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.”