The Persian Runner

“How much do you want for ‘The Squid and Teapot? I’d like to buy it.”

Bartholomew Middlestreet, the landlord of the inn, almost dropped the tankard he was drying.

“Pardon?” 

“How much for the inn. Name your price.”

The man who stood before Batholomew was a slightly built, ferrety little specimen. His sharp, city suit and shiny shoes were not items of apparel you would see every day on Hopeless. 

“I can’t sell the Squid, even if I wanted to,” said Bartholomew, not a little taken aback by the request.

“Oh, come on,” said the other, producing a bag of coins, with a flourish that would not have shamed a conjurer pulling a rabbit out of a hat. “Everyone has a price.”

“I don’t own the Squid,” said Bartholomew. “No one does. I manage it.”

The other man took some time to process this information. The concept of no one owning such an impressive piece of real estate was beyond him.

Garfield Lawnside had been on Hopeless for less than a week. The circumstances of his arrival on the island had puzzled him at first but logic told him that he had been Shanghaied. He could remember coming out of the waterfront bar in New York and wandering down a narrow side street – oddly, one that he had never before noticed. His drink must have been drugged, he thought, for the next thing he knew was that he was wandering around on some foggy hill, with no clue as to where he was. The strangest bit was that nothing had been stolen. His carpet-bag, which contained many of his worldly possessions, was still in his hand. Being a pragmatist, Garfield decided to make the best of it. He was a city man and was convinced he could do well around here. The locals seemed simple enough. Why, after that pale looking broad – Phyllis, or something – had found him wandering around, this Middlestreet guy had even given him free board and lodgings in The Squid and Teapot. What sort of businessman does that? 

“On Hopeless,” said Batholomew, without a hint of condescension, “we don’t tend to own things, especially land and buildings. We take what we need but no one owns anything. Ownership can be a complicated business and – let’s face it –  life round here is inclined to be uncertain, to say the least.”

Garfield had not been on the island long enough to grasp the full import of the landlord’s words. His mind was too busy, anyway, focusing on the line ‘we take what we need’.

“So… if I see an empty building, then it’s mine to live in?” asked Garfield, slowly.

“Yes,” nodded Bartholomew. “And you can use whatever the previous owners left in it. They won’t be needing anything, anymore,” he added, ominously.

“How about land? Can I take that too?”

“I guess so…” the landlord replied. ” Though folks don’t tend to, very much.”

Garfield smiled to himself, and strolled thoughtfully out into the morning mist.

It did not take many hours for Garfield to find a deserted cottage. As Bartholomew had predicted, the erstwhile tenants had left it furnished and ready for the next occupant. Garfield wondered to himself why people would choose to up and leave their homes so completely. He also wondered where they went afterwards. As I told you earlier, he had not been on the island for very long. 

It was a day or two later, when pegging out a substantial piece of land for himself, that he hit a snag. There had been some heavy rain and some of the ground had become little more than a quagmire. Garfield had always prided himself on being something of a dandy, but the clothes that he was wearing when he arrived on the island was now the sum total of his wardrobe. The rest were hanging in a small hotel room in New York. His shiny, patent leather shoes would be ruined in all of this mud. He needed to be able to get over the boggy ground without actually setting foot on it. The thought occurred to him that, as nothing actually seemed to belong to anyone, there might be something in The Squid and Teapot that he could salvage to solve his problem. 

Philomena Bucket was not impressed when she caught Garfield trying to roll up a long length of carpet from one of the corridors of the Squid. He found himself subjected to a torrent of abuse that Philomena had been saving up since the day she had first set eyes on him. She did not like or trust the man she thought of as ‘the city-slicker’, not least because he insisted on calling her Phyllis. 

“But Bart said I could take what I wanted,” Garfield whined.

“Not from here you don’t,” said Philomena, then relented, adding, “If you’re desperate for a bit of matting go and have a look in one of the attics. There’s stuff up there, salvaged from a hundred shipwrecks. You’ll be sure to find something. And don’t you go calling Mr Middlestreet Bart!”

