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The Scrivener: Through Darkling Glass: Part 1 - A Voyage Of Discovery

...At first, the bottle looked to Keawe like any other wine-bottle fashioned in green glass. But as the old man slowly turned it in his hand, other colours seemed to glow within the green. And though the bottle was empty, Keawe fancied that he saw something move, deep within its rounded belly. It was almost as a tiny flame flickers on the edge of a burning ember, but then it appeared to be a fleeting shadow...

Keawe, a simple Hawian sailor, works his passage on a ship bound for San Francisco. There he sees a splendid little house, is invited inside by its owner, and ends up paying $50 to acquire the green bottle.

Brian Barratt begins his 10-part reworking of a story first told by Robert Louis Stevenson.

Pictures to accompany the story were painted by internationally-famed artist John Burge.

Keawe was not a wealthy man. He earned a modest wage by working on the steamers which sailed between the islands. He also navigated a whaling boat along the coast, for in those times whales were much in demand for their meat. He was a capable and brave sailor, well accustomed to facing the challenges of the deep.

He was not, however, a simple man. It was said that he could read and write as well as a schoolteacher, which in those days was a quality worthy of respect. He also had a natural curiosity — the more he sailed around the islands, the greater was his wish to see what lay beyond.

Visiting mariners from over the ocean had told him of the magnificent ports and cities in their homelands. Keawe longed to see these places, to experience them for himself, to learn more of the great world beyond his home. There came a time when he could put his dreams and hopes into action. He decided to work his passage on a ship bound for San Francisco. Little did he realise what mysterious events were in store for him.

As the ship approached its destination, Keawe was amazed by the size of the harbour. http://openwriting.com/gallery/d/2923-2/ch1_As+the+ship+approached.jpg On land, he was overwhelmed by the number of people he saw going about their business. Never before had he seen such hustle and bustle, so much commerce, so many fine buildings. It was indeed a far cry from his humble village home. His curiosity enabled him to overcome his fear of this great, noisy and strange place.

While he was exploring the streets, he came across many fine houses on a hillside. They were the homes of the rich people of the city, but to Keawe they appeared to be palaces.

'What fine houses these are!' he said aloud, lost in wonder at what he saw. ‘The people who live here must be so happy and content. With such riches, they obviously have no worries about what tomorrow might bring. I wonder...'

He came to an abrupt halt. Here was a house somewhat smaller than the others but so splendid that he stared in awe. It was perfectly built and cleanly painted, like a doll's house which someone might make and give to a child. The steps to its front door seemed to shine like silver. The windows were so clear and bright that they sparkled like diamonds. Keawe was unaccustomed to seeing glass in so many windows. And around each lawn there were rich beds of flowers of many colours. Never before had he seen such a beautiful home.

As he gazed, he became aware that he, in turn, was being watched. Behind one of the crystal clear windows he saw the face of a man. The man was elderly. His expression was full of sadness and regret, his brow lined with sorrow, his lips apart in despair. http://openwriting.com/gallery/d/2928-2/ch1_The+man+was+elderly.jpg When their eyes met, his face lit up, and he smiled at Keawe, beckoning him to come.

'I can see that you are admiring my house,' the old man said, as he met Keawe at the door. 'Perhaps you would like to look around the rooms? Please honour me by coming inside!'

The old man guided Keawe round the house, showing him every room. They even visited the cellar below and the attic within the roof. No door remained closed. Keawe had never seen anything so perfect.

'What a beautiful home you have,' he said to his host. 'If I lived in a place like this, I would be smiling and laughing all day long. And yet I see such sorrow in your face. How is it that you are so sad?'

The old man did not answer him directly. 'There is no reason at all why you cannot have a house exactly the same as this. Do you have any money with you?'

'About fifty dollars,' replied Keawe, 'but a grand house like this would cost far more than that.'

The old man thought for a while. 'It's a pity you do not have more money. That might cause problems for you in the future. However, you can have it for fifty dollars.'

'Only fifty dollars? For this house?'

'No, not the house, but the bottle.'

Keawe looked puzzled. The old man continued.

