands you get when you are having a minor (or even major) operation at the Borders General, all the postcards your jammy friends send from the Aleutian Islands or Kathmandu and you know they won't have kept yours from Auchterarder, Auchtermuchty or Auchinshoogle; but when I turned it over, imagine how spooked I was when I saw, in neat printing: Robin Goodchild 07429124536!
Yesterday I received a rather histrionic email from a throttlebottom who asked me, "how should I read The Adventures of Daphne and Maude?" and I wondered to myself, "what kind of sequestered person asks such a question?" as the obvious answer would be, simply, "from the beginning to the end," but then I began to think about all the varied personalia of the story, the real people who are participants, the actual events described, the many locations in both Time and Space, the Snakes and Ladders, the Worm Holes, the Derring-Do, acts of bravery and valour, of stealth, cunning, evil and devilment, heroics and treachery, and it occurred to me that a New Reader need not be hampered or constrained by same the sequence as I have been so, I wrote back: "start at the end and read backwards to the beginning, then, as the story will have progressed from your starting point, go to the new end and work back to where you began, and you will realise that not only is every word in the story absolutely true, but both Time and Narrative have the fluidity and direction of a Spiral!" clicked on Send, sipped my Laphraoigh and thought, "what a schmuck!"
Feeling rather frustrated and annoyed, I dialled the number again and it was picked up on the third ring: "you again!" most definately not a question: "tell me again how you got this number," so, disregarding the feeling that I was being treated as a minion, I repeated the story of finding his entry in the Visitor's Book at the Church of Our Lady of Longformacus in July 2001 and his promise to answer truthfully any question to which he knew the answer, followed by a string of numbers and the note: "if you can work out the answer to this puzzle!" and the time my Aunts and I had spent vamping over them, until Father Macaneny, just returned from his afternoon passeggiata, walked into the back parlour with a glass of Jameson's and asked us what we were scratching our heads about; Auntie Cristo told him and showed him the entry in the book; his laugh provoked a coughing fit and he didn't speak until he had gone into the garden to spit out the phlegm and returned: "ah, Bejasus! an didn't it have me scratching me own head too an gettin the distinct impression some joker was pullin me leg an treatin me like a throttlebottom! until I saw it? it's a series o grid references, latitudes an longitudes, follered be dates an if ye can work out the right ones, which is the locations an which the dates, ye'll realise that each grouping, an there's hauf a dozen if me ould memory serves me aright, is an important event somewhere in the wurrld an obviously this feller's claimin tae know whit really happened an if ye've got enuff money tae spare on a wild goose chase ye're welcome tae it!" and we all stared at him as he sat down and switched on the television: "ach!" he snarled, "all they're bleatin on about is the same on the TV or the radio – this Independent Group of MPs, it's a contradiction surely tae God, is it no? it started with the Seven Dwarves walking oot o their Labour Camp an swearin tae bring down the Heid Gaffer unless he guarantees not to use silly nicknames when he addresses them, for the life o me, I'd never heard tell o ony o them, septin that young feller Chucka Munny, then another Dwarf nobody knew was there comes out o the woodpile an joins them, follered by the Three Little Piggies from behind the cottage, all because their Pigsty has voted to leave Fairyland and they don't want to but the Ould Sowell hoo's Queen o the Sty sez a the pigs includin her'll hae tae compromise an vote fer her Big Deal – so now there's eleven and can anyone explain to me how you can have an Independent Group or Pairty? surely the whole fuckin point – fergive me French, Mesdames – is that if ye're Independent, ye're not in any Group or Pairty, or am I missin sumpn here? an now yet anither unbeknownst Dwarf has stood up tae be coontit, though he's no fer jinin the eleven, cause he likes the Ould Sowell an sez he's fer acceptin her New Big Deal which is the Ould Big Deal with more vowels so instead o Twelve Apostles, ye've got eleven o wan an wan o the ither who's neither wan ting or t'ither, is that stupit or what?" and Auntie Maude asked him: "did you phone him, once you'd worked it all out?" but he just snorted: "dae ah look like I came ower on a Banana Boat? are me claes buttoned up the back?" and he looked pityingly at Maude: "is it me whose got a fortune tae spend on transatlantic phone calls tae a Conspiracy Nut? ye're damned right ah didnae, it's the pre-Twitter sorta thing these eejits got up tae, leavin strange messages aboot the place an waitin tae see who takes the bait – well 'No Me' is the answer!" and he threw down the remote control and went off in search of the bottle of Jamieson's he knew he'd put in a safe place, if he could only remember where!
