Upon a whim and with a certain amount of desire to impress, multi-millionaire businessman and entrepreneur, Hiram P. Shortwood lll, had, via the good offices of Colonel Ruscombe-Green, purchased a genuine Jacobean Manor House. One small problem was that the manor, Oxlynch Hall, sat foursquare in the English countryside while Mr Shortwood resided some three thousand miles away in North America. Luckily his friend, architect and fellow freemason, the appropriately named Elias Archway, always had the scent of money in his nostrils and had secured the purchase using Ruscombe-Green as middle-man. Archway insisted to his client that distance was not necessarily an impediment. He pointed out that many wealthy families were taking advantage of the apparent prosperity America was enjoying in the roaring twenties and were constructing country estates inspired by some of the grand buildings that they had seen in Europe. If Mr. Shortwood wanted to show his obvious superiority, rather than merely imitate, he could do worse than put a genuine English manor house on American soil. There was no earthly reason why Oxlynch Hall could not be dismantled, crated and transported successfully across the Atlantic. Such a thing had been done before with great success. By a stroke of remarkable luck Archway himself was in the process of developing what would become a fashionable new neighborhood in Connecticut and the perfect site for Mr Shortwood’s new home. The architect estimated that the whole process could be achieved for the not inconsiderable sum of $300,000. He could not help but reflect, however, that this cost would have been appreciably lower had it not been for the fact that in Connecticut a labourer could command as much as 5 or even 6 cents an hour in wages. On the other hand, it was indeed fortunate for Mr Shortwood that the power of the unions had waned somewhat during the 1920s, or the greed of the lower orders would have known no boundaries.
By the time the recently dismantled Oxlynch Hall arrived in the port of New Haven in 1929, Mr Shortwood’s fortune – and indeed, Mr Shortwood himself- had also been dismantled, courtesy of the Wall Street crash. Suddenly no one was interested in reassembling the manor house, least of all Elias Archway. The array of crates and mountains of stonework sat upon the quayside in the forlorn hope that a buyer might appear or, at least, the manor would remain undisturbed until the tide of fortune turned once more.
One could be forgiven for believing that several hundred tons of dressed stone and ornate woodwork would be safe from scavenging hands but in times of great hardship necessity gives birth not only to invention but also to ingenuity, which may take many guises. Scavenging was raised to an art-form as, bit by bit, the components of the building began to disappear, liberated by anyone who hated to see fine stonework go to waste. Parts of Oxlynch Hall now incongruously adorned barns, boundary walls and outhouses all over New England. Several otherwise undistinguished homes suddenly sported exquisite Jacobean oak panelling. Regrettably, some of the less aesthetically astute decided that firewood was firewood, Jacobean or not.
It took little under a year for the bulk of the wood and stone to disappear from the quayside until just a cairn of honey-coloured stone blocks and one unassuming oak door remained. These last items were bagged by a passing steamer, ‘The Daneway’, which, according to its manifest, was bound for Portland, Maine. No one knows what purpose the captain had in mind for the remnants of the manor because he and his crew all abandoned ship for no apparent reason two days after leaving New Haven and, under the watchful gaze of a fat full moon, they perished to a man. ‘The Daneway’ itself floated free until it floundered on the fog-bound rocks off the island of Hopeless.
Young Isaac Lypiatt could hardly believe his luck when he spotted the wrecked steamer sitting on the rocks. It took little exploration to discover that, while no longer seaworthy, the ship was filled with a hold full of precious cargo that would doubtless find its way into the homes of every islander before the day was out. Besides this, the more industrious would find uses for the last plank and retrievable rivet they could salvage. It was a good day for Hopeless when bounty of this quality was delivered to its shores. Despite his elation, Isaac could not help but feel a little apprehensive however. He had seen a few wrecks in his twenty years, but in the past there had always been bodies to dispose of or survivors to help ashore. This time there were none. It was as if he had stumbled upon a ghost ship.
