Category Archives: Hopeless Tales

story, poetry, rumour and gossip

The Not Particularly Green Fairy

You may remember that Reggie Upton’s tulpa – the thought-form he had created twenty years earlier, while serving as an army officer in India – had detached itself from him, and was now leading a separate existence. The tulpa, which he referred to as Annie, was invisible to all, except Philomena Bucket and Reggie himself. When Philomena consulted the ghost of Granny Bucket, as to how Annie might be banished, she recommended a few chosen spells and, in order to sufficiently anaesthetise Reggie, enough absinthe to make the process painless.

“Is it supposed to be that colour?”

Philomena regarded the liquid with some suspicion.

Norbert Gannicox held the bottle up to the light, viewing it with the practised eye of a master distiller.

“It’s pale. That’s probably because we used dried wormwood, rather than fresh,” he said. “Besides that, making it as I did, and using a spirit base, this is really no more than an infusion. It will be more than strong enough to help Reggie, while you do your magic, though.”

“I must say, I’m a bit disappointed,” said Philomena. “I was hoping that the Green Fairy would be there to help him through it.”

“He’ll have to make do with a yellowish one this time,” Norbert said with a grin. “But I admit, although I won’t be tasting it myself, this has certainly given me the bug for making more absinthe, but properly distilled, next time.”

“You will make Reggie very happy,” said Philomena.

“And me,” said Mirielle D’Illay, coming in on the arm of her fiancé, Septimus Washwell. The idea to distil absinthe had originally been Mirielle’s, who had fond memories of her days in the Moulin Rouge, where the notorious spirit had flowed freely.

She was keen to sample the first batch.

“It is better with a sugar-lump,” she declared, pulling a face, “but it won’t hurt that Englishman. He is mad, anyway.” 

As Granny had predicted, the tulpa was reluctant to be returned to whichever bit of Reggie it called home. Fortunately, thanks to the powerful effects of the absinthe, which he happily consumed, the old soldier was completely unaware of the battle raging around and within him.

Reggie opened his eyes to see a sallow-faced man looking down upon him with a vague, non-judgemental gaze, and exuding an air of complete indifference.

“Il faut être toujours ivre,” he said.

“I’m sorry old chap, my French is a bit rusty,” said Reggie, “but I’m fairly fluent in Bengali, if that helps.”

The Frenchman rolled his lugubrious eyes, ran a hand through his thinning hair, gave a Gallic shrug and said, in perfect English,

“One should always be drunk.”

“Do you really think so?” said Reggie. “I remember we had a chap in the regiment who made a point of …”

“It is the only way not to feel time’s horrible burden,” said the other, sensibly ignoring Reggie’s anecdote. “Which bends your shoulders and grinds you into the earth. You should get drunk continuously…”

“Jolly good,” said Reggie, warming to his new companion.

“But on what?” asked the Frenchman.

“On wine?” ventured Reggie.

For the first time the Frenchman smiled a little, and said.

“On wine, on poetry or on virtue, as you choose.”

“Well, I know a bit of Kipling…”

The poet – for poet he was – opened his arms theatrically and suddenly the pair seemed to be inhabiting an oil painting of a bar. It was clear that this was definitely not part of The Squid and Teapot. It was pure Degas; Reggie could make out each brushstroke, each touch of the palette-knife.    

The patrons, sombre looking men and women painted in the drabbest of colours, sat perfectly still, gazing blankly at the bottles that graced every table. A haze of tobacco smoke hung motionless above them.

Compared with the many watering-holes that Reggie had frequented over the previous five decades, this place looked lifeless and melancholy… except for the Art Nouveau picture on the wall before him. This depicted a beautiful, flame-haired young woman in carefree abandon, holding aloft a tall glass of pale green liquid. She was dressed – if dressed is the right word – in nothing but a diaphanous length of cloth, which she had draped casually over one shoulder.

It seemed the most natural thing in the world when she turned and looked at Reggie. Stepping from the frame, she offered the glass to him, and as he accepted it, the bar came to life, with music and laughter.

“I am Fée,” she said, in husky tones. “Dance with me, mon amour,” and before Reggie knew what was happening, he found himself dancing a polka with this almost-naked beauty, who looked young enough to be his granddaughter.

“I’m getting too old for this malarkey,” thought Reggie to himself, then he realised that he was no longer the elderly but dapper chap who greeted him in his shaving mirror each morning, but a dashing young captain once more, resplendent in his regimental dress-uniform.

The pair whirled around the room, which spun like a carousel. The music grew louder, the dance faster and the colours of the artist’s palette flowed around them like a dizzying rainbow river.

The Frenchman, standing in the centre of the spinning room, was unmoving, like one caught in the eye of the storm.

“What time is it, mon ami?” he called, holding up a pocket-watch.

“It is time to get drunk,” replied Reggie, and the room dissolved into a blur.

“Mon dieu, it has not worked. He is not waking,”

The voice, unmistakably French and feminine, reached down into the depths of Reggie’s mind and he stirred.

“Fée,” he mumbled. “Lovely Fée, is that you?”

“Non, it is not Lovely Fée, it is Lovely Mirielle, you mad English fool!” said Mirielle, with undisguised relief. “We have been worried about you. You have been sleeping there for almost a whole day.”

“Really,” said Reggie, sitting up. For some reason Norbert, Bartholomew, Septimus, Philomena and Mirielle were all standing around his bed with worried expressions on their faces. There was a disconcerting pile of bones in the corner. It was Drury, dozing contentedly, obviously confident of Reggie’s recovery.

“We thought we’d lost you for a while there, old friend,” said Norbert.

“I’m fine,” declared Reggie, “although, I had some rum dreams. There was this French poet chap telling me that I should always be drunk.”

“Ah, I think I know who you mean. He is incorrigible,” said Mirielle, proudly.

“And did you get to meet the Green Fairy?” laughed Philomena.

“Do you know m’dear, I really think I did,” said Reggie, stroking his moustache. “And a dashed fine looking woman she was too… but she wasn’t particularly green, come to think of it.”

Privy Counsel

By Martin Pearson

Philomena Bucket was sitting in silence in the snuggery of The Squid and Teapot. It was an hour or so before dawn, and, except for the tiny flame of her candle, the inn was in darkness. For three nights now she had followed the same ritual, hoping to summon the ghost of Granny Bucket. So far her beloved ancestor had failed to materialise. This was ironic, for there had been times in the recent past when Granny, whose presence was always something of a mixed blessing, had flitted in and out of Philomena’s life, unbidden, on a regular basis. Where was she now, when her granddaughter most needed her advice?

