Category Archives: Tales from the Squid and Teapot

The Lady From Baltimore

The Passamaquoddy trader, Samuel, looked pensively over the bay and wondered to himself if any other rich and elderly widow had ever taken the trouble to leave the security her well-appointed home to visit his less than salubrious reservation.

He rubbed his chin quizzically, pondering why the woman who called herself Mrs Spillman had chosen to do just this. She must be at least eighty years old, he reasoned. What had inspired her to leave an affluent area of Baltimore and travel the five hundred or more miles to this particular part of Maine?

What Samuel was to learn, a day so later, was that this recent visitor had journeyed with a purpose; a purpose that would have sounded very much like a wild goose chase to most people.

Mrs Lilac Spillman, although of very mature years, was an exceedingly determined woman who knew her own mind. There had been another trader here, many years ago, who, along with his little family, had welcomed her and her friend, Amelia, into their home. Lilac had been no more than a girl then and to her eternal shame, had walked out on them without a word of thanks. She  disappeared without even saying goodbye, slipping away like a thief in the night on the arm of a gambling man named Abner Badbrook. Badbrook eventually abandoned her in New York, leaving the hapless girl alone in a strange city, friendless, penniless and pregnant.

Lilac shuddered to think how she had betrayed the Indian family’s hospitality. She remembered that the trader had biblical name – Abraham – and that he had rescued Amelia and herself from a grim fate on the island of her birth; a place that she once vowed never to visit again. Abraham must be long dead, she thought, but maybe – just maybe – someone living on the reservation might still be visiting the island occasionally. One trip was all she wanted; just the one. She knew that her remaining months, possibly weeks, were few and despite her earlier disdain, Hopeless, Maine was calling to her.

 

When she heard that there was, indeed, a trader, Joseph, now living on Hopeless and due to arrive any day, her heart leapt. Could this be the Joseph that she remembered? Abraham’s son? He had been a boy of eight or ten at the time. That would make him seventy, at least. She thought it unlikely that it was the same person. However, when she saw Joseph standing outside the governor’s house she recognised him immediately. He was the image of his father. Although hazy about many things, Mrs Spillman’s long-term memory was as sharp as an eagle’s eye.

It took a moment or two for her to notice the burly man who was standing quietly, almost shyly, behind Joseph. Despite his very pale skin and tendency to walk with a stoop, as though he was accustomed to carrying a heavy burden upon his back, there was something about him that reminded her of someone she knew long ago. Then, when she was introduced to him, she thought her heart would break.

 

After forty years as Hopeless, Maine’s Night Soil Man, Randall Middlestreet had taken the unusual step of giving up his post to his apprentice. The new-found freedom of being able to associate with his fellow islanders had not lost its novelty value, even after some weeks following his abdication. Therefore, when Joseph invited Randall to join him on a trip across to the mainland, the former Night Soil Man was as apprehensive as he was excited. His life had changed greatly recently; he little suspected the new direction it was about to take.

 

You will recall that the first part of this tale concluded with Mrs Spillman sobbing into Randall’s neck and calling him her son. To say he was taken aback is an understatement. Randall had always understood that his mother had died in childbirth. To find, after fifty-five years, that she had been alive and well and living in somewhere called Baltimore was a surprise, to say the very least. The torrent of emotions that stormed through him at that moment was overwhelming. Feelings of joy and anger, love and betrayal, all mixed up with a generous helping of confusion, almost bowled him over; that, and the not insubstantial weight of the elderly lady clinging to his neck.

The elected governor of the tribe – or the  sakom, as he is known – had been entertaining Mrs Spillman in his family home for a few days prior to Joseph’s  arrival. After the necessary introductions had been made the sakom made it his business to linger and eavesdrop on their conversation. Upon seeing Mrs Spillman’s reaction to meeting Randall the sakom diplomatically ushered the three of them back into the privacy of his home, where, over coffee and biscuits, Mrs Spillman apprised her son of the details of her history and the reason why she had left him on the steps of a convent. How he had arrived on the island of Hopeless, though, was a total mystery to all. Randall had never been told the story of his rescue by Sebastian Lypiatt and the nun, Sister Mary Selsley.

 

A lifetime of being the Night Soil Man on Hopeless had made Randall something of a stoic, although this was not a word he would ever have used or even recognised. To adopt an attitude of accepting, without complaint, the ups and downs of daily existence is a necessary way of thinking on an island where unpredictability is the only predictable thing that the future holds. There was no point in regretting the lost years or blaming his mother for abandoning him. It would achieve nothing. Besides, she had had her reasons.

 

There was one other thing. Mrs Spillman had sold almost everything she possessed when she left Baltimore. Her worldly goods, including a large town house, had been converted into cash and lodged in a bank account.

“It’s all yours,” she told Randall. “I had no idea what would happen to my estate when I die. Now I know.” With that she reached into her travel-chest and retrieved a canvas bag. It was full of silver dollars.

“This will tide you over until suitable arrangements have been made,” she said.

Randall was aghast. He had little use for a lot of money. Hopeless was not the type of place where you could spend very much. He looked at Joseph for help.

“Take it and make her happy,” Joseph advised.

Randall looked about him at the spectre of poverty that stalked the reservation. Even Hopeless looked comfortable, compared with the poor living conditions many endured there. This place needed a helping hand. He knew what to do with at least some of his new-found wealth.

 

A few days passed and Joseph enlisted the help of his cousin, Samuel. Although refusing to set foot on Hopeless himself, Samuel reluctantly agreed to ferry Randall and Mrs Spillman across the treacherous channel to that strangest of islands. Joseph’s own canoe was full to bursting with furs, textiles and beaver pelts, purchased at a vastly inflated price by the suddenly wealthy Randall Middlestreet.

 

Although Randall was willing to pay Isaac Lypiatt, the landlord of The Squid and Teapot, to give his mother comfortable lodgings, Isaac refused, having inherited his parents’ generosity. He happily gave Mrs Spillman a room in which she could live out her remaining days in comfort. The Squid had been her home once and it was only fitting that it should be so again. It was the very least he could do.The Lady from Baltimore had come home to die.

The artist (Tom Brown, in this case) apologizes that there is not a new drawing this week. He is very much engaged with the final bits which will ensure that the next volume of the graphic novel series (Sinners) comes out on time and is as wonderful as we can manage.

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Thirty years on …

Thirty years on …

Thirty years had passed since the Reverend Crackstone’s disappearance. The only person who knew the exact circumstances of his demise was Betty Butterow. Her dark hair by now was shot with silver but she was as beautiful as ever and still working as a barmaid at The Squid and Teapot. Although the fog-bound landscape had changed little, much had happened on Hopeless in those intervening years, as you will see.

 

Soon after Crackstone’s disappearance Betty and Joseph, the Passamaquoddy trader, set up home together in a small cabin in Creepy Hollow. At the time of this tale Joseph would be seventy years old, or more but still sprightly and continuing to ply his trade between Hopeless and the mainland.

 

Isaac Lypiatt had taken over the role as landlord of the inn following the death of his parents, Sebastian and Madrigal. Sebastian’s last couple of years had been spent in retirement, reminiscing in the snug of the Squid with his friend Bill Ebley, who was also Isaac’s father-in-law. It had come as something of a surprise to both families when Isaac proposed marriage to Mildred, a girl twenty years his junior. With their marriage, however, a valuable link was forged between the inn, the Ebley Brewery and the distillery (you may recall that Mildred’s mother was Costanza Gannicox).

 

You may remember, in the tale of ‘The Wendigo’, Randall Middlestreet had been thrust into the role of a full-time Night Soil Man within weeks of his leaving the orphanage. For all of his adult life this job was all he had known and it was beginning to take its toll. When, at the age of fifty, he had asked at the orphanage if there were any likely candidates to be his apprentice he was sent a a surly young man with a decidedly selfish streak. His name was Jarvis Woodchester. Randall was not confident that he would get on particularly well with his new assistant but hoped for the best; he was glad of all the help he could get.

Five years slipped by and to everyone’s surprise Jarvis became as competent a Night Soil Man as any who had gone before him, lithely scrambling over the rocky headland with his bucket on his back. It was with some relief that Randall relinquished many of his duties to his young protege, whom he trusted implicitly. He had spent over forty years of his life surrounded by stench and darkness, forced into celibacy and, save for necessarily distant communication with Joseph and Betty, virtually friendless. The role of Night Soil Man was considered to be a job for life but Randall Middlestreet was contemplating the unthinkable –  abdication.

