“Where have you been?” asked Bartholomew Middlestreet, landlord of The Squid and Teapot. “You’ve been gone for hours. I was beginning to get worried.”
Ariadne gave her husband a wry smile.
“Only up in the attics,” she said. “I can’t come to much harm up there.”
“Whatever was so important that you’ve spent half the morning in the attics?” asked Bartholomew. “And you’re covered in dust.”
“I’ve been foraging through some old books – books that haven’t been looked at for ages. You could stuff a pillow with the amount of dust that they’ve accumulated.”
“I needed to look something up… it was just a comment that Philomena made the other day; it bothered me and I couldn’t let it go.”
“And are you going to tell me?” asked Bartholomew, his interest whetted.
Ariadne drew a deep breath.
“Do you remember, last week, when she was talking about celebrating Granny Bucket’s deathday?”
“Of course. A weird idea if you ask me…”
“That’s as maybe,” said Ariadne, “But she said that the only person she knew who had known the exact day of their death was her Great Uncle Brendan.”
“The horse-thief? He only knew because the judge told him,” said Bartholomew. “It sounded like a bad joke.”
“It was no joke,” said Ariadne. “Philomena told me later that Brendan was Granny Bucket’s younger brother.”
“That must have been sad for the family, but what of it? It was a long time ago,” said Bartholomew, a little callously, or so his wife thought.
“Exactly!” exclaimed Ariadne. “A very long time ago, and that’s what troubled me. It’s why I’ve been looking through old books. Old law books, in fact. Books which were washed ashore years ago, and of no interest to anybody. In the best traditions of The Squid, however, they’ve been hoarded away, just on the off-chance that one day they might be needed.”
“You’re going to get to the point soon?” quizzed Bartholomew mischievously. “We’ll have to open the inn in a couple of hours.”
Ariadne ignored the sarcasm.
“I found out that, in Britain, horse-stealing stopped being a capital crime in eighteen thirty-two.”
“Brendan was Irish,” pointed out Bartholomew.
“They were still subject to the same laws. Do you see what this means?”
“Now you come to mention it…” replied Bartholomew, “…No, I don’t.”
He was beginning to lose interest in whatever mystery Ariadne thought she had uncovered.
“Oh, for goodness sake,” said Ariadne, exasperated. “Look, Granny’s younger brother was hanged sometime before eighteen thirty-two, which means that Granny herself was probably born in the early eighteen-hundreds… AND PHILOMENA REMEMBERS HER! Do you see now what I’m saying?”
She watched patiently as the information seeped into Bartholomew’s mind.
“That would make Philomena at least…”
“Yes,” interrupted Ariadne, “but I don’t think it’s that simple. How long has she been on the island?”
“Four, maybe five years.”
“And that ship that she stowed-away on, the ‘Hetty Pegler’ wasn’t it? A wooden sailing ship,” said Ariadne.
“Yeess,” said Bartholomew, hesitantly, unsure where the conversation was heading.
“Every shipwreck we see on the island… why, they’re nearly always sailing ships. Maybe, very occasionally, we get some ancient steamer turn up. Doesn’t it seem a bit odd to you?”
“Odd? In what way?”
“Bartholomew,” she said gently, hardly believing what she was about to say herself. “Now and then, when the mist thins out, I’ve spotted them in the far distance, right on the horizon. Huge vessels, without sails, or without billows of smoke streaming out of funnels. I have no idea where they’re from, or what they’re carrying, but I think that they are ships; ships which don’t rely on wind or steam, and never come anywhere near the island, to fall foul of the rocks.”
Bartholomew flopped on to a chair.
“I’ve seen them, too,” he said. “It was when Doctor Dee was here. He seemed to think that they were from another time altogether, but that sounded ridiculous to me.”
Ariadne suddenly looked frightened.
“What if it’s us, Bartholomew?” she asked. “All of us, on this god-forsaken island of Hopeless? What if we’re the ones stranded in time and the future lies somewhere forever out of reach, beyond the mist and the rocks that surround us? What if every ship that crashes on to the reefs, every survivor washed up on our beaches, are from the past; a past that we cannot escape. Maybe that’s why no one is able to leave the island.”
“That’s a lot to take in,” said Bartholomew, “and I’m not convinced that you’re right, but it would explain a few things. Let’s not mention this to anyone else, though.”
“No,” agreed Ariadne. “If nothing else they’ll think we’re crazy.”
At that moment Drury, the skeletal hound, clattered into the bar and settled himself in front of the fire with a rattle of bones. As if on cue, the ghost of Father Ignatius Stamage manifested through the solid wall of the flushing privy, cheerily waved to the Middlestreets and patted Drury with a spectral hand.
Bartholomew surveyed the scene for a long moment.
“Maybe we are, my love,” he said. “Maybe we are.”