Since Reggie Upton had arrived on the island, Philomena had been given much to ponder. It was not that Reggie himself was a problem; in fact, he was the very epitome of gentlemanly behaviour.  Philomena’s main concern was that Reggie’s tulpa – the thought-form he referred to as Annie – had not only become more than a little petulant, but had also managed to separate itself from him. Like most of us, Philomena had no first-hand experience of tulpa behaviour, and was unsure if this was a common occurrence, or a direct result of being brought to Hopeless, where the strangest of things were wont to happen.  Reggie had related the story of Annie’s creation in confidence to Philomena and, as far as she was aware, no one else on the island knew about it. While none of this affected Philomena personally, she could see how much it troubled her friend, who had endeared himself to many who frequented The Squid. Lately, however, he had taken to arguing publicly with Annie, an entity invisible to everyone except Philomena and himself. Soon rumours were spreading that he was either quite mad, or in an almost permanent state of inebriation. This was unfair, for while it cannot be denied that Reggie was inclined towards a degree of eccentricity and, indeed, no stranger to the occasional ‘Beaker full of the Warm South’, as Keats so aptly put it, there was much more to the man than that.  The tulpa needed to be put back into Reggie’s head, heart, mind, psyche – or whichever bit of him it had lived previously – as soon as was possible. That was why Philomena needed Granny’s assistance.

The fact that she could see Annie came as no great surprise to Philomena. She had always had the dubious gift of ‘The Sight’, and had lately been assured by several who, in her opinion, should know better, that she was the last, and most powerful, of a long line of witches. This revelation was something of a bone of contention between her and Granny, who maintained that it was Philomena’s duty to produce at least one daughter to carry on the tradition. Here was another reason to get Annie safely back into Reggie with some haste, for Philomena and the notorious Durosimi O’Stoat were descended from a common ancestor. If Philomena could see the tulpa, then it was certain that Durosimi would be able to. Assuredly, the old villain would not be able to resist the temptation of ensnaring Annie and using it for all sorts of mischief.

It was on the fourth night that Granny eventually chose to manifest herself. She did not appear, as was expected, in the flickering candlelight of the snug, but went to quite another area of The Squid and Teapot. To all intents and purposes, Granny had not come to see Philomena, but to call in on her old friend, Lady Margaret D’Avening, the ghostly White Lady, who carried her head in her hands and haunted the inn’s flushing indoor privy. It was only by chance that Philomena knew the she was there, having volunteered to work late and wield a mop and bucket, following a rather over-enthusiastic birthday celebration by Egbert Washwell and his six brothers (and that is as much as you need to know regarding that particular event, believe me!).

The two ghosts were complaining about the lamentable behaviour of modern youth (which included anyone born during the last two centuries) and Drury’s annoying habit of trying to run away with Lady Margaret’s head.

“Philomena, me darlin’, I hear that you’ve been trying to get hold of me,” said Granny, when her granddaughter entered the privy to empty her mop-bucket.

“Ah, so there you are, at last!” said Philomena testily. “I’ve been trying to contact you for days.”

When Granny asked what the urgency was, Philomena related the problem of Reggie’s tulpa. Lady Margaret looked down her nose (which is easy if you are holding your head in your hands at the time).

“Thought forms!” she spat the words out with venom. “Such horrid, common things. I can’t stand them.”

Lady Margaret was one of those people who would invariably start a sentence with the words “I’m not a snob, but…” then go out of her way to prove that she was.

“Oh, they’re alright,” said Granny. “It’s just that they’ve got no experience of life like me and you have had, Maggie.”

Lady Margaret hated being called Maggie almost as much as she loathed sloppy English, but, out of deference to Granny, she let both offences pass.

“Well, I think they’re ghastly,” she said primly, which was rich coming from a three-hundred-year old spectre, with a severed head and a diaphanous nightgown splattered in gore. With that she turned abruptly and disappeared into the wall.

“But can they be banished, back into the original host?” asked Philomena, thankful that she could now talk to Granny without Lady Margaret butting in.

“Usually thought forms evaporate into thin air after a while,” said Granny, “but, as I see it, this one has been conjured from somewhere deep in Reggie’s mind, and is altogether different. So, in answer to your question, yes, anything can be banished, providing you know the right spell and aren’t fussy if something gets damaged along the way.”

“Damaged?” asked Philomena, nervously.

“Your chum Reggie,” said Granny. “might not come out of it so well if this toupee of his…”

“Tulpa,” corrected Philomena.

“If this thingy of his puts up a fight.”

Knowing what she did of Annie, Philomena thought that this would be more than likely.

“Is there anything we can do?” Philomena asked.

“Much as I should be singing the praises of pocheen and porter, when it comes to things like this I have great faith in the power of The Green Fairy. You wouldn’t be having any absinthe handy, by any chance?”

Philomena smiled.

“It’s funny that you should say that,” she said.

To be continued…


By Martin Pearson

“It will be absolutely fine, honestly,” said Reggie. “I know it’s been a few years since I last had a hand in making absinthe, but I can assure you, I know what I’m doing.”

Philomena Bucket, peering through the scullery window of The Squid and Teapot, wondered who Reggie was arguing with.

“Yes, I know my alcohol intake has not always been as moderate as it should be but… what was that you said? Louche? You’re calling me louche? How dare you!”

By now the old soldier was waving his silver-topped walking cane angrily. Philomena was concerned that he might strike out at whoever was talking to him. Deciding that it was time to intervene before someone was hurt, she picked up a tea-towel, dried her hands and marched outside.

It came as something of a shock to see that Reggie was apparently remonstrating with a length of driftwood, propped innocuously against the wall of the inn.

“Are you alright, Reggie?” she enquired.

“What? Oh yes. Absolutely top-notch, m’dear.”

“I thought I heard you arguing with somebody.”

“No… not me. It must have been someone else.”

Philomena gave him a meaningful look, but said nothing. It was not like Reggie to lie, but something was definitely not right.

Rhys Cranham pulled on his boots with a weary sigh. While he enjoyed his work as the island’s Night-Soil Man, it took its toll upon his joints and back. He really needed to recruit another apprentice, but having lost two in as many years, the lads at the orphanage had become slow to volunteer their services. Things were not all bad, however; at least, these days, he had someone to talk to. Ever since Reggie Upton’s admission that his sense of smell was defunct, the old boy would turn up, from time to time, and join him on his round for a while.

“Will you please leave me alone?” said Reggie.

“Sorry, what was that?” asked Rhys. “I didn’t see you standing there in the shadows.”

“Just wishing you a good evening, my friend,” said Reggie, quickly. “Might I join you for a while?”

The two walked through the night, chatting companionably. Neither noticed the pale watcher who regarded them from a distance, or the skeletal dog who padded quietly by her side. For once, Drury was behaving himself.

Reggie left Rhys after twenty minutes, and took the path that wound back towards The Squid and Teapot.

As soon as he was sure that he was out of earshot, he said,

“This is getting beyond a joke. You are supposed to be a confidante, not nagging at me all the time.”

Philomena, keeping in the shadows, heard every word. Out of concern for her friend, she decided that she would have to confront him as soon as possible.

Reggie flopped into a seat in the deserted snuggery and regarded Philomena with tired, sad eyes.

“My dear young lady,” he said, “I know you mean well, but if I told you the truth you are unlikely to believe me.”

