Drury, the skeletal hound, was curled up contentedly on an old blanket in the corner of the Night-Soil Man’s cottage, affectionately known to all as ‘The House at Poo Corner’.
As far as Drury was concerned, all was right with the world. To all intents and purposes Philomena Bucket had stopped wasting her time worrying about being a powerful witch, or getting married, and was once more ensconced behind the bar of The Squid and Teapot. Even better, Rhys Cranham was back in his rightful place, servicing the cess-pits and outdoor privies of the islanders of Hopeless Maine. All thoughts of marriage appeared to have left them both, at least for the time being. The status quo had been restored to Drury’s satisfaction.
Rhys looked down fondly at the bony old hound. It would soon be time to drag on his boots, strap on the lidded bucket and once more venture out into the darkness. Doubtless, Drury would accompany him, as he did on most nights. Rhys could not help wondering how things would have changed, had his and Philomena’s wedding plans come to fruition. The role of Night-Soil Man had taken up half of his life, first as apprentice to Shenandoah Nailsworthy, then, after Shenandoah’s death, as Night-Soil Man in his own right. Would he have coped with married life? He had no idea; it might have been a disaster. After leaving the Pallid Rock Orphanage, the night soil business was all that he had ever known. It was probably best not to dwell on the question. Happily, Philomena was still a good friend, leaving a couple of bottles of Old Colonel and a wedge of starry-grabby pie on his doorstep every evening.
Despite the all-pervading misery that seemed to seep into every nook and cranny of the island, The Squid and Teapot generally managed to maintain its reputation for good cheer. A visitor could always expect a warm welcome and, more often as not, entertainment, of a sort. Tonight the venerable Bell-Edison phonograph, which always added a frisson of excitement to proceedings, had been taken out to provide the music for Les Demoiselles de Hopeless, Maine, the troupe of Moulin Rouge dancers who had been shipwrecked on the island a year or so earlier. To the strains of Offenbach’s Infernal Galop (or ‘The Can-Can’ to most of us) the aforementioned young ladies performed their ever-popular routine to an appreciative audience. By a strange coincidence, whenever Les Demoiselles performed in the inn, some of those who rarely patronised the establishment found themselves with a pressing need to pay it a visit.
“Reverend Davies, we don’t often see you in here,” said Bartholomew Middlestreet, with no surprise in his voice whatsoever.
“Quite so,” said the Reverend importantly. “I’ve come to see Miss Bucket, if that is convenient.”
He failed to mention that he had already seen Philomena; she had been walking in the opposite direction.
“Sorry Reverend, she’s out at the moment and won’t be back for a while. She said she needed an hour or so to herself.”
“That’s a shame,” replied Davies unconvincingly. “I can’t wait an hour, but as long as I’m here I may as well have a small drink and watch the… er… cabaret.”
Philomena walked purposefully towards the Gydynap Hills. She was troubled and needed to be far away from other people for a while. Despite the hazards of venturing out into the night on Hopeless, Philomena never felt herself to be in danger. It seemed that the ghost of Granny Bucket was right – or maybe she was just lucky.
Granny, and Philomena’s friend, Doctor John Dee, had both impressed upon her that she possessed great magical ability. Unfortunately, Granny was no longer haunting her and John Dee had returned to Elizabethan England. This was bad enough, but to make things worse, her marriage to Rhys Cranham had been called off, following the violent death of his apprentice, Naboth Scarhill. Philomena felt horribly alone in the world and this feeling that her magic was growing more powerful by the day was not helping. She had never been comfortable having the dubious gift of ‘The Sight’, but now it was as if she had been given an even more burdensome gift, like that of some great wild animal, which she had no idea how to tame. If only Granny was here to help. Philomena sat down on the grass and wept in the misty darkness.
“Are you okay?”
Philomena had not heard the young woman approach.
“Oh, yes, I’m fine. Just being silly,” said Philomena, wiping her eyes.
“Do you want to talk about it? I can sit with you for a while. I’m Marigold. Marigold Burleigh.”
“Ah. You’ll be the nurse I heard tell of. Sit, by all means, but I don’t need to talk, honestly” replied Philomena.
She had no idea why she was being so cautious, but somewhere, deep inside Philomena, alarm bells were ringing.
Trickster could feel subtle changes happening to the meat-suit already. That was a pity. He was enjoying being female and they usually lasted longer than this. The other one, the young man Linus, had given him months of wear. On reflection, Linus had resisted and done his best to get rid of Trickster. He had rarely been sober; that probably had some bearing on things. Anyway, all that was in the past, and this girl was not going to hold together for very much longer; he needed someone new to possess.
“That’s fine,” said Marigold, sweetly, “but I’d quite like us to be friends. How about you and I go for a quiet walk in the moonlight? I’m sure we’ll be safe enough if we’re careful.”
She offered the crook of her arm to Philomena, who took it warily.
“Gotcha!” thought Trickster
To be continued…