The close bond between Philomena Bucket and Drury, the skeletal hound, is surprising, given the manner of their meeting. Regular readers will recall that this was mentioned in the tale ‘The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nightdress’, when Drury introduced himself to Philomena by attempting to steal a particularly attractive, and somewhat robust, full-length Victorian Nightdress from her washing basket. Despite this awkward start to their relationship, the pair became great friends and could frequently be seen together, walking on the Gydynap Hills.
Another resident of the island who has taken more than a passing interest in Philomena is Rhys Cranham, the Night-Soil Man. When she first arrived on Hopeless, Philomena was suffering from anosmia (or so Doc Willoughby announced. Most of us would just say that she had lost her sense of smell.) This was brought on by her inhaling cotton pollen while stowing-away aboard the merchant ship, ‘Hetty Pegler’. When the Night-Soil Man saved her life, she promptly fell in love with him, being shielded from his noxious stench by her temporary affliction. The full account can be found in the tale ‘Scents and Sensibility’, but it is sufficient to say that a promising love affair was brought to a tragically abrupt close when her nasal passages were cleared and normal service resumed. Despite this, the two have always carried a torch for each other, albeit from a distance.
During those times when Philomena was rash enough to venture abroad during the hours of darkness, one can guarantee that Drury would be rattling along by her side and, from somewhere safely downwind, Rhys Cranham could be found, keeping a watchful eye upon her.
It was on such an occasion that our tale begins. Philomena, having finished her work at The Squid and Teapot, desperately needed to get outside. The Squid had been unusually crowded and rowdy that evening, upsetting Lady Margaret D’Avening, the Headless White Lady who haunted the inn’s flushing privy. Lady Margaret tended to regard full-moon nights as her own, and the constant to-ing and fro-ing in and out of her domain had put her quite out of sorts. As much as Philomena liked the White Lady, she had no desire to spend half the night listening to the ghost complaining at length about the Squid’s patrons, and how standards had dropped over the last century. With escape in mind, Philomena had set off towards her beloved Gydynaps, with Drury happily capering by her side. A full moon was riding high in the sky and battling, with some success, to shine her pale beams through the fogs which habitually swathed the island. Somewhere overhead the spectral Mild Hunt could be heard clattering clumsily and noisily through the heavens. The wraiths of the six maiden-ladies, eternally doomed to hunt for some lost pamphlets (as told in the tale ‘Ghost Writers in the Sky’) were always careful to avoid landing anywhere near Drury. Experience had taught them that the osseous hound delighted in harassing their spaniels and exacerbating the irritable bowel syndrome of their famously flatulent mules.
“Blasted ghosts!” thought Philomena. “You don’t get a minute of peace from them when the moon is full.”
It was at that point that she spotted, what she at first believed to be, another apparition on the path before her. Drury saw it too, and if he had been in receipt of hackles, like a living dog, they would have risen.
The creature in front of them was a hare. She sat as motionless as a statue, and glimmering pure white in the moonlight. The barmaid had been on Hopeless for long enough to know that this was no ordinary hare; conventional animals who might find themselves washed up on the island did not stay conventional for long. Tentacles, scales and various novel appendages would generally replace their distinguishing attributes, that is, if they survived long enough for such a metamorphosis to take place.
The white hare gracing the pathway was majestic. There was something otherworldly, magical, even, about her, over which the awful, transforming curse of Hopeless, could have no command. Philomena racked her brains, trying to recall the legends she had heard regarding such creatures, but they all alluded her.
From his vantage point on the rocks, Rhys Cranham could see the hare as well. Being a Hopelessian, born and raised, he had never beheld such a beast, but something deep within his heart was moved by the animal’s poise and quiet dignity. He was surprised that Drury was apparently making no attempt to chase her.
Philomena and Drury watched the white hare for some time. Like Rhys, she had expected Drury to chase her away, but the dog was content to sit quietly by Philomena’s side. It was only when the moon slipped behind the clouds that the spell was broken and the hare vanished into the night.
If you have been following these tales in recent editions of ‘The Vendetta’, you may be forgiven for thinking that this is no more than another prank by the wily Trickster who called himself Linus Pinfarthing. Indeed, traditionally the shape of a hare is one of the Trickster’s preferred disguises. But Linus was in no condition to trick anyone at that precise moment, lying drunk, as he was, on his unmade bed.
Philomena made her way back to The Squid and Teapot, totally unaware of the Night-Soil Man’s protective presence some way behind her. She felt excited and could hardly wait until morning to tell the Middlestreets, and her good friend Marjorie Toadsmoor, all about the vision of the beautiful white hare. On reaching The Squid, however, she was surprised to find lights shining in some of the windows. Normally, at this hour, the inn would be in darkness.
She was met at the door by an ashen-faced Ariadne Middlestreet.
“Oh Philomena…” was all that she said, before falling into her friend’s arms, weeping.
“Whatever is it Ariadne? Tell me.”
Philomena feared that something awful had befallen Bartholomew, but then the landlord of the inn appeared in the doorway. He looked haggard and drawn.
Tenderly he wrapped his arms around both women.
“It’s Marjorie,” he said softly, his voice trembling. “Linus was in a terrible state. He said that he found her lying on the rocks. She’s dead Philomena. Drowned.”
Drury raised his bony face to the moon and howled.