“Try me,” said Philomena. “You would be surprised at some of the stuff that I’ve had to take on board over this last couple of years.”

Reggie took a large swig of ale, and laid his tankard on the table.

“As you know, for much of my army career I served in India. The place is rife with all sorts of religious sects and holy-men, fakirs, mystics and the like. It is a far more spiritual country than anywhere you could find in Europe. As a consequence, India has always attracted those whom you might describe as seeking some sort of enlightenment. One such was a lady named Annie, who became very dear to me.”

Philomena said nothing. She was wondering where this story was going.

“She told me that she belonged to a group who called themselves Theosophists. I must admit, I had never before heard of them, but, dash it, although neither of us were in the first flush of youth, she captivated me from the very day I met her, and I was sufficiently ensnared to want to share her interests. Although, as a serving officer I had certain responsibilities, I also had the freedom to do pretty much as I liked. Inevitably, Annie’s obsessions rubbed off on me and together we delved quite deeply into some of the more esoteric practices of those mystics whom I mentioned earlier. That is how we learned to create a tulpa.”

“Tulpa? I’m none the wiser,” admitted Philomena.

Reggie sighed.

“I don’t know if Annie actually made the word up, or if it exists in some exotic vocabulary, but a tulpa is what you might describe as being an entity created by nothing more than the power of the mind.”

“A thought-form!” said Philomena. “I know all about those.”

“You do?”

Reggie was surprised, knowing little of Philomena’s history.

“Well, to cut a long story short,” he went on, “my regiment was eventually posted back to England, and thence on to South Africa. We have not seen each other since then. It is probably just as well, she being much more devoted to the spiritual life than I could ever aspire to.  But I haven’t lost her completely; I have always had the tulpa to remind me of her. In fact, I have given it – or should I say her – Annie’s shape and name.”

“So, do you mean that you’re being haunted by this Annie?” Philomena asked, confused.

“Good heavens, no,” said Reggie. “As far as I am aware, the dear lady is still alive and kicking, and doubtless making it her business to bother someone or other. No, my tulpa is purely a facsimile of the original. In the past, she has been a great comfort when I have been in a tight spot, or just needed someone to confide in. Lately though, since I’ve been on Hopeless, she seems to have taken on an existence of her own and nags me endlessly.”

“Can you actually see her when she does this?” asked Philomena.

“More often than not,” said Reggie. “And she never alters – she is the image of my Annie as she was when I first met her.”

Philomena’s curiosity was roused.

“Would she be visible to me? I would really like to meet her.”

“I wouldn’t think so. She is a product of my mind – a part of me. No one else has ever seen her, to my knowledge.”

“That’s a pity,” said Philomena. “Is she with us now?”

“No, thank goodness,” replied Reggie. “These days she comes and goes as she chooses. I just wish that she would behave as she used to.”

“Or leave forever?” asked Philomena, pointedly.

“No, not that,” said Reggie, sadly. “She has been with me for almost twenty years. I could never wish for that to happen.”

They talked for a while longer, then Reggie stretched and announced that he was going to bed.

Philomena watched him wander along the passage. As she turned away she caught a movement in the corner of her eye.

A small, brown-haired woman with strong, but kindly features was standing at the foot of the stairs. She was dressed in a brightly coloured sari that seemed to light up the dingy passageway. She smiled at Philomena, raised a hand in greeting, then gradually faded away. 

Rescuing Reggie

By Martin Pearson

“Well, this is a dashed nuisance,” thought Reggie Upton, as he felt himself being dragged, by the leg, into some unseen creature’s lair.

The tentacle wrapped around the hapless limb was hard and suckered. This was too bad. Reggie reflected that he had only worn the worsted-wool suit twice before, and between being pulled over rough ground and the detrimental effect the tentacle was doubtless having on his trouser leg, the whole bally outfit was probably ruined beyond repair.

It was a shame that such a pleasant evening was being spoiled in this way. Norbert Gannicox had been a surprisingly good host, despite the fact that he was a non-drinker (rarely a good sign, in Reggie’s estimation). He had been wandering back to The Squid and Teapot in a fine, if somewhat inebriated, state of mind, having spent a few blissful hours regaling Norbert with his army reminiscences. Being a practical type of chap, Reggie had happily warmed to Norbert’s suggestion that, while there, he should take the opportunity to sample the produce of the distillery. It was shortly afterwards that disaster had struck.  All it had taken was a stumble, and that tentacled beast had got the better of him. Well, the Afghan tribesmen hadn’t managed to see him off, and neither had the Boer guerrillas, so he would be damned if he would allow some glorified land-locked cuttlefish to succeed where they had failed. The only problem was that, for once in his life, he had no idea what to do. He was being drawn inexorably towards the dark fissure which the blasted animal regarded as its home, with no obvious means of escape.

Suddenly, things began to look more hopeful. Drury, the skeletal hound, unexpectedly bounded from the shadows, barking loudly enough to wake the dead (although, in all honesty, on Hopeless that was no great feat).

“Give it a nasty bite, there’s a good chap,” encouraged Reggie, remembering how Drury had saved Philomena Bucket from danger just a few weeks before.

Much to the dismay of both, before Drury could apply his teeth to the tentacle, another similarly suckered arm slithered from the gloom of the lair and swatted the dog off with ease. Reggie winced in sympathy as he heard the clatter of bones noisily hitting the ground, some yards away.

“Are you alright, old fellow? Come on, get back on your feet.”

It was a voice that Reggie did not recognise. Was he talking to him? Old fellow, indeed! He was in the prime of life. Dashed impudence.

A strange figure emerged through the gloom. It was that of a tall, powerfully built man, his features illuminated by the candle-lantern that he held aloft. He carried something on his back; it looked like a large bucket. Drury, who had obviously been the object of the man’s concern, rattled up behind him.

Immediately Reggie felt the vice-like grip on his leg relax, and the tentacle receded back into the hole in the ground, with an angry hiss.

“What on Earth are you doing out at this time of night?” Rhys Cranham demanded. “It’s no place for folks to be wandering, especially a gentleman like yourself.”

Reggie rose painfully to his feet, examining his trouser leg for damage. Satisfied that the trousers would live to fight another day, he faced his rescuer.

“Reggie Upton,” he said. “I am most awfully grateful, young man. I think you have just saved my life, not to mention my suit. But how the devil did you…?”

“It’s the smell,” grinned Rhys. “I’m the Night-Soil Man and, to put it bluntly, I stink! There’s not much on the island that can stand to be around me.”

His voice trailed off and he looked at Reggie with some suspicion.

“Including people,” he added. “So why are you not affected by the smell?”

“A smell?” queried Reggie, “I had no idea, old chap. The old hooter’s not worked for years. Anosmia, I think it’s called.”

Rhys had heard the word before. When Philomena first came to the island she had a similar affliction, until a dunking in the sea had cleared her nasal passages.

“You can’t smell anything?” said Rhys, incredulously.