'This lovely house, this beautiful garden, and all my riches came out of a bottle!' He carefully unlocked a cupboard door and took out a round bottle with a long neck. 'Here it is. See for yourself.'

At first, the bottle looked to Keawe like any other wine-bottle fashioned in green glass. But as the old man slowly turned it in his hand, other colours seemed to glow within the green. And though the bottle was empty, Keawe fancied that he saw something move, deep within its rounded belly. It was almost as a tiny flame flickers on the edge of a burning ember, but then it appeared to be a fleeting shadow.

'It is certainly a fine bottle,' Keawe admitted, 'but, surely, it is like any other bottle. If you drop it to the ground it will break. It will then be useless.'

'Here, see if you can smash it,' the old man said, handing him the bottle.

Keawe threw it to the ground, and it did not break. He took it to a stone floor, and again threw it down. Still it would not break. He kicked it around on the floor, as if it were a child's ball, and even stamped his feet on it. The bottle did not shatter or splinter in any way — it remained perfectly whole.

'It looks like glass, and it feels like glass, but it will not break or crack like glass,' declared Keawe in amazement. 'What is its secret?'

The old man sighed deeply. 'It is indeed made of glass but, I surmise, not by any human hand. You see that movement within it, which is sometimes like a flame, sometimes like a shadow? That, my young friend, is an imp.'

'An imp?'

'Yes, the imp of the bottle. He is in many ways like a genie. He obeys the orders of any person who buys and owns this bottle. He will grant all that the owner desires — love, fame, riches, great houses, palaces, even a whole city.'

'But how do you know this? How can I believe such a fantastic tale?'

'Napoleon once owned this bottle. With its aid, he conquered all his foes and became a great Emperor. When he sold it, he lost the power of the imp, and he himself fell from power. Captain Cook also owned it for a while, and with its guidance found many new lands during his voyages. He, too, sold it, and was then slain in your own land of Hawaii. The secret is this — the imp gives power and protection only to the person who owns the bottle. As soon as it is sold, that power goes with it. Its previous owner must remain content with what he has, and wish for no more. If he continues to seek power and protection, riches and fame, he is doomed.'

'If that is true, then why are you offering to sell the bottle to me?' Keawe asked. 'Do you not wish to keep this power and fortune?'

'I have all I could wish for,' replied the old man. 'I am growing old. I desire no more. There is one thing the imp cannot do — he cannot extend life. The owner of the bottle cannot wish to live longer than Nature intends. But there is one more thing I must tell you, a terrible thing. If its owner dies before he sells the bottle, he will be condemned to eternal torment.'

Keawe jumped back in alarm, thrusting the bottle back into the old man's hands. 'I want nothing to do with it! It is indeed terrible. I shall not meddle with Fate. I can do without a grand house such as yours, and I certainly do not wish to be damned!'

The old man looked at him with what seemed to be a false smile. 'You are being too hasty, my son. Do not jump to conclusions. You will not be damned if you are sensible. All you have to do is to use the power of the imp in moderation. Ask for what you need, and then sell the bottle to someone else. After that, remain content with what you have, and you will finish your life in comfort.'

Keawe thought for a moment. 'I am still confused. You keep sighing as if you are longing very deeply for something. At the same time, you are offering to sell this bottle very cheaply.'

'As I told you,' explained the old man, 'if a man dies before he sells the bottle, he is condemned for ever. I sigh because I am growing old and I do not wish to die before I sell the bottle. As for the price I am asking, there is a good reason. When the bottle first appeared on Earth, it was sold for more gold coins than can possibly be imagined. But it cannot be sold for a profit. It must always be sold for a lower price than was paid for it. It must be sold at a loss.'

'What happens if someone sells it at a profit, or for the same as he paid for it?' enquired Keawe.

'Then the bottle will simply find its way back to that person, like a homing pigeon. That is why the price has been falling over many centuries. I bought it for ninety dollars. I could, if I wished, sell if for eighty-nine dollars and ninety-nine cents. If I sell it for ninety dollars or more, it will come home to me.'

'I can hardly believe all this,' said Keawe. 'How can you prove it?'