It did not take long for news of the wreck to get out and soon a steady procession, bearing bags and boxes, pushing carts and crates could be seen, each one keen to grab whatever they could. A disinterested watcher may have been surprised to see that few squabbles ensued. This was because most had long learned that the only way to survive on Hopeless, with its many dangers and privations, was through cooperation at such times. Among the salvagers was Sebastian Lypiatt, father of Isaac and landlord of The Squid and Teapot. Sebastian was a generous man and was not only looking for something for his family and the inn but also some items which might benefit young Randall Middlestreet, the Night Soil Man, who would doubtless be sleeping after a night of toil. The first thing to catch his eye was the Oxlynch Hall door, which no one else had laid claim to. It dawned on Sebastian that this would be an ideal way, with Isaac’s assistance, to stretcher a reasonable amount of salvage to Randall’s cottage.
By the time they had left Randall’s goods and returned to the wreck, still carrying the door, the Lypiatts found that the best of the booty had been taken. Gazing stoically around him Sebastian wondered if anything worth having was left. He wandered the ship, looking for inspiration and while standing in the captain’s cabin, he found it. Tucked away behind a curtain was a fine porcelain toilet bowl, complete with a cistern and pipework. What a prize this would be for the Squid. Sebastian had already noticed the pile of stone blocks and these, along with the little door, would give him the means of creating an annexe to house an inside privy for the inn. It would take a little planning and hard work but with Isaac’s assistance he was certain that within a few weeks they would be the proud possessors of Hopeless Maine’s very first privy with a flushing mechanism.
As the month slipped by the excitement generated by the wreck gradually subsided and things settled down to what passes as normality on Hopeless. There had, happily, been few reports of vampire attacks or Spoonwalker sightings for a while. The Squid and Teapot continued to be the haven of conviviality that it had always been (not counting the regrettable period in the early years of the century when it suffered under the egregious stewardship of Tobias Thrupp) and all in all, life was as good as one could ever expect it to be. Work on the new privy had gone well and Sebastian was particularly proud of having installed a waste pipe that deposited its load several yards out into the ocean. The project was an immediate success and within hours of the newly installed wonder being open to the public and tastefully concealed behind the sturdy oak door, a steady stream of grateful customers were quick to test its efficacy.
The mood of the island always changes a little when a full moon is imminent. Admittedly, although a proportion of some of the more eccentric behaviour can be attributed to the effect that the moon, full or otherwise, has on certain individuals, it must be said that the islanders’ concerns are well-founded. There are always the usual worries regarding the likelihood of werewolf activity at such times and experience has shown that a full moon is often a harbinger of strange (or, more correctly, even stranger) occurrences on Hopeless. This next one was to be no exception.
Betty Butterow, the barmaid of The Squid and Teapot, had finished her work for the night and had just one more personal requirement to fulfil before retiring to her small room in the attic of the inn. Betty was grateful that Mr Lypiatt had thoughtfully provided an inside privy, especially on nights like this. Wandering outside to the old one was a life-threatening experience when the worst of the night-stalkers were at their most powerful. And there was no chance of accidentally having an embarrassing late-night encounter with the Night Soil Man, either, now that the pipeline was in place. So it was, with a light heart and a full bladder that Betty swung open the privy door and prepared herself for a few minutes of quiet contemplation.
The barmaid was a hardy soul but even she could not help but give a small scream of surprise when she beheld the vision before her. You cannot blame the poor girl, having been confronted with the alarming sight of a lady dressed in the attire of a seventeenth century English noblewoman sitting daintily on the porcelain throne. The apparition shimmered slightly, glowing with a pale and eerie luminescence. It was not so much the presence of the ghost that shocked Betty, who was the great-great granddaughter of Colleen O’Stoat and, like her ancestor, gifted with ‘The Sight’. What really upset the barmaid was the fact that this particular specimen had been decapitated and was holding her severed head in her lap.
To Betty’s horror the ghost slowly tilted its grisly trophy in order to look her squarely in the eye. The barmaid’s blood froze as an unearthly banshee scream erupted from the apparition’s long-dead lips and echoed through every inch of the inn.
“A privy!” it wailed. “A lady of high birth like me, nearly three hundred years dead and you have me haunting a bloody privy…AAAAAAARRRRGGGGHHHHHH!!!”
To be continued….
Art by Clifford Cumber