 

Few people had seen Randall in daylight but news of his abandoning the position as Night Soil Man had spread like wildfire. This behaviour was unheard of and one or two of the more conservative islanders disapproved of such a flagrant break with tradition; Randall’s mind, however, was made up. It took several days of diligent scrubbing to remove the trademark smell of his calling completely, but with the aid of Joseph and Betty – who were thrilled at his decision – Randall was completely deodorised, dressed in some of Joseph’s old but scrupulously clean clothes and ready to be integrated fully into Hopeless society for the first time in his adult life. The house at Poo Corner and all that it contained was now the exclusive property of the new, young Night Soil Man, Jarvis Woodchester.

 

When Randall walked into the bar of The Squid and Teapot the place fell silent. Randall paled, convinced that he was being ostracized for his decision. Then someone started clapping. The applause became contagious. Even Lady Margaret D’Avening, the ghost who haunts the privy of the inn, popped her head out to see what the fuss was about. Regular readers will recall that Lady Margaret’s head was detached from the rest of her, so when I say she popped her head out, I am speaking literally. As it was not a full moon and being something of a stickler for tradition, she was loathe to manifest totally. Isaac Lypiatt handed the newly liberated Randall a foaming pint of ‘Old Colonel’ and the keys to the old attic room, which long ago was occupied by the young Betty Butterow. It was now his for life, if he so wished. Randall was overcome with emotion. He had no idea that anyone would do such a thing for him.

 

This new way of life required quite a bit of adjustment. To be able to walk and talk with others, to share meals and enjoy  convivial evenings in the Squid were pleasures most took for granted. For Randall each one of these things was a novelty. The only downside was his vulnerability. In his role as Night Soil Man the less friendly denizens of the island had given him a wide berth. It was the one advantage of the stench that had perpetually surrounded him. These days, however, he had no such protection and had to remember to exercise caution when out and about.

 

When, a few weeks later, Joseph asked Randall if he would like to join him on a trip to the mainland, the ex-Night Soil Man had no idea how to respond. The chance of a glimpse of the wider world was as terrifying as it was tempting. He agonised over making a decision for days on end. Eventually curiosity overcame fear and, with no small amount of trepidation, Randall found himself gingerly scrambling into Joseph’s canoe.

With a mixture of excitement and anxiety churning within him he wondered what adventures might be waiting on the other side of the treacherous channel that would take them to the coast of Maine.

 

Once on dry land Joseph’s first point of call was the home of his cousin, Samuel. Joseph’s heart always dropped when he re-visited the reservation. The poorly built wooden shacks, often with earth floors and no sanitation, were far inferior to the simple but comfortable conical birch-bark wetus, or wigwams, his people lived in when he was a boy. Unemployment was high and living standards low. Samuel was one of the more fortunate ones, though. For years he had made a precarious living as a trader to providie for his large family. Today Joseph was interested in a supply of beaver pelts that Samuel had obtained. He knew that his cousin would drive a hard bargain, even for family, but he was happily prepared to haggle. What he was not prepared for was the news that Samuel could not wait to impart.

“There’s been a woman here asking after you.”

Joseph raised his eyebrows quizzically.

“She was old,” said Samuel. “I mean, really old. Older than you, even.”

Samuel was Joseph’s junior by only ten years but he never missed an opportunity to tease his cousin about his age.

“Who is this woman?” asked Joseph, faintly irritated.

“A Mrs. Spillman. From Baltimore, I think. Said she knew your parents, years ago.”

Joseph shrugged.

“And where is she now?”

“ We knew you were due to show up sometime soon, so the Sakom said his family could put her up for a night or two, seeing she’s old, and that. They’ve got the best place on the reservation but it ain’t up to Baltimore standards, that’s for sure.”

The Sakom is the elected governor, or chief of the tribe. This was a generous thing for him to do. Joseph decided to waste no time and see what the woman wanted. Having nothing better to do, Randall tagged along. To Joseph the reservation was downtrodden and commonplace. Randall thought it was the most exotic place that he had seen and was keen to look around.

 

The Sakom, holding Mrs Spillman’s arm, led her gently out of his home and introduced her to Joseph. The old lady was small and her back bent but her eyes flickered with a mischievous fire that belied her age. She reached up and stroked Joseph’s face.

“Joseph. Dear Joseph,” she smiled. “Is it really you?”

The Indian drew back a little. He had no idea who she was, or how she knew him.

“ Mrs Spillman, ma’am, forgive me but I don’t know who you are.”

“No. I guess you don’t remember. It was a long time ago and you were a child. But hey, where’s your manners?” she laughed brightly. “Who’s your friend, there?”

Joseph blushed faintly.

“Sorry, ma’am. This is my good pal Randall Middlestreet.”

The colour drained visibly from Mrs Spillman’s face, as though she had seen a ghost. Her bottom lip began to tremble.

“R… R… Randall Middlestreet?” she stammered.

Suddenly, with surprising vigour, she fell forward and threw her arms around a very surprised Randall, hugging him tightly.

He could feel her frail body racked with sobs as she clung to him.

“My son. My son,” she cried. “My beautiful boy…”

 

To be continued…

Art by Tom Brown

Fun Fair for the Common Man

Anyone who knows anything about Hopeless, Maine will be all too aware that it is no stranger to the occasional shipwreck and the rag-tag straggle of survivors who invariably accompany such disasters. Similarly, the island is equally familiar with the assortment of flotsam and jetsam which arrives upon its foggy shores in some abundance. These gifts from the sea can be practical, decorative or, indeed, both. Only rarely can they be said to be entertaining. This tale tells of one of those rare occasions.

 

In the tale ‘The Sweaty Tapster’ I told you of a small settlement, thought to be originally populated by descendants of the British slaves who were introduced to the island by its earliest known settlers, the Vikings. For generations they kept themselves to themselves, speaking a long extinct version of English and living peacefully in the shadow of the Gydynap Hills. Their dwellings, which were small and simple, were huddled around a patch of tough, spiky grass. In the distant past livestock might have grazed there but at the time of this tale the livestock had long gone; instead it had become the place where children played, deals were brokered and lovers met in the misty moonlight. It was common ground, or simply ‘The Common’ to all who used it.

 

There was one child who could only ever watch the others at their games; his name was Griffin Mills. Griffin had been born with a malformed leg and for his first few years could only drag himself along using a rudimentary crutch. It was not until he was in his teens that a thoughtful blacksmith fashioned him a caliper which, for the first time in his life, afforded him the ability to quite literally stand upon his own two feet. There was a price to pay, however. With the casual cruelty of youth his peers immediately dubbed him ‘Iron Mills’ and the name stuck. Before long everyone seemed to forget his real name and he was known as Iron for evermore.

 

As has been mentioned elsewhere in The Vendetta, sirens are known to haunt the rocky coast of Hopeless. When these creatures sing, women rush to get their children and husbands out of earshot, for few can resist their call. Iron – as we shall now call him – was no exception. Like the crippled boy in The Pied Piper of Hamelin, however, he was able to hear the music without succumbing to its lure, for his disability would prevent him from taking pursuit. Instead, the boy would lean from his window and listen to their alluring voices until his soul ached. He lusted for music; any music, such was the glamour that the sirens had put upon him.

Although not particularly religious, Iron even prayed to St. Cecilia, the Patron Saint of Music but nothing seemed to happen. It’s fair to say that her apparent indifference to his plight was breaking his heart and shaking his confidence daily. Then one morning everything changed when into his life stepped a character who rejoiced in the name of Cosimo Washpool, recent shipwreckee, raconteur and showman.

 

Washpool had enjoyed some success in the United States, touring with his one-man fun fair, hiring whatever casual help he needed in every town he that passed through. Upon a whim, he one day generously decided to allow the populace of Canada the chance to partake of the entertainment he offered. Unfortunately this was done as cheaply as possible and neither the ship nor her crew were sufficient to the task of successfully transporting a heavy steam engine and its attendant fairground rides through the capricious waters of the North Atlantic.

The upshot was, like so many before him, the unfortunate showman found himself stranded on the island of Hopeless, Maine and his crew drowned to a man. Just a dozen yards from the coast sat the shattered remnants of his livelihood, floundering in a half-submerged ship that threatened to disappear with every wave.