'That's easy. Pay me your fifty dollars and take the bottle. Then wish for your coins to return. Look in your pocket to see if it happens. If it does not happen, I swear to you that I shall give your money back to you.'

Keawe agreed to take the risk, and handed over his coins in exchange for the bottle. He had bought it for himself and could now put it to the test. He demanded, 'Imp of the bottle, I want my fifty dollars back'. No sooner had the words left his mouth, than he felt his pocket become heavy with coins. His money had been restored.

A sudden fear shuddered through him. He felt that this amazing bottle and its imp were evil rather than good. 'Here,' he said to the old man,' you can have your bottle back. I want nothing more to do with it.'

The old man rubbed his hands gloatingly, and his smile changed to a sneer of satisfaction. Waving Keawe out of the door and onto the street, he shouted, 'You bought it for less than I paid for it. It is now yours. I want nothing more to do with it, and I want to see no more of you. Now be off with you!' With that, he slammed shut the door.


Brian Barratt has had half a century of professional experience with books and Education. He’s been a bookseller, editor, publisher, author of schoolbooks, private tutor in English and thinking skills, class tutor in creative writing for adults, writing group leader in several schools, mentor to gifted students, judge of many writing competitions, and curriculum editor for Australian national Tournament of Minds... among other things.

He is a moderately/severely hearing handicapped elderly gentleman who explores the history and usage of the English language; writes whimsical articles; researches and writes about his ancestors, including many in the Book Trade during the past 300 years, and an elusive Gypsy; listens to recordings of Enrico Caruso, John McCormack, Kathleen Ferrier and other great voices from the past; relishes Messiaen's Turangalîla Symphony and the music of the erhu; loves dictionaries; digs into the palaeopsychology of religious beliefs; rummages around in people’s minds; talks to dogs and birds, and to the possums that live in his shed.

Since 1936 he’s lived and worked in four countries, in this order: England, Zimbabwe, Zambia, Australia. He's lived in a leafy eastern suburb of Melbourne since 1971, next to where the rich people live. His house is actually a library-museum-art gallery-wizard's lair. There's a sign which reads 'Persons not wishing to see worlds outside or inside themselves are gently advised to close their minds whilst in this place'.

Do visit his Web site The Brain Rummager www.alphalink.com.au/~umbidas/



In 2008 John artist completed his first retrospective exhibition at the Victorian Artists Society in East Melbourne. It had been his first Melbourne show in thirty-six years and ranged from 1975 till the present. The nine panel ' Bluebeard's Castle ' - a free adaptation of Bela Bartok's 1918 opera - was seen for the first time in it's entirety.

He had previously exhibited in Melbourne in 1972 at the Warehouse Galleries in Richmond and, according to some, provided one of the most memorable and notorious openings of the time.

John then moved to Europe and lived for twelve years in the Catalan village of Ortedo, deep in the Spanish Pyrenees, exhibiting in Barcelona during the dying days of the Franco regime.

He later showed in Amsterdam and Munich, exhibiting with Dali, Vasarely, Magritte and Fontana before a critically acclaimed exhibition at the Stedelijk Museum, Alkmaar. Despite forthcoming contracted exhibitions, family circumstances meant a reluctant return to Australia.

Through the mid-eighties and nineties he moved into book illustration and became involved with art education in schools. Over the last four years John has returned to full-time art.

In May 2010, he exhibited a second, more complete showing of ' Bluebeard's Castle ' at the Kingston Arts Centre. It included previously unseen work and as a coda, 'The Don's Last Tale ', a large watercolour on the theme of ' Don Giovanni '. The exhibit was opened by Mr Rob Hudson MP, Parliamentary Secretary for the Arts and a short discourse on Bartok's opera was presented by Associate Professor Thomas Reiner, head of the Monash University Conservatorium of Music.

An exhibition of new and recent work was held from the 16th of June until the 4th of July, 2010 at the Jackman Gallery, 60 Inkerman Street, St.Kilda, VIC. 3182. The gallery continues to carry a wide and comprehensive selection of John's work.

Do visit John's Web site http://www.johnburgeart.com.au/


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