Durosimi O’Stoat stared gloomily through his window; outside, Drury, the osseous hound, was rattling happily along, having spent a rewarding couple of hours chasing spoonwalkers.
“Blasted dog!” muttered Durosimi to himself. “He gets on my nerves. He’s always hanging around and causing trouble.”
While no one could reasonably argue with Durosimi’s assessment of Drury, on this occasion the dog could not be held totally responsible for the black mood currently spoiling his evening. For that he squarely – and quite unjustly – blamed the sixteenth-century visitor to Hopeless, Doctor John Dee.
You may remember that, in order to get Dee’s attention, Durosimi had attempted to abduct Philomena Bucket. This had failed dismally and, to make matters worse, he had no memory of exactly what had happened. One minute he was confronting Philomena, and the next thing he knew was that several hours had slipped by, and he was propped up against his own front door. It was obvious to Durosimi that some sort of sorcery had been employed and, as far as he knew, the only person capable of such a feat would be John Dee. Despite Dee having protested, on several earlier occasions, that he was not a magician, Durosimi chose to disbelieve him. What he did not know was that any magic being wielded in the Town Hall, on the night of the Beltane Extravaganza, was exclusively Philomena’s, and his threat had been the spur that had brought it to full and spectacular fruition. It was to Philomena’s great surprise when she successfully repelled his advances and sent him hurtling along the length of the Town Hall. The force stunned him so completely that he could not even remember struggling to his feet and staggering home afterwards.
It was almost dusk, and John Dee was sitting on a bench outside The Squid and Teapot, gazing up at the soft, pallid lights of the gnii, fluttering high above. Drury clattered up to him, his bony tail wagging furiously. How times change. Just a few weeks earlier, when they first met, Dee was convinced that he was looking at a Hell-Hound, come to drag him and his heresies into the fiery depths of the Underworld. Now he knew that Drury was no more than a regular, friendly dog, albeit one who refused to recognise that he had died many years earlier.
“God’s wounds, I’ll miss these evenings, when I go home again, Drury,” Dee said sadly. “Deep in my bones, I can feel that my own time is trying to drag me back.”
Drury cocked his head, apparently listening intently as the elderly Elizabethan poured out his woes.
“You have no idea of the pressure I’m under,” confided Dee. “Do you know, I had to make an astrological chart to forecast the most propitious time for the Queen’s coronation. Can you imagine what would have happened if I had got wrong? It would have been the Tower, for me, for sure. Oh… I could put up with the fog, the eyes in the sky and those things with tentacles, if I could only stay. But I suppose there is my wife and children; I should take them into account…”
Despite being in his sixties, Dee had married the much-younger Jane Fromond some ten years earlier, and now had eight children to support. They would certainly miss him if he remained on Hopeless.
Drury snuffled and leaned against Dee’s legs. Did he have any idea of what was being said? Your guess is as good as mine, but if nothing else, he was a good listener.
“But enough of my rambling,” said Dee, stoically. “Come on, old friend, let us go into the inn, where I might be persuaded to immerse my sorrows in some of Master Middlestreet’s finest ales.”
For the islanders of Hopeless, the novelty of having a sixteenth-century alchemist wandering around had worn off after the first couple of weeks. Much to his relief, these days Doctor Dee was greeted like any other regular patron of the inn. He settled himself in the snug, ordered a tankard of Old Colonel, and fell into conversation with Norbert Gannicox.
Drury ambled off to the kitchen, where Philomena had just taken a batch of Starry-Grabby pies out of the oven.
“I’m going to take one of these over to Rhys Cranham,” she said, putting a steaming pie into a basket, where it kept two bottles of ale company. “Coming?”
Drury did not need to be asked twice. Joining the Night-Soil man on his rounds was one of the dog’s favourite pastimes, second only to chasing spoonwalkers.
As they made their way to The House at Poo Corner (The official residence of every Night-Soil Man), Philomena allowed herself to voice her concerns to Drury, confident that her secrets would be safe with him.
“This magic business is a worry,” she said. “I have no idea what I’m doing. It seems that I’m last in a long line of witches. Me! Would you believe it, Drury?”
Drury would believe anything that Philomena told him. In his eyes she could say or do no wrong.
“It’s this ‘last-in-line’ bit that troubles me, really,” she said. “After all, if I’ve got a bit of magic floating about inside me, then it’s my choice what I do with it. But, whether I choose to use magic or not, it seems wrong that after a thousand years or more it should have to stop with me. That’s a terrible responsibility to burden a girl with.”
Philomena stopped and looked at her bony companion, who immediately sat obediently at her feet.
“I don’t know if I’d be happy to settle down and have a family,” she said to him. “What do you think, Drury?”
As if in reply, the dog stood up and shook himself.
They walked on in silence, Philomena lost in her own thoughts. Arriving at the Night-Soil Man’s cottage, she lay the basket carefully on the doorstep.
“Ah Rhys,” she said quietly to herself, “I wonder what our futures might have been, if you were anything other than a Night-Soil Man.”
The faithful hound, mindful of the dangers that may be lurking in the darkness, dutifully accompanied Philomena back to The Squid. No sooner had she crossed the threshold of the inn than Drury turned around and raced back to Poo Corner, eager to join Rhys before the Night-Soil Man left on his rounds.
Rhys was already at his door, loading the contents of the basket into his knapsack.
“Who could ask for more than a fresh-baked Starry-Grabby pie and a couple of bottles of Old Colonel?” he asked, with a smile.
“Drury,” Rhys added earnestly, “You and I both think that Philomena Bucket is nothing short of wonderful – agreed? Maybe it’s high time for me to look for another apprentice, seeing that my first one turned into a seal! Perhaps one day I could follow in the footsteps of Randall Middlestreet, the only Night-Soil Man to retire and raise a family. I wonder if Philomena would say ‘Yes’? What do you reckon, old fellow?”
Drury wagged his tail and barked enthusiastically. He knew the answer to that, for certain.