 

Sebastian Lypiatt, the landlord of ‘The Squid and Teapot’ rounded up some fellow islanders to help Washpool recover what he could from the wreckage. Over the years Sebastian had been involved in removing some unusual items from the sea but nothing compared with the contents of these latest crates and pallets. Brightly painted wooden ponies and ornate, rope-twisted and gilded poles were brought ashore, along with steps, canopies, garishly decorated boards and a host of other things, the like of which Hopeless had never before seen. These were as nothing, though, compared with the large and outlandish artefacts that the showman literally begged them to save before it was too late. The little party had to float a raft out to the rapidly sinking ship in order to rescue these last surviving, but decidedly awkward, items that seemed, on the face of it, to have little practical use.

The front of one contraption was painted to resemble a theatre, complete with a modestly-sized proscenium arch and artfully painted rococo flourishes. For reasons beyond the comprehension of any of its rescuers, three effete looking effigies in eighteenth century attire were placed along its length. The proscenium itself had curtains drawn tastefully back to reveal brass pipes and a bewildering assortment of gears and cogs. Accompanying this edifice was something that Sebastian recognised – or thought that he recognised. It looked like a miniature version of a ship’s boiler, mounted on wheels. While the volunteers from The Squid and Teapot manfully manoeuvred all of this ashore – not without a certain amount of sweat and profanity – Washpool was retrieving some mysterious looking tomes, all the time muttering to himself about the importance of keeping them dry.

 

To relate to you the full story of the bribes and bargaining, cajoling, shameless

pleading and extravagant promises that Washpool employed to effect the erection and siting of his beloved ‘Galloping Horses’ carousel and steam engine, would swallow up more lines than I have space for here. It’s sufficient to say that, had it not been for the experience of Sebastian Lypiatt, Bill Ebley and one or two non-natives of the island who had seen something of the wider world, none of it would have happened. They managed to transport what remained of the fun fair to the only space flat enough to accommodate it,The Common. There it sat until Washpool had gathered enough fuel to tempt the steam engine back into life.

 

Those who live on Hopeless are used to seeing odd things on a daily basis. Eyes in the sky, spoonwalkers and gnii were fairly familiar sights; as were vampires, werewolves and an assortment of night-stalkers, although, in fairness, most people only see these once. Things invariably take an unpleasant, not to say terminal, turn after that. The spectacle that adorned The Common, however, was unusual in the extreme, even by Hopeless standards. While the galloping horses cavorted around in an endless circle, the resurrected engine that drove it proclaimed its presence by belching smoke and powering the organ housed within the little theatre.  Louder than any siren-song was the stirring music emitted through a series of brass tubes that lay behind the proscenium arch. Gears turned, a flywheel spun and two bass drums were struck by hefty sticks as if by magic. One of the mysterious tomes that Washpool had tried so desperately to keep dry had been unfolded to make a wide ribbon of punch-holed cardboard that raced through the mechanism. It was the soul of the music, though few who saw it would guess as much. One or two of the onlookers were convinced that the effigies on the front of the theatre danced to the melody. My own view is that this had less to do with animatronic marvels than the efficacy of the produce of the Gannicox distillery. The smoke, the noise and a palpable air of excitement drew people from all over the island.  They came in their droves to stare, awe-struck at the spectacle and at at the front of the crowd, goggle-eyed with wonder and excitement, was young Iron Mills.

 

Iron was in love. To him the call of the fairground organ was as bewitching and potent as any melody seductively crooned by a siren. Besides that, unlike sirens, fairground  organs were unlikely to rip you to pieces and devour you, though you could get a nasty burn if you touched one in the wrong place. While the music was somewhat strident and occasionally a little off-key, it was undeniably music. Jubilation! St. Cecilia loved him and had done the business. If not for his gammy leg and a degree of dignity, Iron would probably have been tempted to fall on the floor and start laughing.

It did not take the lad long to a wheedle his way into Washpool’s favour and become an apprentice. He learned the arcane secrets of the showman’s art and the temperamental ways of a steam driven engine. The huge tomes of hole-punched card became as precious as any holy text to him and the upkeep of the carousel a sacred office. The music would play, the carousel rotated and the people would be drawn by the spell of the fun fair. Even the spoonwalkers, puddle rats and dustcats came out to see what the fuss was all about, but this was more to find what they might scavenge than for cultural reasons.

 

Time passed, as time has the curious habit of doing, but the little fun fair never lost any of its allure. The carousel would often stand still and silent for weeks on end until sufficient fuel was found to breathe life into the steam engine. The first puff of white smoke and steamy note would be a clarion call to the islanders; once more The Common would heave with excitement.

When Cosimo Washpool died, many believed that the music would die with him. They had forgotten about Iron Mills, by now a young man, who had worked at Washpool’s side, quietly mastering the idiosyncrasies of the steam engine and maintaining the carousel and organ. It took a little longer to gather fuel alone but in time-honoured tradition, the show went on. And on and on. For fifty long years Iron Mills ran his carousel, never failing to thrill generations of islanders with the marvel than was a steam-driven organ and a simple carousel of galloping horses – wooden, brightly painted creatures as fantastical and outlandish to the eyes of most Hoplessians as a spoonwalker might be to an Eskimo.

In the strange way that language and place-names evolve, The Common, over time became popularly known as Iron Mills’ Common, so closely was the man identified with the place. Eventually even the apostrophe disappeared (in the way that apostrophes often do, that is, when they are not being misplaced).

Of course, today Iron Mills himself is long dead and with his passing, so went the fun fair, for he had no apprentice or assistant. Sadly, there was no one who had been initiated into the mysteries of the mechanisms that kept it running.

If you should go to Iron Mills Common these days you can still see the sad remains of the fun fair, faded, rusted and silent. The cardboard, hole-punched, books that created the music have rotted away and anything worth salvaging from the engine and steam-organ have long ago been scavenged. Puddle rats nest in the engine’s boiler and a small colony of spoonwalkers have taken over the little theatre. The carousel is a mass of ivy; it twists up the tarnished poles and winds around the roof struts. Saddest of all are the wooden horses; they stand as if waiting to gallop once more but many are broken and all are bleached white by the weather.

Shenandoah Nailsworthy, the Night Soil Man, swears that on wild and moonless nights he has sometimes heard thin strains of music coming from the direction of Iron Mills Common. In all probability this is no more than the wind whistling through the few remaining organ pipes. But there again, maybe not. After all, this is Hopeless, Maine.

Art- Tom Brown

The Revenant

The grubby note pinned to the cottage door contained just five words:

‘Look at the Gydynaps – Randall.’

Joseph frowned. It was unlike Randall Middlestreet, the Night-Soil Man to leave messages, however brief. Wondering what it might mean, the Passamaquoddy trader, yawning and scratching, made his way to the front of the cabin to get a better view of the hills. At first he could see nothing strange, then he noticed it; a thin wisp of blue smoke was curling its way into the foggy air.

This was unusual. For Randall to have seen the fire, it must have been burning through the night – and the Gydynaps was not a place for camping. The hills were strange, even by the standards of Hopeless. Someone could be in trouble up there and Joseph, being the man he was, decided it was his duty to investigate.

As it happened, others had seen the smoke and had had similar thoughts. Bill Ebley and Solomon Gannicox were standing outside the Squid and Teapot  when they spotted Joseph. Bill waved a greeting and the pair waited for their friend to catch up before going on.

Joseph was quietly relieved that the others were there. Any expedition on this island – especially into the hills – could be hazardous and there were few men he trusted more than Solomon and Bill.

The three walked in silence for much of the time, aware that their every move was being scrutinized. By and large the watchers were invisible, their presence felt rather than seen. Then there were the ever-present eyes, hovering in the misty morning skies. These, while somewhat disconcerting, were deemed to be harmless. They were a phenomena of Hopeless known to everyone yet rarely mentioned. There seemed to be an unspoken agreement throughout the island that the eyes in the sky were to be ignored, as if by acknowledging their presence it would somehow cause them to be something more than the passive observers that they apparently were.

At last the trio reached the summit of the hills without incident. The plume of smoke was thicker here. It reached up from behind a ridge, where, Joseph remembered, there was a small cave hidden in the folds of rock.

Warily they made their way towards the smoke.

Standing perfectly still and warming himself before a small fire, was a slight figure – a young man – dressed in what appeared to be a long, white nightshirt.

Joseph could hardly believe his eyes.

“Daniel… is that really you?”