"Who was the brains behind Watergate? not Nixon, or Haldeman or Ehrlichman, not Liddy or Magruder or Hunt or even Mitchell; they may have set the scene, provided the motivation for the whole hoopla, but Jesus! in comparison, Nixon was an analphabet, his drive came from his paranoia, his childhood poverty, his religious faith – but blind cunning doesn't create the revetment necessary to be able to hide the essential truth from investigative journalists, the FBI and the NSA for forty-six, nearly forty-seven years; nope, it was our old friend MacFarlane, under one of his pseudonyms: Sir Pontius MacFarlane, with his usual sidekick, this time Dick Doubleday; essentially it was a scam, intended to smear everyone, from CREEP to Tammany Hall, in the same way as they did during the last Presidential Election, I mean, who was pulling the strings to use Trump's Campaign to undermine Clinton and at the same time to leave Trump DNA all over the show? and before you say Putin, have you heard of Count Parkoff Matzfalinkov? or Darcus Dubledey? well they are the same pair of rogues and rascals and Doubleday/Dubledey is a natural-born hacker and they were the brains and brawn behind both operations – in 1972 and 2016, and don't ask what they were involved in between those, I don't have long enough time on this Earth to list them all!" the call was abruptly terminated and all I could hear was static and the sound like an angry wasp in my ear.
Later, in the back room of Giovanni's off Broadway, MacFarlane and Doubleday went over for the third time the sockdolager that had felled Mr Brink: this time, Doubleday – whose acting skills may not have been on a par with MacFarlane's – was yet able to emote with greater empathy than The Chief, when it came to expressing Mr Brink's distress at the thought of laying off his employees, and causing the same fate to befall the workers in the many smaller businesses which solely supplied Brink's corporation; the man was no rainmaker when it came to increasing the turnover and yield of the company, but having worked for it, man and boy, since leaving college, and risen through the ranks to his present position as CEO, he was more in touch than many businessmen with the lives of the thousands who depended on him for the maintenance of their mortgages, credit cards, car loans, dental and health care, Christmas and birthday presents for their partners and kids, alimony and child-support, not to mention pet insurance, vacations and occasional playing away; he doubted whether any of the workers could afford to dine at Giovanni's, to experience the magirist at work, with a talent that made every dish, side-dish, dessert, taste like a little bit of Heaven, but that thought made him chuckle: "y'know, Chief, Mr Brink will probably get to Heaven when he dies, unlike us, but we have our Heaven on Earth!" and they clinked their glasses to their new Goose: "Long May He Lay Our Golden Eggs!"
"OK," said the Inspector General as he graciously received a cup of coffee and sipped it languidly, looking quite at home in the illustrious office of the Managing Director: "to get to the point – it may be a simple matter of poor husbandry, but on the other hand, there might be genetic factors at work; either way, your badling consists of poor layers – the eggs are of a most inferior quality and I will be obliged to issue an Order, cancelling your Permission to Trade; what to you think of that, Buddy?" the Managing Director looked as if he had been pole-axed, his face was deathly pale, eyes red-rimmed, his whole body trembled like one afflicted with St Vitus Dance and the Inspector General wondered if the man might be on the verge of a nervous breakdown: "look here," said the Inspector General, with an air of bonhomie that did not come naturally to a hatchet-man, "if there was any other way, it's not as if I really want to put you out of business, I mean, think of your employees and their families, how would they fare in this Brexitapocalypse? but I must do what is necessary, unless . . . . ." and his voice trailed off, leaving him wondering if his nudge had been too obvious, or too subtle; the Managing Director seemed incapable of coherent thought and then his eyes brightened, he straightened his tie and asked, nervously: "how much?" and the Inspector General knew that the goose was well and truly cooked: "it had better be in cash," he said softly, "you don't want to leave a paper-trail that might come back to bite you, so how about £10,000 today and the balance next week? does that sound kosher?" and the Managing Director fell to his knees, seized the Inspector-General's hands and began kissing them, before the other could pull them away: "get back in you seat, Mr Brink, pull yourself together and call your secretary," and the Managing Director complied: "really, I can't thank you enough Mr MacFarlane," before he was quickly corrected: "it's Sir Parlane MacFarlane, and my associate over there," indicating the burly man in a suit clearly a couple of sizes too small, "is Mr Doubleday, he'll take the cash and will tell you when he'll call for the next instalment, it's been a pleasure dealing with you, Mr Brink," and he watched as the Managing Director's secretary came in and was given her instructions!