“Not a whiff, old boy,” replied Reggie. “It happened when I was a young subaltern in India. Due to brain damage, apparently.”

“You were wounded in battle?”

“Good heavens, no,” Reggie chuckled. “I was as drunk as a lord, and fell over in the officer’s mess after a rather good, but ill-advised, beano. I banged the back of my head on the corner of a step and was out cold for ages. When I came to, I couldn’t smell a thing. Been like that now for forty years.” 

“And you’re happy to talk to me?” said Rhys,

“My dear chap, of course I am. Let me shake you by the hand.”

“No… no, don’t touch me,” said Rhys, quickly pulling away from him. “The stench will stick around you, if you do.”

“Well, I am much obliged,” said Reggie. “I’d better toddle off back to The Squid, but if there is anything I can ever do…”

It was late the following morning when Reggie, feeling slightly the worse for wear, wandered into the bar, hoping that the metaphorical hair of the dog might chase away his hangover.

“You were out late last night,” commented Philomena. “I was beginning to worry.”

“Oh, I’m fine,” said Reggie, “but it was a close run thing. Saved from sudden death by someone who said he was a Night-Soil chap, or somesuch.”

“You met Rhys?” Philomena was suddenly interested.

“Is that his name? Yes, nice fellow, though a bit remote. He seemed surprised that I could bear to be around him.”

Reggie then related to Philomena the events of the night before, and the fact of his inability to detect smells.

 “That’s a pity for you,” commiserated Philomena, “but at least you were able to talk to Rhys face-to-face. No one else can get that close to him.”

 “Poor fellow,” said Reggie, “I assume that he’s not exactly fighting off friends or sweethearts, in that case,”

Philomena shook her head and stifled a sob. Then she poured her heart out, telling of her shattered hopes and the wedding that never was.

Reggie pondered her words, smoothing his moustache as he always did when in deep thought.

“Well, it won’t change your plight, but I’m more than happy to go and chat to him at any time, if you think he can stand the company of an old soldier.”

“Thank you. I am sure that he would love the company of an old soldier,” said Philomena, truthfully.

That night Reggie met Rhys, just as the Night-Soil Man was beginning his rounds.

“Just ask if there’s anything I can bring you from The Squid,” he said. “You know, food, beer, etcetera, etcetera.”   

“No, I’m catered for, thanks,” said Rhys. “Philomena is always leaving bottles of ale and starry-grabby pie on my doorstep.”

“Ah, the Lovely Miss Bucket!” said Reggie, with a grin.

Rhys said nothing. Much as he appreciated having this new-found friend, he would have preferred that the Lovely Miss Bucket was the one with anosmia.  


By Martin Pearson

Norbert Gannicox leaned conspiratorially across the bar of The Squid and Teapot and asked, in tones barely more than a whisper,

“What do you know about absinthe?”

Bartholomew Middlestreet frowned, and paused for a moment before replying.

“It makes the heart the grow fonder?” he suggested.

“No, that’s absence,” snapped Norbert, impatiently, his voice suddenly louder. “I asked, what do you know about absinthe? It’s a sort of drink”

Before Bartholomew could formulate a suitable reply, Reggie Upton had sidled to the bar.

“I couldn’t help overhearing what you were saying, old chap,” he said. “It made the old ears prick up, I must admit. Do you really have absinthe down at the distillery?”

“Not yet,” said Norbert, “but there’s a chance I might be making some. I was wondering if anyone knew anything about it.”

“Not me,” said Bartholomew. “It’s certainly nothing we’ve ever kept at The Squid.”

“I think I might be able to help, I have some experience of that particular spirit,” said Reggie. “What exactly do you need to know?”

“Everything, really,” admitted Norbert. “Mirielle, one of Les Demoiselles, was telling young Septimus Washwell that they drank a lot of it in that Mill place where she and the other girls used to work.”

“Ah, I’ve heard some excellent reports regarding Les Demoiselles, but have not yet seen them in action,” said Reggie, with a roguish twinkle in his eye. “But I think you’ll find that the Moulin Rouge isn’t strictly a working mill, as you might understand it to be.”

“That’s as maybe,” replied Norbert, “but Mirielle seems to think that I should be making absinthe. The truth is, I don’t know where to start.”

“Then it’s a jolly good job that I’m on hand,” said Reggie. “If I am to help, however, I’ll need to do a spot of flâneuring around the island, and see if I can locate some wormwood.”

“Wormwood?” said Bartholomew. “Whatever is that?”

It was at that moment that Father Ignatius Stamage chose to thrust his ghostly head through the wall, making everyone jump with surprise.

“Did I hear someone mention wormwood?” he asked. “You don’t want to be touching that stuff. It is the bitter and malignant plant that God inflicts upon the ungodly.”

The phantom Jesuit slipped back into the wall, only to manifest again some seconds later.

“Jeremiah, chapter nine, verses twelve to fourteen,” he added helpfully, before disappearing again.

There was a moment’s silence as the trio digested these ominous words, then Reggie smiled.

“Don’t worry chaps,” he assured his friends, “It will be fine. Once it’s in the bottle, it turns into a green fairy.”

Norbert and Bartholomew looked at each other in total bafflement. Maybe Mirielle had been correct when she had insisted that the English were all mad.

“We could yet be in business,” said Reggie, sipping the vodka that Norbert had given him.

It was late in the afternoon and they were sitting in Norbert’s kitchen, which doubled-up as an office, situated at the rear of the Gannicox Distillery.

“I have procured some dried wormwood from that physician fellow, Willoughby. He’s a rum cove. He is convinced that it has medicinal properties but has absolutely no idea how to use it. I agreed that, in exchange for a quantity of the herb, he could have one of the first bottles produced. When the summer comes we should be able to access fresh plants. Wormwood thrives on poor soil, and heaven knows, there’s enough of that on this island. With a little effort we could maybe take some seeds and cultivate it, somehow. It will have to be the same with the fennel. Luckily Philomena has some in storage at The Squid. In the light of these discoveries, I am pleased to report that we have, in our possession, two thirds of the holy trinity without really trying.”

“Holy trinity?” Norbert said uneasily, thinking about Father Stamage’s words.

“It is how many people refer to the three plants crucial in the making of absinthe – or La Fée Vert, as it is sometimes known. Wormwood, sweet fennel and anise – aniseed to you and me. This last ingredient we have yet to find.”


“Aniseed?” queried Norbert. “I’ve had aniseed seeds stored here for years – I can’t even remember why I bothered salvaging them.”

“Splendid!” exclaimed Reggie, clapping his hands together. “The process is very similar to gin production. Instead of steeping juniper berries, of course, you use wormwood. About a month in neat spirit will do the trick; your vodka will be perfect as a base alcohol for this purpose. After that, you simply add the fennel and aniseed for flavour. If you can find a few more botanicals to throw in, so much the better. As long as the holy trinity is included, there are no hard and fast rules to follow.”

“How do you know all this?” asked Norbert. “I can’t believe that it was in your ‘Army Officers’ Handbook’, or whatever it was that they gave you.”