“Joseph?” the young man was obviously surprised. “How can this be?”

Bill Ebley looked at Joseph.

“Is that Daniel Rooksmoor?” he asked, half whispering. “I thought he was taken by that bird thing.”

All of the island remembered the Hallowe’en party, when Daniel Rooksmoor had wandered up into the Gydynaps and been taken away by Pamola, the bird-demon.

Daniel looked at the three men with some wonder.

“I imagined you all long dead,” he said. “I have been the guest in the kingdom of Pamola for untold years. From that lofty place I have watched this earth and all in it, wither and die.”

Bill looked at Solomon and twiddled his index finger next to his right temple, the worldwide sign denoting that someone is not in full receipt of their senses.

The distiller gave a small smile and raised his eyebrows in agreement.

Daniel saw this mummery and became angry.

“Daniel,” said Joseph, gently, “You have been gone but a few months. You are back on Hopeless now. Oh, Daniel, it’s good to see you. I thought you were dead.”

The boy was not placated.

“You all mock me. I have seen things beyond your understanding. You must believe me. It will be people like you who will grow deaf and blind to the plight of the world, who will let the greed of a few destroy it. There will be cruelty and bloodshed that would cause you to quake. I have seen the future and it is bleak – bleaker than you can ever imagine.”

Solomon Gannicox was losing his patience with the boy’s rambling.

“Come back with us Daniel, it’s not safe up here.”

“No. Never. It must be the will of Pamola that I have been returned to this time and place. I will not budge until I learn why. Go now and leave me in peace.”

Joseph made his way towards the boy.

“Daniel, you’re not well. I’m begging you, come with us…”

He reached to put a reassuring hand on the boy’s shoulder and it was then that something happened that neither of the three islanders would ever speak of again, even among themselves.

Daniel Rooksmoor fell to dust before their eyes.

The Annual Hopeless Rock Race

However austere and impoverished their environment, human beings will always find reasons and means for celebration.  Hopeless is no exception. It is an island so basic in its comforts and amenities that the occasional diversion likely to ignite the smallest spark of joy is often embraced with surprising enthusiasm.

The Annual Hopeless Rock Race has been a tradition since the late nineteenth century. It was the brainchild of no less and unlikely a personage than Reverend Malachi Crackstone. After finding himself shipwrecked he became somewhat homesick and harboured fond, if rose-tinted, memories of England. One of those memories was of the traditions upheld by his fellow countrymen; traditions, it must be said, of which he had heard tales but never actually witnessed. It confounded him why an otherwise perfectly rational young man would choose to run up a hill bearing a sixty-pound woolsack on his back. Equally baffling was the urge for apparently sane men and women to risk life and limb hurtling down a steep gradient in order to catch a fugitive cheese; a cheese which would have been rendered quite inedible after such a  journey. There were many, however, who considered such activities to be a worthwhile use of their time, so who, in that case, was he to disagree?

It one day occurred to him that the more able bodied inhabitants of Hopeless  would find enjoyment and health-giving exercise in a similar endeavour. In the absence of sacks of wool or wheels of cheese they would have to make do with the island’s most common commodity, that being lumps of rock.

Traditionally the Rock Race was always held on the day preceding the first full moon following the vernal equinox. It sounds complicated but the parson’s logic was that those islanders who could never remember when Easter was likely to fall in any given year could use this event as a reminder (as you probably know, Easter is celebrated on the first Sunday following this particular moon).

Forty years on and the race was still a much-anticipated and popular event. Crackstone had long gone to meet his maker, albeit in mysterious circumstances, and since his departure, both from this life and the Rock Race committee, the day had become a much more joyous and liberal occasion, helped along by the Gannicox Distillery and its near neighbour, the recently opened Ebley Brewery.

The concept of the Rock Race was simple: several rocks of roughly similar weight would be selected and competitors would be required to run, carrying their chosen lump of stone, from The Squid and Teapot to Chapel Rock, a distance of about one mile. Once under the remains of the chapel, the rock could be discarded but the participant would then be required to find a piece of cutlery in the ruins. This would usually be a spoon, which had either been left by a Spoonwalker, or dropped by one of the ravens who lived there, having discovered that the occasional Spoonwalker made a welcome addition to its diet. Once found, the cutlery would be rushed back to the Squid where the victor would be awarded with a refreshing glass of ‘Old Colonel’ and the inn’s speciality dish, a Starry-Grabby pie (this is similar to the Cornish Starry-Gazey pie but instead of having fish heads and tails staring heavenward from the pastry the Starry-Grabby pie has squid tentacles pointing upwards).

Any seasoned rock-racer was well aware that some rocks are easier to carry than others. While the weight of each had to be somewhat uniform, no such restrictions were imposed with regards to  its shape, so the quest for the perfect rock was always a feature of island life for the days – and sometimes even weeks – leading up to the great event.

Cardew Gannicox, nineteen years old and heir apparent to the island’s famous distillery, discovered what he considered to be the ideal rock sitting in a corner of the courtyard of Squid and Teapot. To be fair, it was not exactly a rock. It was a dressed stone block but, Cardew reasoned, every dressed stone had been a rock, or at least part of one, at some time during its long career. Seeing victory in his sights, Cardew gathered up the stone and took it home for safekeeping.


The day of the race at last arrived but while  contenders for the coveted prize were limbering up, Betty Butterow had other things on her mind. For the past five years she had dutifully tended to the welfare of the Squid’s resident ghost, Lady Margaret D’Avening, also known as The Headless Lady. Whenever the moon was full, Lady Margaret comes out to haunt the inn’s indoor privy, which had been constructed from some of the remains of her former home, Oxlynch Hall.

As you might imagine, this was a less than comfortable arrangement both for ghost and patrons. Fortunately Betty one day had an idea which improved matters no end; if just one of these stones was to be removed and positioned in another part of the inn, or its immediate environs, maybe Lady Margaret could transfer her energy, or whatever it was, into that and haunt the location in which the stone had been placed. To the barmaid’s amazement it worked. The ghost was more than happy with this as she had become decidedly desperate for a change of scenery. This evening, however, would herald the next full moon and Betty had no idea where Lady Margaret might find herself manifesting. The stone, which had been quietly sitting in the corner of the Squid and Teapot’s courtyard had vanished. It seemed that someone had taken it and Betty was beside herself with worry.


It was not the best of race days that year. In fact, it was a total disappointment. A miserable, drizzly rain had ensured that the competitors were thoroughly uncomfortable long before the race was over. The rain had made the rocks slippery and difficult to hold. There had also been several minor accidents, due to the greasy conditions underfoot. Cardew Gannicox had not won the coveted prize, though there were few, by then to witness it. He had been beaten by young Lemuel Nailsworthy, whose victory was only secured by the severe shortage of discarded spoons that year. By nightfall the only signs that the annual Rock Race had indeed taken place was the redistribution of several lumps of stone and The Squid and Teapot having three more spoons in the cutlery drawer.


Randall Middlestreet was thankful that the rain had stopped. The Night Soil Man’s job was not the easiest at the best of times, negotiating the various hazards of the island in the darkness. The incidence of rain just added to the misery. Making his way over the headland, however, he felt quite content with his lot. It had turned into a fine, if chilly, night and the full moon was making his progress much easier. Besides that, there was a delicious Starry-Grabby pie in his bag that Betty at the Squid had made especially for him. It had long been a tradition on the island that the Night Soil Man receive a Starry-Grabby pie on race days, the reasoning being that, as he could not compete, he should get a pie anyway. This year the tradition had been further enhanced by the inclusion of a bottle of the Ebley brewery’s ‘Old Colonel’.

Randall decided to take his meal break in the ruins at Chapel Rock. He knew that it was haunted; he’d seen old Obadiah, the ghost of the Mad Parson, more than once. They had even had a conversation which, admittedly, mainly comprised of Obadiah hurling a torrent of arcane insults at him. It was fair to say that ghosts held little fear for Randall. They were, on the whole, harmless and there were many worse things on Hopeless to worry about. Placing his bucket on the flattest surface he could find, the Night Soil Man spread a cloth over its lid and beaming with anticipation, upon it laid his pie and beer bottle.

He had barely swallowed the first mouthful of pie when the wraith of Obadiah Hyde manifested no more than a dozen yards away from him. The mad parson gave no indication that he knew Randall was there. Ghosts can be like that, sometimes being visible in several dimensions, realities, universes – call them what you will – and not totally sure which one they are actually inhabiting. Tonight Obadiah was oblivious to everything except the sense of a strange presence that drew him like a magnet towards a square-cut stone sitting in the ruins. This was something new.