The attics of The Squid and Teapot are a veritable treasure trove of goods and chattels, deposited on the rocky shores of Hopeless, Maine by tides and by providence. The passing generations have carefully squirrelled these away, sensible of the knowledge that any newcomer to the island could always count on finding something to make the remainder of their (often tragically brief) life a little more comfortable. 

Garfield passed an appreciative eye over the scene that greeted him, promising himself that he would return and take as much of this bounty as he could carry. His task, at that moment, though, was to find something to keep his shoes pristine, while he pegged out the generous dimensions of his land. And then he found exactly what he was after and whistled softly through his teeth.

He unfurled a long, narrow stretch of carpet. It seemed to go on forever. It was a runner, designed for a corridor far longer than any found on Hopeless, or anywhere else that Garfield had been. It must have been at least fifty feet of the finest Persian workmanship, destined originally for a palace or some other equally impressive residence. It would be worth a fortune. 

It took no little effort to get the Persian runner down the stairs, into the courtyard, then into a borrowed barrow and trundled across the island to Garfield’s new abode. It seemed a pity to use it as a means of crossing a muddy piece of land but it was perfect for the task and within a short while the city slicker was marking out his patch, keeping his shoes clean and eyeing up anything that he might claim as his own. What was it that Bartholomew had said? 

‘We take what we need’. 

Over the following few days Garfield wheeled his carpet all over the island, using it as a means for putting his nose into all sorts of places that would have been otherwise inaccessible to him. Nowhere and nothing was safe from his greedy gaze; this, inevitably, was his downfall. 

You may remember that, at the bottom of the Night-Soil Man’s garden, is a sinkhole. The capstone that had once covered it had long been removed and stood up on end, a letter D etched into its face. Garfield had seen this, from a distance, and wondered exactly what it signified, what it hid. He was convinced that all manner of rich pickings were to be had from this seemingly backward community and he intended to leave no corner unexplored.

Rhys Cranham, the Night-Soil Man, was sleeping in his cottage and heard nothing as the Persian runner was rolled past his door. The capstone – and the, yet unseen, sinkhole – was a good hundred feet distant, so Garfield needed to roll up the runner behind him as he went, in order to gradually unfurl it again on the next stage of his journey. He sure hoped that the stone with the D written on it was worth the effort. What could it mean? 

It was only within the final few feet of reaching the capstone did he see the sinkhole. The runner had draped itself over the very edge and Garfield had stopped just in time. He stood uneasily on the brink, peering down into its fathomless depths. He found it hard to pull his eyes away from the faintly green and decidedly weird iridescence swirling far, far below. 

When not accompanying Philomena Bucket on her daily walk, Drury, the skeletal dog, could often be found hanging around the Night-Soil Man’s cottage. Despite being devoid of anything but his bones, Drury was still very much a dog and revelled in all things malodorous. Besides this, the Night-Soil Man liked him and was always good for a game of something or other. So, when Drury spotted the edge of the runner, some fifty feet from the cottage door, he could only conclude that it had been put there for his amusement. In Drury’s opinion most things on the island were also there exclusively for his amusement but right now, this carpet was obviously begging to be dragged away. 

Drury pulled on it but nothing happened. The game was on as far as he was concerned, and entered into the spirit of things by giving the runner’s edge an almighty tug. Fifty feet away Garfield Lawnside’s reverie was shattered by the ground beneath his feet being unceremoniously removed and his slight form sent down to examine, more closely, the iridescence that had so fascinated him. 

By the time Drury had reached Chapel Rock he had tired of the carpet game and left the Persian runner there for the elements to dispose of, as they chose. As for Mr Garfield Lawnside, no one was surprised that he had left so abruptly. As Doc Willoughby observed, with uncharacteristic insight, a man with shoes like that would never have fitted in.

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