“Indeed, it was not,” laughed Reggie, “but in some of the places I’ve served there was a decided scarcity of the ‘good stuff’. We had to make our own fun, if you get my drift. Needs must when the devil drives, and all that, what?”

After Father Stamage’s warning, all this talk of the holy trinity, and the devil doing the driving, was beginning to make Norbert feel more than a little uneasy.

There was little that either man could do now, until all of the ingredients for the absinthe were gathered together, so Reggie, lubricated with liberal amounts of vodka, regaled his host with tales of his military adventures in India and Africa. Time slipped by and Norbert, a non-drinker, realised that Reggie was more than a little inebriated.

“You’re welcome to stay here tonight,” he offered. “It can be dangerous wandering about the island in the dark.”

“I will be absolutely fine,” Reggie insisted, rising unsteadily to his feet. “I have been under the affluence of inkahol on many an occasion, without mishap. Therefore, I will bid you goodnight, dear friend.”  

Norbert watched the old soldier totter out into the misty darkness.

“You’ve forgotten your cane,” he called, but Reggie could not hear.

“Never mind,” thought Norbert. “I’ll take it back to The Squid in the morning.”

Reggie had walked the path between the distillery and The Squid and Teapot many times, but never before at night, and usually when relatively sober. Tonight, however, swirling mists obscured the uneven path; at least, that was Reggie’s excuse to himself for falling over. He lay there for a moment to regain his breath, then attempted to get up. For some reason one of his legs refused to obey his wishes. In fact, he had the distinct impression that his left leg was on a mission to go in another direction altogether. He peered through the gloom along the length of his body, and was surprised to see a faintly luminous tentacle wrapped around the disobedient limb, dragging him towards a dark cleft in the ground. Instinctively, Reggie reached for his swordstick, only to realise that he had left it propped against the wall in Norbert’s kitchen.

“Well, this is a dashed nuisance,” he thought to himself. “What the deuce is a chap supposed to do now?”

To be continued…

Hero of the Hour

By Martin Pearson

Rhys Cranham stirred in his sleep.  The sound he was hearing was familiar, but he knew that it must be an auditory hallucination. An interesting case of paracusia, some may have said, but not Rhys. Nor, for that matter, Doc Willoughby, whose professed knowledge of medical terms fell somewhat short of the actual truth. Anyway, whatever label one chose to stick on the phenomenon, it was a sound that the Night-Soil Man had heard a thousand times before, and never expected to hear again. His old friend Drury was gone forever, and with him the familiar scrape of bony paws wreaking havoc on the front door.

It seemed logical to Rhys that, with the arrival of full wakefulness, the scratching noise would fade away. Instead it seemed to be growing stronger, more insistent.

He climbed out of bed and looked through the window. It was still daylight outside, and some hours before he was due to start his rounds. There would be no more sleep until the scratching stopped. With some trepidation he lifted the latch of the door and eased it slightly ajar.

The door burst violently open, admitting a panting explosion of bones, which hurled themselves joyously at the unsuspecting Night-Soil Man.  From his new, and decidedly horizontal vantage point, Rhys gazed up in surprise at the adoring face of the recently resurrected Drury.

“That’s a relief!” exclaimed the Night-Soil Man, regaining his composure. “Obviously, reports of your death have been greatly exaggerated.”

For the next week, Drury refused to leave the Night-Soil Man’s side. This surprised Rhys, as the dog usually liked to spend his days hanging around The Squid and Teapot, hoping for Philomena Bucket or Reggie Upton to take him for a walk. Rhys, of course, was unaware that the osseous hound had fallen out with Philomena, blaming her for sealing him into an ossuary-box.

During that week, daily life on Hopeless, Maine, appeared to trudge on as it always had. However, you could not fail to notice the metaphorical cloud now hanging over The Squid and Teapot (this is not to be confused with the collection of very real and heavy clouds that frequently shroud the island). Philomena was depressed and her dark mood seemed to contaminate everything around her. She was missing Drury.

“Why don’t you go for a walk,” suggested Reggie. “Put on your best clothes and hat. It always works for me when I’m feeling less than chipper.”

“It won’t be the same without Drury,” she said, sadly.

“He’ll come round eventually m’dear, don’t you worry,” Reggie assured her. “Why, if you get out and about a bit, you may even bump into the old rascal.”

Philomena was not convinced, but took Reggie’s advice anyway. She rooted through the clothing chests, stowed in one of The Squid’s attics, and found a colourful full-length frock, an old Easter bonnet, tastefully decorated with silk flowers, and a warm woollen cloak; after all, although it may have been springtime, the island of Hopeless has never regarded the seasons with very much respect.

The Gydynap Hills held too many memories for Philomena. They belonged to her and Drury. It would not feel right, any more, to be walking there alone. Instead she made her way along the headland, looking out across the angry ocean, which crashed and battered upon the rocks, far below.

Reggie had been correct; the walk had made her feel a little better, but it had not banished her sadness. Her mind kept going back to Drury. If only she had trusted her gut-feeling, and refused to believe that he was really not coming back from death this time. She would always remember his baleful, accusing look when she freed him from the ossuary-box (as described in the tale ‘Walking the Dog’). So wrapped up was she in her own thoughts that she failed to notice that the wind had pitched up to gale-force, until it snatched her hat from her head and threatened to toss it into the sea. Instinctively she reached forward to grab at it, when another, more powerful gust slammed into her, hurling her over the cliff, her cloak and skirts billowing like the sails of a galleon.

“This is it, girl,” she thought to herself, her feet desperately treading on thin air. “All that magic you were supposed to possess hasn’t done you any good at all today.”

It was true. The gloom she had been feeling had suppressed any magical ability that she might have used to save herself. Fortunately, on this occasion, the very clothing that had been instrumental in her being caught by the wind, served to halt her downward progress. Her cloak had snagged upon a jagged crag, leaving Philomena dangling precariously, not to say uncomfortably, over the churning ocean and unforgiving granite rocks.

By coincidence, this was the very day that Drury plucked up sufficient courage to venture into the wide world without the company of the Night-Soil Man (who, incidentally, was, at that very moment, recovering from his night’s labours and snoring happily in his bed). When Drury spotted Philomena wandering alone through the gathering gale, the sight of his erstwhile friend looking so forlorn caused his heart to soften (yes, yes, I can guess what you’re going to say, but you know very well what I mean!). He was about to go to her and bury the hatchet, so to speak, when Philomena was suddenly blown over the cliff edge. In panic, he raced to the spot where she had fallen, and saw her suspended, helpless and frightened, just a few feet beneath him.

Grabbing the cloak between his teeth and pulling Philomena back up on to the headland presented no difficulty for Drury. Despite being nothing but bone, he possesses an almost preternatural degree of strength – although, being a totally preternatural dog, I suppose this should not come as a surprise. Once safe, Philomena wrapped her arms around his skeletal form and sobbed uncontrollably. Her sorrow, regret, fear and happiness at their reunion flowed out of her in a great welter of emotion. Drury wagged his bony tail, and, with her eyes blinded by tears, Philomena could have sworn that she felt a warm, wet tongue caressing her cheeks.

