The Bluebottle Boys – Solihull, late March 1962: Bethany

The Bluebottle Boys – Solihull, late March 1962: Bethany

Bethany[The featured picture is of a portion the area of Ravenshaw Ford that Bethany is said to haunt. This photo was shot in early spring; add a bit of snow, and it would be just about right for the setting depicted in this chapter. By summer, this area becomes much more lush and green, and is far more picturesque.]

A pair of hands covered my eyes and a smell of honeysuckle-orange blossom hung in the air; the erstwhile giggle was now a peal of laughter. I pretended to be putout. “This can’t be Bethany – she’s been ignoring me for weeks – months.”

The hands lifted, and I received a light punch on the shoulder. I could see again, as Bethany, in the flesh, plopped down in front of me, kissing me on the forehead. “And thou wast gone nigh on the span of a year ere thy return to me,” she gently chided. “E’en then,” she continued, “tho didst thou seeke me, ne’er didst thou once take note of me, tho dreckly didst I stand before thine eyes.”

It was only then that I noticed Bethany’s dress.

Instead of the white gown she’d worn at Christmas, it was a dress most mid-seventeenth century women, irrespective of class or rank, would have worn as they tended to household tasks, or supervised those doing them (unless guests were immanently expected). Its fabric was a mix of the same colors as the ground, its soggy leaves and its scant remaining grass.

Then, as she stood up, it took on the same colors as the trees, leaves and undergrowth; if a patch of snow were in the branches or upon the ground, white splotches appeared on the dress, brown within the white, when it was necessary to reflect the mud within the snow. Still, Bethany’s long, long, long, dark brown hair fell across her chalk-white face and body as she wore this chameleon-like dress.

Even when she was tangible, not spectral, she’d blend in with her surroundings; it’d be difficult, if not impossible, to see her.

“‘Dreckly didst thou stand’ indeed,” I said with mocking laugh. “And how many times were you out of your spectral form?”

“Most,” she said with faux nonchalance, the artifice unveiled as her voice rose a fourth.

“Blending into the shrubbery all the while, so as to be ‘nigh on’ invisible?”

“Perchance,” she said in the same fake casual manner as her voice rose yet another fourth.

“Bethany, if your voice gets any higher, every dog in Solihull will be down here with us at the Ford. How about a little serenade – something… apropos.”

Her voice fell a fourth. “And what, pray tell, ‘moight’ that be?”

“It’s a comic serenade called ‘Matona Mia Cara’ by Orlando di Lasso – it was originally a madrigal, but my teacher arranged it for one singer and guitar. The serenade was supposedly by a German soldier who mangled Italian in a way that created a fair few double entendres. Pretty much said what he really wanted to do with her, though.”

She cocked an eyebrow at me as I played and sang; she couldn’t understand a word, but she laughed anyway – perhaps at my exaggerated facial expressions, though I didn’t know the meaning of the words any more than she did. And then she rose and danced a bit, falling in a heap in the snow when I finished. I set the guitar down and ran over to her.

“Are you all right?”

She laughed. “Never better. A bawdy ballad – a fine thing with which thou serenades me,” she said in mock indignation.

“But good to dance to,” I countered.

“Aye, it be that,” she said sighing.

“Come on, get out of the snow, before you freeze.”

She laughed even harder.

“Reggie, have I not spent the best part of three hundred winters out of doors? Were I not impervious to the cold before, I am now. But couldst thou not afford me a more dulcet ballad?”

“How about a ballett?” I answered. “It’s a madrigal with a single melody, and harmony vocals that can be transposed to the lute – or the guitar.

“I think this one might be a bit be more to your liking; it’s by Thomas Morley, who set Shakespeare to music and wrote the“April Is In My Mistress’ Face” that I sang earlier. This one’s sweeter, called “My Bonny Lass She Smileth.”

My bonny lass she smileth
When she my heart beguileth.
Fa-la-la-la-la-la-la-la, Fa-la-la-la
Smile less, dear love, therefore,
And you shall love me more.
Fa-la-la-la-la-la, Fa-la-la-la-la

When she her sweet eye turneth,
O how my heart doth burneth!
Fa-la-la-la-la-la-la-la, Fa-la-la-la
Dear love, call in thy light,
Or else you burn me quite!
Fa-la-la-la-la-la, Fa-la-la-la-la

Bethany sighed. “There, at length, be a proper serenade, Reggie. Now if only thou wert not quite so green, but of a riper age….”

She stopped, looked flustered and embarrassed for a moment, then laughed lightly.

“Ah me, but what say I? Thou art bosom friend and steadfast yenger brother. What more shalt I ask?”

I smiled my “reassuring” smile at her, not sure, as ever, whom I was trying to reassure.

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

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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.