Randall Middlestreet watched, fascinated, as the apparition flickered like a candle through the remains of the old chapel. Little by little, one of the blocks of stone began to glow. It was with no more than a faint luminosity at first, which grew very gradually into a steady greenish light, as if lit from within. Then, from the stone, the distinct but ghostly form of a woman appeared. The Night Soil Man could tell the ghost was female (despite the restrictions imposed by his calling, Randall had always been appreciative of the female form) but her lack of features above the neck made her a particularly ghastly sight. Obviously the shade of Obadiah Hyde thought so too, for the ghost visibly recoiled when he saw her. The Headless Lady grew in brightness until suddenly, with a flash that made Randall jump and nearly knock his bucket over, she seemed to fill the night with her presence, leaving the parson cowering before her, and despite her lack of a head, let out the most terrifying  Banshee wail that had the Night Soil Man scampering back over the headland leaving his bucket, pie and beer behind.


Betty Butterow was running a mop over the floor of the privy, her last task at The Squid and Teapot before going home to her husband, Joseph. For several years now she had become used to the Lady Margaret D’Avening’s head suddenly appearing from nowhere and wishing her goodnight. Tonight, however, a less hardy soul might have suffered a heart attack to find her ghastly visage burst like a cannonball through the stonework, screaming at the top of her voice

“Hyde, thou murderous, pox-ridden piece of dog dung, may’st thou rot in Hell for evermore…”


Finding herself in the hated presence of her killer, Obadiah Hyde, had been too much for Lady Margaret to bear and therefore she wasted no time in relocating to the comfort and security of the familiar stonework of the Squid and Teapot privy. She was beside herself. I mean that quite literally. She sat, shocked and shaking, upon the toilet seat while her head floated a foot or so beneath the cistern. It was indeed fortunate that Betty was there to comfort her; the two had formed a close friendship over the years; Betty’s gift of ‘The Sight’ had given her an invaluable advantage when it came to conversing with ghosts and suchlike.

As Lady Margaret recounted her tale, all became clear to the barmaid. The mystery of the missing stone had been solved and Betty promised that it would be recovered and placed back in the grounds of the inn, far away from Chapel Rock, before the next full moon, when the headless lady was due to manifest again. Betty wondered if there would ever be any resolution to the differences between Lady Margaret and The Mad Parson. She felt fairly sure that if this was ever to be, she would have to be the one to make it happen.

For some reason the words ‘A cold day in Hell…’ immediately spring to mind.

Art by Tom Brown

We All Live On Hopeless Maine

For over a century the Lypiatt family have been custodians of the ‘Squid and Teapot’.  The current landlord, Rufus Lypiatt, often relates how, as a youth, his father, Spencer, was invited to join the Passamaquoddy trader, Joseph Dreaming-By-The-River-Where-The-Shining-Salmon-Springs on one of his excursions to the mainland.

At the time of this tale Joseph would have been in his late sixties. Although still fit and strong, he had been making fewer and fewer trips across the treacherous channel in recent years. The pressing reason for this latest voyage, however,was to procure a new lidded-bucket for the Night-Soil Man, Randall Middlestreet, who had recently taken on an apprentice.

 

While the pair were away the weather deteriorated badly, forcing them to spend a night in Portland. Joseph decided that this was the perfect opportunity for Spencer to be introduced to the marvel that was the Movie Theatre, which that night was screening the recently released musical film, “South Pacific”.

To say that Spencer was entranced would be an understatement. It was a once in a lifetime experience for him that he cherished until his dying day.

 

Whether or no they have seen the film, most people are familiar with the show-stopper “There is nothin’ like a dame”. It is one of those tunes that, once heard, is almost impossible to shake out of your head (except for the slightly recitative and unwhistleable bits which include a complaInt about not having a reason for putting on a clean white suit, which everyone tends to forget). So it was with Spencer. He hummed it incessantly. By the time they were back to Hopeless, Joseph was thoroughly sick of hearing it. Spencer, however, was completely hooked and decided that the islanders should all share the benefit of that catchy, but somewhat irritating, tune. Blissfully oblivious to the concepts of plagiarism and copyright, he put his own words to the main melody and sang it to anyone who would listen, or indeed, to anyone who gave every indication that they had absolutely no intention of listening. To prolong the agony, Spencer insisted on inserting the chorus after each stanza, a device that Messrs Rogers and Hammerstein wisely decided not to employ.

So – Ladies and Gentlemen, this will possibly annoy you for hours to come – or weeks, if you are unwise enough to learn the words (believe me, I know!)

I give you Spencer’s song,

‘We All Live On Hopeless, Maine’…

 

We’ve got vampires in the caverns,

We’ve got werewolves, wights and ghouls.

There are nasty things with tentacles

That drag you into pools.

We get frights from night potatoes

D’you need me to explain

Why we’ve orphans galore

On Hopeless Maine?

 

We all live on Hopeless, Maine,

(Hopeless by the sea)

There’s no reason to complain

If you’re living on Hopeless, Maine.

 

Though our ghosts are fairly harmless

Well, you just might flip your lid

If you meet the Headless Lady

In the privy of ‘The Squid’,

Or the mad and ghastly parson

And the Eggless Woeful Dane.

Spooks feel at home

On Hopeless, Maine.

We all live on Hopeless, Maine,

(Hopeless by the sea)

There’s no reason to complain

If you’re living on Hopeless, Maine.

 

There are puddle rats and dustcats,

And cephalopods to spare.

There are ravens up on Chapel Rock

And coffee that grows hair.

We have spoonwalkers with glowing eyes

That might drive you insane.

Things can get strange

On Hopeless, Maine.

 

We all live on Hopeless, Maine,

(Hopeless by the sea)

There’s no reason to complain

If you’re living on Hopeless, Maine.

 

We’ve a reverend and distiller

And a Night-Soil Man as well.

He’s the nicest guy on Hopeless

(It’s a shame about the smell).

There’re poets, whores and vagabonds

And one thing seems quite plain –

All life is here

On Hopeless, Maine.

 

We all live on Hopeless, Maine,

(Hopeless by the sea)

There’s no reason to complain

If you’re living on Hopeless, Maine.

 

So why not come and join us

We’re a really friendly bunch.

Just avoid the many dangers

Of becoming something’s lunch.

You might really love the climate

If you’re fond of fog and rain.

There ain’t that much sun

On Hopeless Maine.

 

We all live on Hopeless, Maine,

(Hopeless by the sea)

There’s no reason to complain

If you’re living on Hopeless, Maine.

We all live on Hopeless, Maine,

(Hopeless by the sea)

There’s no reason to complain

If you’re living and breathing

And not dying or leaving

Dear…old….Hoooopeless, Maaainne.

 

Thank you very much.

Amelia

The story so far…

 

In the spring of 1888 Harriet Butterow and her friend, Petunia Middlestreet, perished in the sea while trying to salvage goods from a shipwreck. Their respective daughters, Amelia, aged six and Lilac, aged three, became the wards of Harriet’s father-in-law, Bartholomew Middlestreet, the landlord of the Squid and Teapot. In order to give the girls the best possible education and home life Bartholomew relinquished management of the inn to his long-term tenant, the odious Tobias Thrupp. Ten years slipped by and Bartholomew died. Nothing more was heard of the girls for the next two years, until they were rescued from Thrupp’s clutches by Abraham, a Passamaquoddy trader who took them to his reservation on the mainland. The girls lived happily with Abraham and his family until Lilac fell in love with Abner Badbrook, a silver-tongued rogue. The two eloped in the dead of night, only for Abner to desert Lilac when he learned that he was to become a father. Fearing that she would not be able to support her small son, Lilac left him on the steps of a convent. While being taken for adoption to New Brunswick, the child, Randall and his guardian, Sister Mary Selsley, of the Little Sisters of St. Chloe, were shipwrecked on Hopeless, Maine, along with the ship’s captain, Sebastian Lypiatt.

 

Amelia was saddened but not surprised by Lilac’s departure from the reservation. Her friend had been acting strangely for a week or so prior to her disappearance. It had become obvious to Amelia that Lilac was smuggling food and soft deerskin blankets to someone in the forest but she said nothing to Abraham or his wife, Cenopi.