The pair made their way back to The Squid and Teapot, where the landlord, Bartholomew Middlestreet, smiled with pleasure to see the old hound slumped in front of the fire, where he belonged.

“I told you he’d come back,” said Reggie, putting an avuncular arm around Philomena’s shoulders.

“He saved my life,” said Philomena. “I don’t know how long I would have hung there before the cloak ripped.”

“Drury is your hero of the hour!” exclaimed Reggie.

“Oh, he’s more than that,” said Philomena, fondly. “Believe me, he is much, much more than that.”

Walking the Dog

By Martin Pearson

“He is definitely dead,” announced Doc Willoughby, in matter-of-fact tones.

“Obviously!” snapped Philomena Bucket testily. “But other than that, what’s wrong with him?”

The Doc peered down at the pile of bones heaped before him on the floor.

“Miss Bucket, I am neither a veterinarian, nor an osteologist. I suggest you try and find someone who is. Otherwise, you would be well advised to deposit these remains in a suitable ossuary or, better still, throw them into the sea.”

“But Doc,” there was a hint of panic in Philomena’s voice, “this is Drury we’re talking about here.”

“Precisely,” replied the Doc. “I rest my case.”

The curmudgeonly physician stamped off into the foggy morning, leaving Philomena tearful and helpless as she stood over Drury’s motionless form.

“I’m afraid that I have nothing to suggest,” said Reggie Upton. “I have had plenty of experience with dogs in my time; you know, fox-hounds, beagles and the like, but as far as dogs who are already dead, m’dear… well, much as I liked the old chap, I fear he’s beyond help.”

“But this is ridiculous,” wailed Philomena. “Drury is probably the oldest creature on the island. Nobody knows much about him, but he seems to always have been here. He can’t be dead… well, not dead again, anyway.”

It was true. Drury was the dog who had refused to recognise the fact that he was no longer alive, and had been resident on Hopeless for an extremely long time. Grandparents told sleepy children bedtime stories that featured tales of Drury’s mischief – tales that they, themselves, had heard as infants. The awful possibility that the old rogue might not be around anymore was unthinkable (except, of course, to the cheerless few, like Doc Willoughby, who had no time for him).

A tear rolled down Rhys Cranham’s cheek; he could hardly believe the news. Was Drury, really properly dead? He had been the Night-Soil Man’s faithful companion, accompanying him on his rounds for over ten years, ever since Rhys took over from his late, lamented predecessor, Shenandoah Nailsworthy. Life would not be the same without the old, osseous hound, rattling along at his heels in the misty moonlight.

Philomena had been pondering Doc Willoughby’s words. If she had to come to terms with the fact that Drury was really gone forever, then she wanted to make sure that his bones were treated with respect. They certainly would not be tossed into the sea. What was the other thing the Doc had said? Deposit his remains in suitable ossuary. That was it. Unfortunately, she had no idea what he meant.

“Ossuary?” said Reggie. “Why, yes, as far as I’m aware it can be a room or container in which bones are stored. Are you thinking of something like that for our dear friend?”

“I am, now you’ve told me” said Philomena, sorrowfully. “I’ll ask Seth Washwell to make a suitable box for him. We’ll keep him somewhere in The Squid and Teapot. I’m sure that the Middlestreets won’t mind. Drury loved it there. I know that if he’s in The Squid, his bones will be safe.”

The old soldier had to turn from her and blink away his tears. He had only known Drury for the few weeks that he had been on Hopeless, but the dog had joined him every day for the past month for his morning walk (or flâneuring, as he called it). He would miss him dreadfully.

Seth was only too pleased to be able to do something to mark Drury’s passing. Being not only the proprietor of the island’s sawmills and foundry, but also a skilled carpenter and blacksmith, he had all of the resources necessary to make a splendid ossuary-box, fashioned from his finest timber and finished with ornate, wrought-iron cornices. Drury’s bones were laid upon his favourite blanket, and, amid tears of farewell, was placed reverently in a corner of one of the attics, immediately above Philomena’s bedroom.

Philomena’s walks seemed empty in the days that followed. She had lived on Hopeless for some years now, and nearly every afternoon and early evening, before the inn became busy, she and Drury had wandered deep into the mysterious Gydynap Hills, sharing adventures and enjoying each other’s company.

A week had slipped by since Drury’s bones had been laid to rest. Everyone was still coming to terms with his not being around, half-expecting him to come bounding in at any moment and causing havoc. To make things worse for Philomena, she had been sleeping badly. Any sleep she had managed to get was fitful and filled with unpleasant dreams.  Tonight, however, was different; slipping easily into a deep slumber, she found herself back in Ireland, sitting in Granny Bucket’s cottage. Granny was in her rocking chair, smoking her clay pipe. Angus, her old mongrel-dog, lay stretched in front of the fire, snoring contentedly.  Philomena had seen this scene a hundred times before, when Granny was alive. On this occasion, however, Reggie Upton, in the full regalia of a comic-opera general, and Rhys Cranham, looking very relaxed in a cream-coloured lounge suit and matching Panama hat, had joined them.

“Ah, you three must love Old Angus to death,” Granny mused, blowing smoke-rings up the chimney. “It’s nothing but walk, walk, walk, morning noon and night for the poor old fella. No wonder he’s dog-tired.”

Granny laughed at her own joke.

“Angus has been dead this past twenty years,” Philomena explained to Rhys and Reggie. “But don’t you think he’s looking well on it?”

“Oh yes, but we expect even dead dogs get tired,” replied the pair in unison. They were holding hands.

The words echoed in Philomena’s dream, dragging her to wakefulness.

“Even dead dogs get tired,” she repeated to herself, then suddenly things began to make sense.

For a month, or more, Drury had spent virtually every hour of the day and night being taken for a walk. Having all the instincts of a flesh-and-blood dog, it would never occur to him to refuse the chance of an amble out somewhere. Drury had just been tired. Dog-tired. Dead-tired.

Even dead dogs get tired!

In a sudden panic, Philomena dashed up to the attics. She could hear the scraping before she reached the top of the stairs. Grabbing a crowbar from a pile of tools stacked against a wall, she prised up the lid of the ossuary-box, expecting Drury to leap joyfully out. He did not do so, but stood looking balefully, and accusingly, at her.

“Oh Drury, thank goodness. I am so sorry. We thought you were dead… or, you know, properly dead and not coming back.”

She wrenched open the side of the box, allowing him to walk stiffly out.

When she made to put her arms around him, Drury growled and, moving out of her reach, made his way unsteadily down the stairs.

Philomena put her head in her hands and sobbed.

“What have I done,” she wailed. “Will he ever forgive me?”


