The Bluebottle Boys – Between the Walls: Bethany

The Bluebottle Boys – Chapter 11, Part 4 — Between the Walls, late March 1962: Bethany, Part 1 (Section 3 of 4)

Between the wallsThe cottage was shadowy inside, and my eyes took a minute or two to fully adjust to the darkness. A windowless corridor leading to the back of the house continued in a straight line from the front door, but its brief exposure to the light from the outside as we entered gave me no chance to see how long it was, or what stood at the end of it. There seemed to be no door along the corridor itself.

We turned away from this corridor, toward the remainder of the front area.

It seemed to consist of a single square room, about three meters per side. Its only light came from the window I’d seen from the outside. A shadowy fireplace stood in a far corner; a few embers continued to smolder, but even their collective glow did little more than faintly alert me to their presence.

“We need light and heat,” Bethany said, reiterating the obvious, as she grabbed a quartet of candles from near the window and set them upon a nearby table. I threw some kindling on the smoldering coals to renew the fire, and then added sticks, followed by another log. Bethany attempted to light the candles with pieces of flint and steel, but was having a time of it.

I grabbed a plastic cigarette lighter from my pocket and lit the candles for her – not that I smoked, but I’d been inside enough bombed out and other darkened buildings to make it a habit to carry a lighter with me at all times unless there was a good reason not to. The lighter amazed Bethany and I let her keep it.

As I saw the room more clearly, I saw it doubled as a kitchen and a kind of laboratory.

The table I sat before did triple duty as a food preparation area, a dining area and a lab worktable. A bottle of wine, partially consumed, stood in a corner, beside the miniature tarot deck that I’d given her on Christmas 1960 and what appeared to be remnants and used implements employed in making a potion.

On the walls behind us were a series of shelves, holding a least two dozen jars of various herbs and other plants; two dozen more assorted powders; a score containing various liquids; three filled with of an assortment of tiny eyes; and a jar each of feathers, of rat, mouse and lizard tails, and small animal skulls and bones; bird skulls and bones; and reptilian skulls and bones.

A small iron cauldron hovered above the embers, though I wasn’t quite able to tell from what it hung. Bethany scraped aside the remaining detritus on the table, set up a pair of pocket-sized flasks, quickly removed the cauldron from its place in the fireplace and brought it to the table. She poured the liquid, which looked like slimy pea soup, from the cauldron into the flasks and let them cool.

“Reggie, thou and thy federary must drink these this Monday,” she said.

“Me and Ian both?” I asked.

“Aye,” she replied. “Do so no sooner than four hours past the sun’s crossing of the meridian, and no later than an hour ere cock-shut-time. Guard them well, for another soonsever I canst not distil thee shouldst thou spill or lose them. These potions cannot completely enshield thee from the dark entities of Warstone Lane Cemetery, but shalt render thee sightless unto them if thou by all my other instructions doth abide. Then keepeth low and refrain from looking into their eyes. They may afflict thee otherwise, but the afflictions shalt but linger a short while. Do as I say and thou shalt remain unharmed.”

She corked the flasks and handed them to me, along with one of the charms she’d received at Christmas.

“Wear this round thy neck ’til we meet again. Thou needs must shortly depart this place and return to the Temporal realm. When thou doth, return not first to thine own house, but go instead to the high street, turn on Drury Lane and proceed until thou shalt find a shop called Whitfield’s World of Wonder.

Enter therein, and hand these to the one thou shalt meet inside; he shalt give thee additional implements and tell thee of what to do with them. Do all as he tells thee without fail or omission.”

With that, she handed me a small roll of tiny oval mirrors, each about two centimeters at the widest, nine or ten at the longest, which she had me slip in the opposite trouser pocket from the flasks. I temporarily placed the charm in my shirt pocket until I could acquire a chain for it.

“And now,” she said, “if thou wouldst be so kind as to lay a last serenade ere thou dost depart – and shalt vow ne’er to tarry so long ’til thou doth return.”

I promised, offering a ballett serenade by Morley:

Sing we and chant it, while love doth grant it,
Fa-la-la-la-la, fa-la-la-la-la, fa-la-la-la
Not long youth lasteth, and old age hasteth;
Now is best leisure to take our pleasure.
Fa-la-la-la-la-la-la, fa-la-la-la

All things invite us now to delight us,
Fa-la-la-la-la, fa-la-la-la-la, fa-la-la-la
Hence, care, be packing, no mirth be lacking;
Let spare no treasure to live in pleasure.
Fa-la-la-la-la-la-la, fa-la-la-la.

© 2017, 2016, 2015 G. H. McCallum and Duvanian Press, all rights reserved.

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In it, you’ll meet the real-life girl who inspired the “Alice” character in “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland” and “Through the Looking Glass and What Alice Found There.” You’ll learn how Lewis Carroll met and became friends with Alice; how the stories arose; who may have helped Carroll create the Cheshire Cat and the Mad Hatter; why Alice of the illustrations is a long-haired blonde, when Alice Liddell (at least as a young child) was a short-haired brunette; who the model(s) for Alice of the illustrations may have been; why certain illustrations were likely an inside joke between Carroll and Alice; how the real-life Alice had a love affair with a prince; who talked Carroll into making Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland a story for all children, not just the Liddell sisters, and so much more.

The Bluebottle Boys (Volume One) is available from Amazon books. The Bluebottle Boys (Volume Two) is due out in September.

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G. H. McCallum

G. H. McCallum is author of the Reggie Stone series, the first of which, Walking Backwards for Christmas: A Tale of Woe from Soggyhall, was released on 12 December 2014; look for the second, The Bluebottle Boys, in late spring of 2016. He blogs principally on the 1960s, Victoriana and magic realism.