In 1630, or thereabouts, the Spanish dramatist Tirso de Molina published a play entitled ‘The Trickster of Seville and the Stone Guest.’ (Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and his librettist, Lorenzo da Ponte, later adapted the plot of this play for their opera, Don Giovanni). I may be going out on a limb here but I feel certain that Senor de Molina is unlikely to have expressed the remotest interest in the concept of time travel. It is equally unlikely that he knew of the existence of the island of Hopeless either. In view of these assertions we can be reasonably confident that he was not influenced by the events I am about to unfold to you.
Standing, somewhat larger than life-size, in the courtyard of Madame Evadne’s Lodging House for Discerning Gentlemen (which still bears the name today) is a statue of the lady herself, who parted this life in 1891, aged eighty three. It was placed there a short time after her death in recognition of the many good works she did on the island.
While some may disapprove of her chosen trade (after all, a bordello is a bordello, whatever else you might choose to call it) few would deny that she was a true philanthropist. Her business interests made her a considerably wealthy woman and she was never slow to use this wealth to help the poor and needy of Hopeless – and there are many.
In the opening years of the twentieth century the Squid and Teacup had become a sad place indeed. The inn had long fallen from its former glory, when it had been host to such notaries as Mr. W.S.Gilbert, to become no more than a run-down drinking-den, serving cloudy beer and occasional bouts of dysentery. To call it squalid would be to give squalor a bad name. This was all attributable to the extreme idleness of the landlord, one Tobias Thrupp. He was a stout, squat man who sweated profusely at every opportunity. If asked he would tell you that he was someone who believed in fairness. The only indication of this, however, was the way in which he embraced each of the seven deadly sins with an equal degree of enthusiasm. If the truth is to be told, his only friends bore the names Pride, Gluttony, Sloth, Envy, Avarice, Wrath and Lust.
Unsurprisingly, he was a frequent visitor to Madame Evadne’s, which, since her death, had become something of a social club for both sexes, offering additional facilities for a small remuneration (and half price for the over 60s every Tuesday).
Being the man he was, the unlovely Mr Thrupp used Madam Evadne’s as a vehicle to give full vent to those seven vices. The young ladies of the house (and also their ‘paying guests’) quailed visibly when his shadow crossed the threshold, which it did often. One didn’t need to be a soothsayer to know that the next few hours would bring a world of pain and violence to any who displeased him. While he always paid, albeit grudgingly, for his pleasures, there was not enough money on all of the island to compensate for the misery he caused. After his lusts and violent tendencies had been sated he would repair to the kitchen and devour alarming quantities of meat and beer, then stagger home drunkenly.
According to documents kept in The Squid and Teapot its fortunes changed for the better on Monday May 1st 1905. That was the day after Thrupp had rolled into Madame Evadne’s in his usual bullying fashion for the very last time. He had always been used to getting his own way but on this occasion things turned out differently. One of the young ladies, Madrigal Inchbrook, was entertaining a gentleman who had every intention of making an honest woman of her. He was Sebastian Lypiatt, a merchant seaman who had found himself to be the lone survivor of the shipwreck which had brought him to the island some months before. Sebastian was a big man and was not inclined to be pushed around by anyone. When Madrigal told him of Thrupp’s awful ways he decided to put matters right. To cut a short story even shorter, before he knew what was happening, an extremely disgruntled Thrupp was picked up like a rag doll and unceremoniously ejected from the building, being advised that he might not, in future, find himself in full receipt of the contents of his trousers should he return (or words to that effect).
Lying on the flagstones with his dignity and much of his clothing in tatters Thrupp gazed up at the stone effigy of Madame Evadne.
He rose unsteadily to his feet and waved his fist at her.
“ What sort of hospitality is that supposed to be?” he yelled. “Nobody treats me like that. Come to the Squid I’ll show you how to entertain a guest. Have supper with me sometime, you stone-faced trollop.”
The statue gazed impassively at him, as statues are wont to do.
Thrupp staggered away, muttering curses and vowing revenge.
Beltane eve, Mayday eve, Walpurgis, call it what you will, is not an ideal time to challenge the dead, especially on Hopeless.
The following night Thrupp was sitting in his parlour eating a lonely supper. His few customers had long departed, heading for home or maybe to The Crow, where the beer was less likely to be life-threatening.
Suddenly, he heard an ominous slow, scraping noise outside that made him pause. He put his fork down and looked around uneasily. The scraping continued; it sounded heavy and laboured. Silence. Then, just as Thrupp was about to resume eating his meal, there came a horribly loud series of knocks upon the door.
“Go away, I’m closed.”
The knocking continued.
“Didn’t you hear? I said I’m closed.”
Thinking it was the merchant seaman coming to dole out another dose of punishment he picked up a stout cudgel and carefully opened the door.
It was not Sebastian Lypiatt who met his eyes. It was the cold, blank stare of Madame Evadne’s statue.
The blood drained from his face.
“Wh..what do you want?” he stammered.
“You invited me. Here I am. What about your promise of hospitality?”
The voice was cold and hollow with a slight French accent (which was entirely false but during her lifetime she felt it gave the place a certain degree of class).
“Leave me alone… you’re not real… this is someone’s idea of a joke.”
“Believe me, it’s no joke,” she said and reached out a stony hand and grabbed his wrist. Her grip was hard and icy and a numbness flowed through him.
He whimpered with pain and fear.
“Come with me and let me show you how you can be truly hospitable”
He could give no resistance as she slowly, terrifyingly, dragged him through the darkened streets. He saw the outline of the bridge, the silent houses, the monuments in the cemetery, all cold and still in the moonlight. Then he saw their final destination.
He screamed when she led him into the caverns beneath the town. He had heard the stories but had always laughed them off as fantasies to scare children.
“Don’t let them kill me,” he begged.
She made a noise that might have been a chuckle. It was hard to tell.
“Oh, they won’t kill you,” she said. Her words were as hard and cold as the stone that formed her. They offered little comfort.
“This is where the vampires nest. In their hundreds, I believe. They will certainly appreciate the endless supply of… hospitality you will be doubtless be giving them. Don’t worry, you are to live for a long time yet. Oh yes, a very long time.”
Somewhere, from deep within the caverns, a chorus of hapless souls wailed. In reply a score of bright eyes flickered in the darkness. White teeth flashed.
If you are familiar with Mozart’s opera Don Giovanni you will know that the statue consigned him to Hell. I can’t help but think that the Don got off lightly compared to Tobias Thrupp.
After Thrupp’s disappearance the Squid stood empty for months. As no one else showed any interest in restoring the inn, Sebastian Lypiatt and his new wife Madrigal decided to try and raise it back to the condition that it had enjoyed in happier times. According to my good friend Rufus Lypiatt (their great grandson and current landlord of The Squid and Teapot) within a year or so it once more became something of a haven against the fog and darkness that lingered beyond its walls. And so it remains today.
Art by Tom Brown