By Martin Pearson

‘Bagpipes’ by Matilda Patterpaw

“From henceforth,” declared Brigadier Reginald Fitzhugh Hawkesbury-Upton, “I wish to be known simply as Reggie Upton. The double-barrel business is totally inappropriate on this island; besides, the Hawkesbury branch of the family were bounders to a man. I’ll be happy to be shot of the lot of them.”

If it suited the old soldier to slough off his former appellation, no one was going to argue with him. The fact of his full name had never been an issue to others on Hopeless; most had only ever known him as ‘Reggie’.

“I’m off now for a spot of flâneuring,” he announced.

“Well, be careful” warned Philomena Bucket. “You know what happened the last time you went flannelling.”

Reggie brandished his silver-topped cane.

“Fear not, dear lady. I am always well prepared. Anyway, I thought that Drury might like to come with me.”

Flâneuring, you will recall (or possibly indulge in, upon occasion) is the pastime of sauntering aimlessly, and taking in the ambience of a place. On his previous excursion Reggie had been accosted by young Roscoe Chevin, who villainously demanded his watch and cane. Reggie had responded by demonstrating that the cane was, in reality, a sword stick. With a deft swish of his blade he severed Roscoe’s belt, causing the youth’s trousers to fall down, at the same time greatly amusing a group of orphanage girls, who happened to be passing.

Drury did not need telling twice. He clattered to his feet, shook himself noisily, and followed Reggie through the large oak door of The Squid and Teapot, and out into the vibrant, pulsating street-life of Hopeless, Maine. At least, it might have been vibrant and pulsating but, as usual, there was no one around. When the weather was inclement, or threatened to be less than clement, people tended to stay in. Today it was unusually clement, save for the swirling mist, but nobody thought it wise to venture abroad, on the basis that one can never be too careful in matters of climatic clemency. And so it was that Reggie and Drury wandered about in amiable silence, Drury sniffing the air, and Reggie showing off yet another bespoke suit (purchased from Huntsman & Co. of Saville Row, est. 1849), which he had plucked from his seemingly bottomless travelling trunk.

After half-an-hour or so of uneventful strolling, the pair found themselves by the rocks at the water’s edge. Reggie, ever mindful of his appearance, made certain not to get seawater anywhere near his expensive leather shoes. Drury had no such qualms and leapt into the shallows, hoping for the opportunity to terrorise an unsuspecting cephalopod or two. Instead he was surprised to find what appeared to be a five-legged creature with a strange, plaid-patterned body, floating on the surface of the water. It looked very dead and gave no resistance when Drury, who was an inquisitive hound, proceeded to pull its corpse ashore, where he proudly presented it to Reggie.

“Well I’m jiggered!” exclaimed Reggie. “Dashed if you haven’t found a set of bagpipes. I wonder if they still work?”

Despite his curiosity, he was not inclined to blow into any of the tubes to find out, but instead encouraged Drury to bear the dripping bagpipes back to The Squid and Teapot in his bony mouth, for later inspection.

“I’ve no idea what it is,” said Seth Washwell, studying the thing on the table, “but I reckon it’s dead.”

“Not dead, old chap,” said Reggie, clapping him on the shoulder. “It is a musical instrument, and just a little bit water-logged. It needs somewhere warm to dry out.”

“I’ve never seen an instrument that looked like that,” mused Seth.

“I was wondering,” said Reggie, tentatively, “if there might be a little corner of the foundry in which it could recover, as it were. It wouldn’t take up much room.”

Seth rubbed his jaw ruminatively.

“Can’t see why not,” he said, after a few moments. “I’ll even carry it there for you. It would be a pity to get your nice suit mucked-up.”

The bagpipes took more than a week to dry out. Even then they did not play immediately. It was only after some subtle prodding with a wire coat-hanger, and the removal of several yards of seaweed, that they were capable of emitting a noise, of sorts. Reggie beamed with pleasure.

“Are you really sure it’s an instrument?” asked Seth dubiously. “When you blew into it, it sounded as though it was in pain.”  

“Oh, don’t worry about that,” said Reggie, “this will be the beginning of a whole new pastime for me. Why, I imagine I’ll be playing these bagpipes properly in no time at all. When is the next musical event on the island happening?”

Seth confessed that he had no idea, but made a mental note to avoid it at all costs, if the agonised groans that the pipes had made earlier were anything to go by.

True to his word, Reggie practiced on the pipes every day. He would take himself to a quiet spot and give it his best shot. His best shot, however, fell far short of anything resembling a melody. And so it was, after a month of fruitless effort, he lay the bagpipes down, half-hidden beneath a settle in the snug of The Squid and Teapot, and admitted defeat. No one else had any interest in the instrument, and there they would be still, had it not been for Drury.

The osseous hound had never been convinced that the bagpipes were not alive. It occurred to him that all they required to be happy, and not make that dreadful sound, was to have a little fun now and then, and who better to provide fun than Drury himself?

For the next few days the bony old dog could be seen running around the island with the bagpipes firmly gripped between his jaws. To his great surprise they did not appear to respond to his attentions, and, in true Drury-style, he lost interest, abandoning them outside the Night-Soil Man’s front door. He was sure that Rhys would know what to do.

Rhys Cranham had never seen a set of bagpipes before. In common with most other folks, he imagined that they were a dead creature of some description or, at least, the remnants of one. He had seen some odd things on Hopeless, and the insect-like shape of the bagpipes was no weirder than many other sights he had witnessed.

Gingerly, he lifted the limp instrument with a long pole, and carried it to the sinkhole at the edge of his property. Rhys gazed down into its bottomless depths, and wondered, as he had always wondered, what the meaning was of the swirling green mist, hundreds of feet below.

“Goodbye then, whatever you were,” he said to the bagpipes, and pitched them unceremoniously into the sinkhole.

It was the night of the full moon, almost a week later. Rhys was on his rounds, servicing the privies on the far side of the island. There was no one to see the strange, spidery creature that heaved its bloated, tartan body out of the dark hole at the end of the garden. After a plaintive howl, which sounded uncannily like the first few bars of ‘Flowers of the Forest’, it stretched its thin, disparately-sized legs, and scuttled awkwardly away into the misty shadows. 

The Bauched Manifesto

We, the Bauched of Hopeless Maine have written this document to assert our values and intentions. Our purpose is one of virtue, embracing restraint, stoicism, self denial, sobriety, modesty and good manners.

We assert that modesty in clothing is essential to the good functioning of society. Clothing should at all times properly reflect the body parts you have under your clothing while not drawing any attention to them. We must simultaneously centre that which is unspeakable while also never commenting on it.

We will be sober at all times. We will not be drunk with wine, or with poetry. We will not allow ourselves to become overly excited about acts of restraint and self denial. We will not go so far in mortifying the flesh as to allow deviance to enter in. There will be no hair shirts, no excessively tight corsetry and we do not encourage the use of chastity belts in case those lead to indecent thoughts.