It was all a bit like that old Nursery Rhyme, I'm sure you'll know it:
If you depose,
What I propose,
I'll disavow thee;
Do I suppose,
That you oppose,
A Hobbyist like me?
When I compose
The nose upon your face,
Your eyes appose,
On tips of toes,
The highs and lows of race;
For such as those,
Be friends or foes,
Can be no friends of mine,
Jactance in prose,
He comes and goes,
He glows near thee and thine;
Who draw their bows,
He draws his own red line,
He caws and crows,
Lies back and shows,
The fog upon the Tyne;
But when the snows
Of winter froze
Your words upon your tongue,
Did you expose
The ebbs and flows
That mystify the young?
It was as if the mountain had consumed itself in a massive act of self-deglutition, for the rock ceiling which had been above them in the chamber, was now replaced with a night sky displaying a myriad of stars surrounding a gibbous moon which shone brightly directly overhead, and the two figures seemed to hang in apposition, backlit by the spotlights ranged below and focussed on the famous HOLLYWOOD sign, and through Alec Curle's mind, over which he apparently had no control, ran the rhyme:
The entrance to the cave system – for, as Alec explained to Connor, this was not simply a large Cavern, as it had many tunnels, high enough for even a tall man to walk upright, and other smaller caverns on different levels, indeed some were reached by staircases, steps cut out of the living rock, and worn smooth by generations of Cave Dwellers over many centuries of habitation – was almost invisible: a large area of broom, now yellow with it's summer flowering, actually grew on what was a kind of trap-door, a hinged frame like a tray, containing a fair weight of soil as well as the vegetation itself and not unnaturally, Connor expected it to be heavy to lift but – as Alec demonstrated the cantilever system which his brother had designed and built- with upward pressure exerted with minimum effort on one particular spot, the whole panel swung up and admitted them both, before Alec lowered it again and hid them from sight; he took a couple of torches from wall sconces and lit them, then, handing one to Connor, he led the way deep into the mountain: the first Cavern was large and spacious, a wide level floor, and tiers of seating carved out on two sides, then further in it branched out into a complex of passageways leading in many directions: forward, to right and left, with sloping walkways going up or down, and stepped climbs more steeply, going above their heads, or below their feet: "James measured twenty miles of tunnels, and over a hundred what might be called apartments, these might be family areas, or simply sleeping quarters, they’ve all probably had different functions depending on how many people were resident at any time; he stopped suddenly and pointed at what was to turn out to be the first of many wall-paintings, a life-sized image of a man and woman, standing apposed and seeming to be looking directly at Connor and Alec, but these weren't the sort of things Connor had expected – instead of primitive figures wearing animal skins, this pair looked modern or, truth to tell, beyond modern: they were obviously meet cute and though they were wearing casual dress, Connor had seen nothing like them in Glasgow, even in the films he and Kathleen enjoyed, particularly Hollywood musicals; he moved closer and after a hesitant glance towards Alec, who nodded, he touched the surface and found it smooth and glossy: "what is it?" he asked, and Alec told him: "a photograph; they've coated the wall with a three-colour light sensitive paint, I suppose, and then projected a colour negative, and this is the result: and see below, it's quite small, but if you kneel down you should find it, and Connor did: 'July 7th, 2053, Darren and Natasha Kopernick were here!' and he gasped: "that's more than a hundred years in the future!" and all Alec said was: "exactly!" after a pause, Alec led Connor up a winding carved out staircase to a small chamber: "this is the apotheosis, the highest part of the cave system, this is the place from which Jocelyn and James disappeared; I have been here many times, I have examined the walls and floor with a magnifying glass, but found nothing out of the ordinary – but perhaps I am looking with the eyes of a scientist, and maybe it needs a Jacques Bonhomme, or as we Scots might say, one of Jock Tamson's Bairns to find the clue; cast your eyes around, Connor, and see if there is anything you think significant; which he did, slowly and with great attention to various parts of the rock; it was almost ten minutes before he paused, looked closely at a section which, to Alec, looked no different from the rest, then said: "see, here, duz thon bit no luik like a haun-print?" and spreading his fingers, he laid his own hand on the part of the rock surface that had claimed his attention, just as Alex grasped his shoulder with a cry of: "don't, man, for God's sake!" but just to late to stop him!