Over the following weeks Amelia retreated increasingly into her own thoughts. She took to wandering along the river bank, as though seeking something. In blocking out the rest of the world she seemed to have switched on part of herself that had formerly been sleeping.

Amelia had often heard the seals before, of course, going about their business in Passamaquoddy bay. The plaintive barking that was so familiar, however,  one day became an invocation, a siren-call to those who could hear its message. Like one in a dream Amelia made her way to the water’s edge, then hesitated. The abiding memory she had of her mother was of being warned never to go into the ocean. After Harriet herself became a victim of the grey Atlantic, Amelia could see the sense in this, not knowing the real reason for her mother’s fears.

‘Strictly speaking’, she told herself, ’This is not the ocean. I can be careful.’

In truth, whatever her mind had said, a greater force was at work within Amelia and all of the warnings in the world would not have prevented her from being drawn towards the seal-song.

There is a point where practicality, driven by instinct will always prevail over the modesty imposed by social mores. That morning Amelia gazed over the expanse of shining water and without a second thought, took off her clothes. She laid each garment carefully on a dry rock, then – for reasons beyond her comprehension – threw herself into the chilly waters of the bay.

After the initial shock of hitting the water she began to panic. For a brief moment the old Amelia took control, thrashing and screaming in the swirling current. Then a great calmness swept over her. Dimly she imagined that this must be the end. If this was death it was not so bad. It did not come as some hostile enemy but almost as a gentle guardian, come to gather her into its warm embrace. But she was confused; none of the things she had been led to expect was happening. There was no bright light, no welcoming family waiting with outstretched arms to usher her into the afterlife. What she did feel, however, was warmth and strength and a undeniable desire to eat some fish. Amelia looked down at her body. It was sleek, fat and furry. Instead of arms and legs she had flippers. Then something in her remembered; this was a memory not spun from intellect but from instinct. A memory that flowed in her blood and lived in her bones. She was Selkie.

In the event, there was a family to welcome her, after all. The Harbor Seals had sensed that she was near and had been waiting. Amelia had come home.

 

It was a full two years before Amelia once more took on human form and again it was instinct that drove her to do so. She had watched with curiosity as a man, woman and tiny child bobbed across the water on an upturned dining table. Amelia, who still retained some shadow of her former attributes, could not help but swim up alongside the strange craft. It had been a long time since she had heard human speech. The conversation centred around the child, who the woman had referred to as “Young Randall Middlestreet.”

Middlestreet!

She dimly remembered that she had once had a friend with the same name. An ache grew inside the selkie, suddenly wanting to know more and if her friend was close by. She watched as the little party washed up on to a foggy shore – a somehow familiar foggy shore, she thought –  and made their way inland, abandoning the table and rough tarpaulin that had served as a makeshift sail. Amelia dragged herself onto the rocks. As she dried, her skin sloughed off to reveal her human form. She folded the sealskin and hid it in the rocks, then, in the best tradition of Adam and Eve, became suddenly aware and ashamed of her nakedness. The only item to cover her modesty adequately was the old tarpaulin, which she draped about her as best she could and, in bare feet, made her way inland.

 

Amos Gannicox was sitting outside his cabin when he saw her. His face suddenly became a deathly white, as though he had seen a ghost. It must be admitted that seeing ghosts was not that unusual on this island. Amos had seen several in his years there. This particular ghost, however, had a special place in Amos’ heart.

“Ha… Harriet. Is that you?” he asked, nervously.

“ Pardon?” Despite her selkie years, Amelia had not forgotten her manners.

“I’m sorry,” said Amos, seeing now his mistake. “It’s just that you reminded me of a dear friend who died over fifteen years ago. You could be her twin. Her name was Harriet.”

“My mother was Harriet…” said Amelia as memories of her childhood flowed back.

 

It did not take long for Amos and Amelia to piece together the events that had led up to her disappearance from the island. She told him about her time on the reservation and her living with the seals. Amos reddened. Harriet had always claimed that Amelia’s father was a selkie and he had dismissed it out of hand as delusion. The girl’s story now gave the tale some credence.

After Harriet’s disappearance Amos had salvaged some of her things as keepsakes. He had been secretly in love with her and could not bear to see her few possessions scavenged by the other islanders. From these he found some suitable shoes and a dress, which was a much tighter fit than Amelia had expected it to be. She could not remember having been quite so rounded when on the reservation.

When he was told of the child, Randall Middlestreet, Amos made a few enquiries and soon learned that the boy was in the care of the orphanage. Upon hearing this Amelia immediately resolved to go there herself. It was her plan to volunteer to help, thereby allowing her to keep an eye on Randall’s welfare.

Amelia had been there but a few hours before she found an unexpected ally in Sister Mary Selsley. The nun’s calling asked her to accept, without question, many things that, in a secular setting, she would find to be totally implausible. So, to recognise the existence of a shape-shifting selkie did not demand of her a huge leap of faith. Sister Mary had been born and raised on the wild west coast of Ireland where these creatures were known to exist and held in some regard. To those, like herself, who had lived among the selkies, there was something in their eyes and general bearing that betrayed them immediately when in their human form. These things she saw, and loved, in Amelia.

Sister Mary had nothing like the same regard for Reverend Malachi Crackstone, the principal of the orphanage. Besides his being a protestant, which was cause enough to meet the nun’s disapproval, she found him to be a mean-minded, unpleasant man, given to cruelty. She warned Amelia not to reveal any of herself to him, although the parson had already discovered that her great grandmother had been Colleen O’Stoat, a woman widely suspected of being a witch. Crackstone made no secret of his instant dislike for the girl, a dislike that forthcoming events would turn into something akin to hatred.

 

The mind and instincts of a seal and those of a human have little in common, outside of a desire for survival. That is why – perhaps mercifully – a selkie woman recalls her seal life as little more than a dream, and vice-versa. So, when the nun pointed out to Amelia that she was decidedly pregnant it came as something of a surprise. It certainly explained a few things but she had no recollection of ever mating. Sister Mary assured her she must have done so; to the nun’s knowledge there had only been one instance of a virgin birth and to suggest this might be another was nothing short of blasphemous.

“ As far as Reverend Crackstone is concerned,” advised the nun, “you’ve lived on the island all of your life and the father is unknown. He wont like it but it will stop him from asking awkward questions.”

There was another problem. A human gestation period is nine months, while a seal’s is eleven. A massive conflict was raging in Amelia’s body and she was not having a good time. In the event, the strange nature of the pregnancy brought on the onset of labour several weeks early.

It was a hard and traumatic birth. For two whole days and nights Amelia was wracked with pain that took a great toll on her strength. In her heart Sister Mary suspected that there would be little chance of Amelia or her child surviving the ordeal.

 

As the clock struck midnight, heralding the vernal equinox of 1905, Betty Butterow was born. As Sister Mary had feared, the fight to bring Betty into the world had been too much for Amelia, who, by now, was pale and very close to death. Crackstone, with a heart as cold as ice, took the child casually from the weeping nun’s arms and swept off to find a wet-nurse.

Tearfully, Sister Mary stripped the blood soaked shift from Amelia’s lifeless body and washed her.

“This girl should be returned to the sea, where she belongs” she told herself. “Not in the cold earth, where Crackstone would put her”

As I have mentioned before, Sister Mary was no delicate, frail thing. Effortlessly, she lifted Amelia into her arms and carried her out into the night air.

 

Unless you are a Night-Soil Man it can be perilous to walk about the island after dark. Fortune, or something else, was on the nun’s side, however, as she made her way to the precise spot where Amelia had said she had hidden her pelt.

A mist-shrouded full moon watched with a baleful eye as the sealskin was wrapped securely around Amelia’s lifeless form. For her own peace of mind Sister Mary said a few suitable words to her God, then, gathering up Amelia’s body, waded into the ocean, almost to chest height, and  placed her precious bundle upon its surface. She watched sorrowfully as the dark water folded over the girl and drew her into its inky depths. Making her way back to shore, soaked and shivering with bitter cold, the nun was comforted by the knowledge that she had returned Amelia to her true home.

A sudden noise made her turn. Just a few feet behind her a seal’s head burst through the water. For an instant that felt like a lifetime the two regarded each other in the moonlight. A spark of recognition flared in the seal’s dark eyes.

Sister Mary’s heart leapt.

“She’s alive,” she cried aloud, “Amelia, you’re alive!”