We think it is important to practice restraint in all aspects of life. Restraint itself must also be restrained. Punishment also must be retrained for those who fall short of our ideals. There shall be no whipping, for example, no enthusiastic use of stick or slipper in cases of failure to be sufficiently bauched. It might be appropriate in times when self control is poor to consider strapping the afflicted person to a sturdy chair for an hour or two while the ill humours in the body are allowed to subside naturally.

We will take cold baths regularly, for cleanliness is conducive to the pure and modest life. We will not use ice in these baths for that could prove stimulating and we dedicate ourselves to avoiding the excessive stimulation of the nerves. When we bathe, we will not look at our own bodies, and we will undertake to touch ourselves as little as possible while performing the duties of ablution.

We will not beget children, for children are an abomination and the making of them is an obscenity. 

We will take brisk walks. We will not look too closely at the flowers, for flowers lack for restraint and allow all comers to take their nectar and pollen. We will not spend time in the company of fish, for fish do not respect gender binaries. We will stay away from the beaches to avoid the lascivious behaviour of mermaids and jellyfish women. We will close our eyes while washing our own undergarments so as to avoid improper thoughts. We will not have improper thoughts while reading our own manifesto.

We will at all times stay calm, and virtuous, avoiding all inflammation of the thoughts and subduing the senses to the best of our ability. We commit ourselves to tempered rationality and restraint. We promise to restrain each other when necessary and to support each other in finding the disciplines that will keep us bauched in all things.

The Next to Die

When Philomena Bucket first came to Hopeless, and found a home and place of work in The Squid and Teapot, it had not taken long for her to become familiar with most of the islanders. She found it easy to remember the names of almost all of her customers. There were just two people, however, who caused her confusion, often to the extent that she would address them by the wrong name. Although they always dismissed the error with a laugh, it was something that annoyed her intensely. After all, these were men who bore no resemblance to each other, and whose lives could not have been more different.

Seth Washwell was very much a family man, with seven sons and a loving wife. His stocky frame and salt-and pepper beard gave him the look of a traditional blacksmith, which, indeed, he was, this being a natural offshoot of the iron foundry, which he ran with the help of his sons. Seth Washpool, on the other hand, was slightly built, clean shaven and, being unmarried, the last of his line. He was a quiet man who preferred his own company.

“It’s easy to tell us apart,” proclaimed Seth Washwell. “Just remember that wells are deep and pools tend to be shallow.”

Philomena thought that this was unfair, and secretly suspected that the insular Mr Washpool was anything but shallow.

“If this was a story,” she thought to herself, “such confusion would never happen. Any author with the slightest degree of common sense would make sure that each of his creations had distinct names that no one could mix up.”

None of this mattered anymore, however. Such thoughts were now irrelevant. Seth Washpool was dead.

It was Rhys Cranham who had found him. The Night-Soil Man was making his weekly trip to service the Washpool privy when he spotted Seth’s body lying by the back door. He had not been dead for very long, Rhys decided. There were too many things lurking about by night, and looking for an easy meal, to leave a corpse unmolested for any length of time.

“Poor old Seth grew up in the orphanage,” said Norbert Gannicox. “Washpool wasn’t even his real surname. Nobody knew who his parents were, so for some reason they decided to name him after the guy who put the funfair on the Common, all those years ago. Cosimo Washpool, I think he was called.”

“It’s a pity they hadn’t gone the whole hog and named him Cosimo, as well,” grumbled Philomena. “It would have saved me some embarrassment.”

Realising that it was not really the best time to be bemoaning her own troubles, she decided to change the subject.

“Does anyone know when the funeral takes place?”

“Reverend Davies said that it will be at the weekend,” said Norbert. “Nothing grand. Just a few words and a burial.”

“A simple funeral is all very well,” said Reggie Hawkesbury-Upton, “but don’t you think we should celebrate his life in some way? Dash it all, I barely knew the chap, but as he had no family – no one close, left behind to mourn – surely we can’t allow his passing to go completely unmarked.”

There were general nods of agreement at this. The citizens of Hopeless are never slow to latch on to the opportunity of a celebration, and so a wake was planned. This was to be nothing too elaborate, and very respectful. While the Edison-Bell phonograph might be trotted out, it was not deemed seemly to involve the services of Les Demoiselles de Hopeless, Maine to perform the Can-Can, as was usual at any event on the island these days. Reggie, who was yet to see them perform, allowed the prospect of a few tankards of ‘Old Colonel’ to ease his disappointment.  

Reverend Davies conducted a funeral service that was mercifully brief and, in the misty drizzle of a Saturday afternoon, Seth Washpool was duly deposited in the dark and stony earth of the churchyard. This came as a relief to Philomena, whose childhood memories of wakes recalled that the recently departed would be put on display in a corner of the room, presumably in order that they did not miss out on the ensuing festivities.

The bar of The Squid and Teapot was packed to overflowing. It provided a welcome contrast to the damp gloom of the churchyard. Liquor flowed, tales were told and songs were sung. Inevitably, the phonograph played ‘Molly Malone’, a long-time favourite on the island, although the chorus of ‘Alive, alive-o’ seemed singularly inappropriate, given the circumstances. Just as things seemed to be reaching a conclusion, Reggie rose unsteadily to his feet, his face a little flushed, and he announced that he wished to sing an old army song.

Philomena exchanged uncomfortable glances with Ariadne Middlestreet. She had heard a few ‘Old Army Songs’ before, and they did not always commend themselves to polite company.

“This is a song,” said Reggie, slightly slurring his words, “first heard, I believe, during the Indian Mutiny. That was a little bit before my time.”

He chuckled at this. No one else did, as it meant nothing to them.

Reggie drew up to his full height, raised his glass, and sang in a surprisingly pleasant baritone.

“We meet ‘neath the sounding rafters,

And the walls all around are bare.

As they echo to our laughter,

T’wouldn’t seem that the dead were there.

 Who dreads to the dead returning?

Who shrinks from that sable shore?

Where the high and haughty yearning

Of the souls will be no more.

So stand to your glasses steady.

Tis all we have left to prize.

Quaff a cup to the dead already.

And one to the next who dies.

Time was when we frowned on others,

We thought we were wiser then;

But now let us all be brothers,

For we never may meet again.

But a truce to this mournful story,

For death is a distant friend.

So here’s to a life of glory,

And a laurel to crown each end.

So stand to your glasses steady.

Tis all we have left to prize.

Quaff a cup to the dead already.

And one to the next who dies.”

With tears rolling down his cheeks, Reggie repeated the chorus and, as one, every single person in the bar arose and raised their glasses to the memory of Seth Washpool – and to the next who dies.  

Author’s note. Reggie’s song was, indeed, a version of a ballad first heard during the time of the Indian Mutiny. It was based upon a much longer poem by W.F. Thompson, initially titled ‘Indian Revelry.’ Some sources have attributed the verses to the American-Irish journalist, Bartholomew Dowling. His authorship is most unlikely, however, as he would have been no older than twelve when the poem first appeared.

I am not able to provide you with Reggie singing the song himself, but here is a fine rendition by Mr Martin Wyndham-Read instead: