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The Scrivener: Through Darkling Glass: Part 8 – Strangers In The Night Of The Soul

...After each day's wearying attempts to sell the bottle, they would sit quietly in their house, exchanging hardly a word. The silence was broken from time to time by Kokua's sobbing. Sometimes, they would pray together. At other times, they placed the bottle upon the floor and watched the flame-shadow hover fleetingly in its depths...

Keawe and his wife Kokua sail to Tahiti to sell the menacing bottle, but find no comfort there.

Brian Barratt continues his wonderful adapatation of Robert Louis Stevenson's story. ‘The Bottle Imp’.

Keawe's hope had been renewed and there was once again a song in his heart. The sharing of his secret had lifted a great weight from him. He was as a new man, so lightly did his feet touch the earth.

Kokua immediately commenced preparing for their journey, packing the oaken chest that had accompanied Keawe in all his travels. Into it she put the clothes they would need, choosing only the finest. She included jewellery, small ornaments and knick-knacks. 'For,' she said, 'we must present ourselves as rich folk if people are to believe our story about the bottle'.

To quell rumour, they put out the news that they were travelling to America. When they boarded a ship bound for San Francisco, this seemed to confirm their intention. Although it seemed an impetuous thing to the local people, it was certainly less strange than the truth about their journey.

From San Francisco, they took.a small mail brigantine to Papeete, the chief city of the South Islands. After an easy voyage, their ultimate destination came into view, with the surf breaking on the reef, and the shoreline with its small white houses set among the green trees. Overhead, were the great cloud-capped mountains of Tahiti.

To make themselves conspicuous, they rented a house opposite that of the British Consul, and let it be seen that they hired carriages and horses. All this was easy to do, since the bottle was still in their possession. They called on the imp whenever they required more money. The people of the town quickly noticed these strangers from Hawaii parading their wealth.

It was easy for them to pick up the Tahitian language, for it was not too different from their own. As soon as they were fluent, they started trying to sell the bottle. This, however, was not easy, for how could they convince a person that, for a mere four centimes, inexhaustible riches would come their way? Besides, it was necessary for them to explain the dangers of the bottle, too. People either disbelieved them completely or shrank away from the darker side of the bargain.

It was put about that they were involved in some devilish transaction. Far from gaining ground, Kokua and Keawe found that people avoided them, children ran screaming away from them, and devout Christians even crossed themselves as they went by.

After each day's wearying attempts to sell the bottle, they would sit quietly in their house, exchanging hardly a word. The silence was broken from time to time by Kokua's sobbing. Sometimes, they would pray together. At other times, they placed the bottle upon the floor and watched the flame-shadow hover fleetingly in its depths.

During the night, when sleep came only with difficulty, one might wake up and find the other silently weeping in the dark. Or, perhaps, wake to find that the other had fled outside to pace beneath the banana trees in the little garden or to wander along the beach by moonlight.

One night when Kokua awoke, she found that Keawe was gone. She felt in the bed and found that his place was cold. Moonshine filtered through the shutters onto the bottle on the floor. An angry wind disturbed the trees and gusts of rain rattled down on the roof. Kokua became aware of another sound, and rose to look into the moonlit yard. There, on the wet earth beneath the banana trees, lay Keawe, bemoaning their plight. It was her first thought to rush forward and console him, but it was not her wish to intrude upon his shame. She drew back into the house.

'It is for my sake,' she thought, 'and because of his love for me, that he faces such torment. Surely I cannot stand aside and see him suffer thus. Let my love be equal to his!'

She rapidly put on her dress, took in her hands the centime coins she needed, and made her way through the rain-swept streets. It was not long before she heard someone coughing in the dark shadow beneath a tree.
'Old man,' asked Kokua, 'why are you here on such a night?'

The old man could hardly speak, because of his coughing, but told him that he was poor and a stranger in the island.

'Will you do something for me?' she asked. 'I am a daughter of Hawaii. Will you, as a stranger, help another stranger?'

He peered at her suspiciously. 'Are you the witch from the eight islands? I have heard of you and your wicked ways. Do you want to entangle even an old man's soul?'

Kokua told him the story of Keawe, from beginning to end, and then: 'What can I do? If I offer to buy the bottle from him, he will surely refuse. But if you go and ask to buy it, he will sell it eagerly to a stranger. If you will buy it for four centimes, and bring it to me, I will buy it back from you for three centimes.'

'I know that you do not speak falsely. Give me the four centimes and wait here,' said the old man.

She waited alone in the street. The wind roared about her in the trees. The shadows moved threateningly in the light of the street lamp. She could neither cry in fear nor run away, but stood trembling like a frightened child. Then she saw the old man returning. He had the bottle in his hand.
'Here you are,' he said. 'I've done as you asked. Here is your bottle. I left your husband weeping but he will now sleep easy.'

'Before I take the bottle from you, and take the good with the evil — ask to be delivered from your cough.'

'I am an old man, and too near the grave to ask a favour from this devil. Why won't you take the bottle? Are you now hesitating?'

'Not at all,' Kokua cried. 'Here is your money. Give me the bottle!'

'God bless you, my child,' said the old man as she concealed the bottle beneath her dress, said farewell, and walked off along the avenue, she knew not where.

Sometimes she walked, and sometimes ran; sometimes she cried out aloud to the night, and sometimes lay by the wayside and wept. It was not until she became calm, at the dawn of day, that she returned to Keawe. She found him slumbering peacefully, just as the old man had said.

'Sleep well, my husband,' she murmured. 'It is your turn to rest. When you wake it will be your turn to sing and to laugh. But for me, there shall be no more singing, no more delight in either earth or heaven.' She fell into a long but disturbed slumber.

Late in the morning, Keawe woke her and gave her his good news about the old man. He did all the talking. He was so overcome with delight that he did not notice her distress. He did not notice that she ate nothing, for he was busily emptying the dish in his hunger. He spoke of plans for their return, thanked her for saving him, and took her in his arms. He laughed at the old man who was fool enough the buy the accursed bottle.

'I wonder why the fellow wanted it?' he said.

Kokua answered quietly, 'He may have had a worthy reason.'

'Nonsense! He's an old rogue, I tell you. And a fool, too. It was hard enough to sell the bottle for four centimes. It will be impossible for him to sell it for three.'

'But,' said Kokua, 'should you not feel shame for what you have done? You have saved yourself at the expense of someone else. I would be humbled. I would pray for the soul of the one who now holds the bottle.'

Though he did not realise that she was speaking of herself, Keawe recognised the truth in what she said, but grew more angry. 'You may feel humble and sad, if you wish. That is not what I expect from a good wife — if you had any thought for me, you would certainly now feel shame for what you have said.'

Whereupon he abruptly walked out, leaving Kokua alone with her thoughts and fears. Only the previous night, she had saved her husband, and now he had left in anger. She could see no chance of selling that bottle for two centimes — Keawe was planning their return to Hawaii, where there was no coin worth less than one cent. She did not attempt to profit from the bottle, but hid it with loathing, well out of sight.

In due course, Keawe returned and suggested that they hire a carriage and go out for a drive. 'I'm sorry,' she said, 'but I am depressed and ill. Please excuse me, I can take no pleasure.'

This made Keawe more angry than ever. 'So this is how you show your affection! I have just been saved from eternal torment, and you can take no pleasure! What sort of a wife are you?' In fury, he went out again.



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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