The seal lingered a moment longer and the connection that had momentarily flickered between them gradually faded, like a candle being slowly extinguished.

Without giving the nun another glance, the seal turned and headed for the open ocean, completely unaware of the identity of the human standing in the water behind her.

The selkie that had been Amelia Butterow was now a seal forever, forgetful of the life she had once known and the daughter she left behind on the mysterious island of Hopeless, Maine.

Art- Tom Brown

Lilac

Abner Badbrook had left the city of Calais, Maine in something of a hurry. There had been a certain amount of unpleasantness with several of the locals when they discovered that five aces had mysteriously found their way up the left sleeve of his jacket. Having escaped their clutches, hitching a free passage on one of the many commercial ships that plied the river was easy for a man whose charm was only exceeded by his crooked nature. Charm, however, was not enough when some of the crew caught him cheating during a game of five card stud. In an act of admirable self-restraint  they revised their initial plan of keelhauling Abner and instead deposited him roughly on the banks of St. Croix river, in the heart of the Passamaquoddy reservation.

 

You will recall that Lilac Middlestreet and her friend, Amelia Butterow, had been liberated from the clutches of the evil Tobias Thrupp by Abraham, the Passamaquoddy trader and taken from the island of Hopeless to the safety of his reservation.

In the years that had elapsed since their rescue the two had happily settled into the life and customs of the tribe and, except for Lilac’s fair skin and red hair, they could easily have passed as Passamaquoddy girls.  As it happens, these were the very traits that caught the attention of Abner Badbrook as he lingered on the edge of the forest, holding a spy-glass to his eye, watching the women doing their washing in the river.

Abner was famished. His particular skill-set precluded his living off the land and – not to put too fine a point on it – he was becoming desperate. His instincts told him that his welcome might be less than cordial if he wandered into their village as a beggar, so, clutching at straws, he had spied upon the women, hoping that they would leave something remotely edible behind when they left. Sadly, for Abner, this seemed to be to no avail. Then he spotted the fair-skinned white girl. She just might be his meal-ticket.

Being a gambler Abner estimated that the odds of his being able to sweet-talk her into helping him were worth a try. All he needed was to get her on her own. As it happened Lady Luck was in a good mood that day and Lilac had decided to linger a while after the other women had gone.

Lilac was startled by the figure that emerged from the shadow of the trees. She thought to run but, being the girl she was, her curiosity overcame her fear and she waited to see what the stranger might do.

Abner, checking that he could not be seen from the village, wandered casually over and struck up a conversation. He slipped into charming mode as easily as you or I might put on a pair of well-worn and exceedingly comfortable carpet slippers. From the offset Lilac was as putty in his hands, completely buying his far-fetched story of having been kidnapped by river pirates and making a valiant escape by fighting off seven of them before leaping to freedom into the raging river. Caught hook, line and sinker, she promised to bring food, drink and warm blankets to her silver-tongued hero that very evening.

Events unfolded as you might expect. It was inevitable that Lilac would fall in love with the handsome stranger. Things happened quickly and before a week had passed the impressionable girl was making plans to elope with the card-sharp, whose latest gamble was playing out far better than he had hoped.

While running away might seem a drastic step to take, there was no question of them having a conventional Passamaquoddy marriage, even if Abner had wanted one and had made his presence known to the tribe. According to their customs a couple would have to go through a betrothal period for one year, during which time the groom had to prove to the girl’s father – in this case Abraham – that he was a capable hunter. He would be obliged to make bows, arrows, canoes and snowshoes for his prospective father-in-law. Also, during this year of courtship, the couple would have to be chaste. At the end of the betrothal the bride’s family would hold a feast, making speeches which exalted the groom’s geneology. Believe me, Abner’s geneology left little room for exaltation. None of this, of course was ever going to happen. And so, it was without a word to anyone, not even Amelia, that on one moonless night in midsummer, Lilac and her lover left the land of the Passamaquoddy people forever.

 

It was two years later, in the winter of 1904, that Lilac found herself in New York, penniless, alone and with a new born  baby to support. Abner had disappeared when the prospect of fatherhood was on the horizon, leaving the hapless Lilac to fend for herself. She was too ashamed to return to the reservation, even if she had had the means to get there. In desperation Lilac resolved to leave her small son on the steps of the Convent of the Little Sisters of St. Chloe. It broke her heart but she knew that as long as he was with her the child’s chances of survival would be minimal. Tearfully she wrapped him in a ragged blanket into which she had tucked a brief note bearing his name. Lilac had refused to give her son his father’s surname; she owed that man nothing, except her contempt. Besides, Randall Middlestreet sounded to be a far nicer person than Randall Badbrook.

 

Sister Mary Selsley of the Convent of the Little Sisters of St. Chloe had relatives in New Brunswick. After a brief exchange of letters the childless couple happily agreed to raise young Randall as their own son. With the blessing of her Mother Superior Sister Mary arranged a passage for herself and the child on the SS Wycliffe, a journey that would take her away from the convent for some weeks. Or so she thought.

 

The storm that had raged for three long days was one of the worst the captain of The Wycliffe had seen in many a long year. He gave the order to abandon ship with a heavy heart and, in the best traditions of sea captains everywhere, resigned himself to a watery grave. Destiny had other ideas, though, and he found himself being hefted on to an upturned dining table by, what appeared to be, a prize-fighter masquerading as a nun. This, in fact, was Sister Mary who had never been known for her delicate femininity.

The two  found themselves floating through a foggy seascape, their only other companion was the small child that Sister Mary had lashed securely to a table leg.  The nun regarded the English sea captain with some warmth. Although he was a burly and rough looking man – even burlier and rougher looking than Sister Mary herself – he seemed kind enough. In fact, the captain took great pains to be a perfect gentleman in the presence of the nun, being careful not to spit or swear, lest he offend her. It was not, however, until they washed up on a barren, mist-strewn shore that he introduced himself.

“I’m Sebastian,” he informed her. “Sebastian Lypiatt. Let’s find that child some warmth and shelter.”

Sebastian and Sister Mary gingerly made their way inland with little Randall strapped papoose-like to the sailor’s back. This was a strange place, to be sure. Eyes seemed to be watching them from every direction, including above. Sister Mary was certain that she saw something scuttle by with teaspoons for legs but she told herself that this was only a symptom of the delirium caused by a lack of fresh water.

Before the day was out Randall Middlestreet and Sister Mary were safely ensconced in the old orphanage, a place which, the nun discovered, seemed to enjoy more than its fair share of bumps in the night. She decided that until rescue arrived, this was as good a place as any to stay and lend a hand. With luck, she thought, with a decidedly unecumenical smile, she might even manage to undermine the strictly protestant Reverend Crackstone, who appeared to be in charge.

Sebastian Lypiatt, satisfied that the nun and her charge were adequately catered for, made his way further inland. He stumbled upon a curiously named inn, The Squid and Teapot but this seemed to be too dismal a haven, even for a stranded sailor. Fortunately, he soon discovered the welcoming portals of Madame Evadne’s Lodging House For Discerning Gentlemen, which would be more than acceptable until either rescue or permanent accommodation materialized. Besides – a girl had caught his eye. Life on this strange island might just about be tolerable with Madrigal Inchbrook by his side.

Art by Tom Brown

Escape!

High in the roof space of the Squid and Teapot are gloomy attic rooms, these days used only for storage. Their meagre light is afforded through the small windows that look out onto barren rocks and the raging ocean below.  For Tobias Thrupp these rooms provided the perfect place to hide Amelia Butterow and Lilac Middlestreet, whom he had held as captives, following the death of their guardian, Lilac’s grandfather,Bartholomew Middlestreet.

 

Since taking over ownership of the inn,Thrupp, who, in his younger days had cut a handsome figure, had become debauched, grossly overweight and notorious for his greed and brutality. His foul ways and warped soul were reflected in his face and form. Evil had made him ugly. He had taken to terrorising the young ladies who plied their trade at Madame Evadne’s Lodging House for Discerning Gentlemen, while, at the same time, his idleness and obnoxious ways had succeeded in driving custom away from his failing hostelry. Regular readers will know that Thrupp’s eventual demise is related in the tale ‘The Supper Guest’, in which he is seen to pay for his execrable ways.