And so it was that, in the morning, Connor O'Hare woke early, while Kathleen still slept, dressed and made his way downstairs where he found Alec Curle already at his breakfast and joined him, and enjoyed more of Betty Turnbull's cooking; after they had eaten, the two men put on overcoats and boots – the visitor supplied from the range of appurtenance which Alec kept handy – and made their way uphill and onto the Eildons; all the way, Alec kept up a stream of talk about these famous hills, about which Connor professed total ignorance: "the Romans called them Trimontium, three mountains, and named their Camp after them; there is evidence of an ancient hill-fort, of the local tribe before the Romans arrived, and the invaders built a Signal Station which was part of a long series which ran all the way here from Hadrian's Wall and passed messages down to the Camp; the Hills themselves are believed to be of volcanic origin and my late brother James discovered the entrance to a large Cavern – it is not widely known, because he did not want it to be over-run by souvenir hunters, do you know, many of Scotland's Ancient Monuments have been stripped of much of their treasures before genuine historians and archaeologists have had the opportunity to study them? but that is by-the-by, James found indications that humans from different periods had passed through, in one sense or another – he found old flint, stone, wooden, even bronze tools, but others seeming far in advance of our own age, to the extant that it is difficult to gauge there uses! even some which have plugs on the end of a cord, just like our own electrical devices: you know, portable fires, wireless sets, and the like, but the purpose of them is not so simple to divine; and we even found messages scrawled on some walls – in umpteen different languages, most of which we recognised, several expressed a hope to be reunited with their authors' love interest, a few were clearly the last attempt by people approaching the end of their pathetic lives, who had given up all hope, they tug at the heartstrings, but some are a complete mystery," and they paused for a cigarette and so Connor could appreciate the wonderful view, and Alec pointed out the various places of interest, including the site of the Roman Camp which, from this elevation could be seen as filling a large, fairly level area, south of the Tweed on a kind of plateau, a good hundred feet above the level of the river; "hoo come yer tellin me a' this? if you an yer brither huv kept it sich a close secret, a' this time?" and Connor looked directly at Alec, almost challenging him, and Alec returned to look: "because you have a purpose Alec, to make it worthwhile to venture into the cave and attempt to follow the Worm Hole, in the hope it may lead you to your boys, and perhaps even risk attempting a return – I'll tell you, there are no guarantees; I told you my wife Jocelyn died in 1925, and that's what it says on her headstone in Edinburgh, but she actually disappeared from the Cavern on that same day as my brother James; I was helped by a local Doctor who signed death certificates and we put a dead deer in each coffin; I was so distraught I could think of no other course, else I might be accused of their murder – but the essential fact is that I have no idea where they went, in either Space or Time and although it looks clear that your boys went from present day Glasgow," and Connor interjected: "Bearsden!" which Alec acknowledged: "Bearsden, I stand corrected, which is at the western end of the Antonine Wall and that may be significant; but the point is there is no Bradshaw's Guide to Space/Time Worm Holes, no map of their routes and connections, so will you enter the Cavern with me? don't worry, I have been in there hundreds of times and nothing happened to me – I only found evidence of others – but Jocelyn and James disappeared within half an hour of each other, she on her third visit, he after hundreds; this thing cannot be predicted, but if nothing happens at least you will know that you took the chance, and that's the best that any of us can say at the end of our lives: 'I took the chance'!"
In truth, Kathleen went through the evening in a daze: she picked at the meal and never touched the dessert, although Mrs Turnbull, having been made aware of the situation by Mr Curl, wasn't in the least offended and let Mr O'Hare know that there was nothing to apologise on behalf of his wife for; when Connor addressed her by his familiar caressive, Katie, she stared at him as if he were a reprobate, accosting her in the street; when Alexander switched on the wireless, she covered her ears to muffle the cacophony; and the pungitive aroma of the men's cigarettes turned her stomach so that she had to run from the room; Betty Turnbull took her up to the guest bedroom and showed her where the bathroom was, laid out her nightdress and later brought up some hot milk and a biscuit, but Kathleen was already asleep, utterly exhausted by the long day and the bitter disappointment of not discovering her two missing sons and she never woke when Connor came up and slid between the sheets beside her; as for him, Alec had hinted that there might be some truth indeed, in the so-called Worm Holes and that he might have an idea of just how to discover it, tomorrow morning – but cautioned Conner against building up Kathleen's hopes, only to perhaps have them dashed again, "so, Mum's the Word?" and Connor agreed.
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