It was one morning in early spring when, by chance, the sixteen-years old Amelia glanced out of the tiny window and spotted a figure standing on the rocks below. This was most unusual, for the only way to reach those rocks was from the sea. Had she known more about the world in which she lived, Amelia would have recognised the man as being Abraham, the Passamaquoddy trader who sometimes visited the island in his birch bark canoe.

Leaning out as far as they dared, Amelia shouted for the help that was so desperately needed. With the roar of the ocean filling his ears, it took some while for the trader to comprehend the message she was trying to convey. To the girl’s dismay he suddenly disappeared. Amelia fell to tears, believing that she had somehow offended him. Her hopes were revived, however, when Abraham returned, brandishing a coiled rope.

“Catch, and secure it to something,” he called up.

Although he threw with perfect accuracy, it took several attempts before Amelia managed to keep hold of the rope, which she then tied securely to the large iron handle of the door which Thrupp was always careful to keep locked.

Both girls watched in trepidation as the Indian scrambled blithely up the sheer sides of the inn, graceful and skilled as an acrobat.

In one movement Amelia and Lilac, three years her junior, were swept into strong, brown arms, before their rescuer kicked down the door of the garret with no more effort than if It were made of matchwood.

Quickly and quietly, they made their way past an alcohol addled Thrupp, who lay comatose in, what Abraham hoped, was a puddle of stale beer. Once outside, the foggy air of Hopeless wrapped its welcome embrace around the girls for the first time in years. Free at last, the little party wasted no time in going to Madame Evadne’s, just a short distance from the inn.

 

As mentioned earlier, the young ladies of Madame Evadne’s were only too aware of Thrupp’s vile temper and feared what he might do if he found the girls hiding in the bordello. Plans were made, therefore, for Abraham to ferry them to the mainland where they would be safe. That is how Amelia and Lilac found themselves living on the Passamaquoddy reservation with Abraham, his wife Cenopi and their young son, Joseph. (The name Passamaquoddy, or Peskotomuhkati in their own tongue, simply refers to a way of catching fish with a spear.)

Abraham and Cenopi treated the girls as part of their family. They taught them the native language and traditions of the tribe.

The next few years ushered in the beginning of a new century and Amelia and Lilac became every inch young women of the Passamaquoddy tribe – Peskotomuhkati pilsqehsis – with their long braided hair, beads and full-length, sleeveless dresses. Meanwhile, Joseph, at ten years old, was hoping to become as skilled a trader as his father, though given the opportunity and sunny weather, he would far rather lie and doze on the banks of the St. Croix river, earning him the name Dreaming-by-the-river-where-the-shining-salmon-springs (in fact it would have been far more accurate to have called him Dreaming-by-the-river-where-the-migrating-herring-come-to-spawn but that somehow seemed to lack a certain air of romance. Unless you are a River Herring, that is.).

For Amelia and Lilac, life on the reservation was nothing short of idyllic, compared with the nightmare of their captive years. However, each had a destiny to fulfil, a tale to tell, however brief. And somewhere in the fog across a treacherous channel, Hopeless, Maine was waiting for the next chapter to unfold.

An Ill Wind

In the month of March, 1888, one of the most severe blizzards in the recorded history of the United States raged along the east coast of the country, causing devastation from Chesapeake Bay to Maine. The storm claimed the lives of more than four hundred people. At least twenty-five percent of these casualties were seamen, lost to the unforgiving Atlantic Ocean. This is not surprising, taking into consideration that an estimated two hundred ships were either wrecked or grounded over a period of two days.

Where there are shipwrecks, there are, invariably, spoils to be had. Regular readers of ‘The  Vendetta’ will doubtless guess that some of these spoils found their way to the grateful shores of that somewhat strange and foggy island, Hopeless, Maine.

 

Harriet Butterow and Petunia Middlestreet stood knee-deep in icy-cold water. They were anxious to drag a large wooden crate ashore. Neither woman had any clue as to what the crate may have contained but it did not really matter. What could not be eaten, or modified for personal use, could be bartered. On this impoverished island nothing was ever wasted. Try as they might, however, the crate was reluctant to move.

The two young women had a lot in common; Harriet was a single mother and Petunia a widow. Besides having had a friendship which started in childhood, they also shared the bond of motherhood. Both had young daughters who, for today, were in the care of Petunia’s elderly father-in-law, the kindly Bartholomew Middlestreet, landlord of The Squid and Teapot. Harriet and Petunia were secure in the knowledge that their daughters, Amelia Butterow and Lilac Middlestreet, were in safe but albeit, somewhat arthritic, hands.

Like many islanders, it was news of the several shipwrecks littering the coastline that had the pair braving the bitingly cold March morning and looking to salvage as much of the precious wreckage as possible. After the long winter, supplies of everything were low on Hopeless and while the loss of so many lives was deeply regrettable, the islanders could only marvel at their good fortune when they saw the extent of the bounty that the storm had provided. All that was needed now was to bring it safely ashore – a task easier said than done.

It sometimes feels that Tragedy is a trickster always waiting in the wings and never missing an opportunity to show its face; sadly, that face is one that the people of Hopeless are more than familiar with. Even so, none are really ever prepared for it to appear.

The sea had seemed unexpectedly calm that morning, especially after the raging nor’ easterlies that had angered it over the previous few days. Anyone who has lived or worked on the water will tell you that a change of wind direction can achieve that in just a few hours. And that same person would also caution you to be wary; wary of both a capricious sea and all that it contained.

 

Amos Gannicox smiled to himself as he waved to Harriet. He had been on the island for almost four years now and had every intention of winning her heart completely before another year had passed. He was a patient man and felt sure that his patience would pay off before too long. He was well aware that Harriet still harboured hopes that Amelia’s father – who she genuinely believed to be a Selkie – would return to her, but almost seven years had passed since he had left and this seemed most unlikely.

Lost in his own thoughts Amos was brought back to reality by a sudden scream. No – two screams.

An icy hand gripped his heart. A few seconds ago two young women had stood in the water, laughing and care-free. Now they were gone. Look as he might, there was no sign of either. All that remained was the crate which they had been trying to shift. Amos scanned the shoreline frantically. This could not be – he had only taken his gaze off the object of his affections for a few seconds. Panic stricken he ran towards the spot where they had been standing. Others were running too, frantically shouting the women’s names but it was soon obvious that searching would be futile. They had disappeared completely. The ocean, or something dwelling within it, had claimed them.

 

Bartholomew Middlestreet was devastated. Although the shadow of death always stalked the island, he never imagined that his daughter-in-law would be taken before he was and now it fell upon his old shoulders to tell two little girls that they had become orphans. Lilac, at three years old seemed too young to understand but Amelia Butterow, aged six, took it badly. So badly, in fact, that she was literally dumbstruck. The truth is that the girl never uttered another word for the remainder of her days. It is a strange coincidence for, as regular readers will recall, her father,who was of the seal-people, a Selkie, was never heard to speak either.

 

Bartholomew was resolved to look after the girls himself; he had no intention of either of them going to the orphanage. The running of The Squid and Teapot would have to be left to Tobias Thrupp. Tobias, shipwrecked at the same time as Amos Gannicox, had been living there for four years and had done little enough, so far, to pay for his keep.

 

Ten years slipped by; ten years that saw The Squid and Teapot decline in every way. Bartholmew Middlestreet devoted himself wholly to the well-being and education of the girls, oblivious to everything else, including the fact that Thrupp was dragging his beloved inn into certain ruin. Then, one day in the final year of the century, a strange thing happened. Bartholomew, Lilac and Amelia disappeared without a trace. And no one noticed!

 

Whether Bartholomew died of natural causes, or by Thrupp’s hand, is unclear, but die he certainly did. One can only surmise as to the cause. What is known, however, is that a corpse left outside for a night on the headland is unlikely to still be there by daybreak. The age-old problem of disposing of the body is no problem at all on Hopeless.

As the old man had been absent from the inn for so long, ownership of The Squid passed seamlessly to Thrupp. The girls, too, had not been seen for years and were all but forgotten. Such disappearances, while unfortunate, are not uncommon on this island.

 

In unearthing and relating these tales for you it sometimes feels as though I am putting together a vast and complex jigsaw puzzle, filling intriguing gaps in the picture as each new piece comes to hand. Like any jigsaw, this one has areas filled with light and clarity; it also contains great sweeps of darkness. The rest of this tale is, I fear, one such piece, darker and more dreadful than any other I know, or, indeed, ever wish to know.

 

To be continued…

Art by Tom Brown