It was dinner time and most of the younger members of the tunnel community were all ready seated around the tables as they waited for William to announce that the food was ready, while Brooke brought round a basket of rolls to each table already set with dishes of butter.
Jamie on feeding duty of the youngest children watched Brooke absentmindedly and suddenly surprising everyone started reciting, “Betty Botter bought herself some butter, but the butter that Betty Botter bought was bitter,” she paused spreading a roll thickly with the golden churn and taking the biggest bite intending to continue when she had swallowed it. Instead, she spat it out, “Yeuk! William! This butter IS bitter!”
William did not believe her, ‘all a part of her plan’ he supposed, ‘something to make the children giggle. And it was working too.’
“I mean it William, come and take a look, its got bits in, brown bits and their crunchy.”
Alerted now, William left his steaming pots of stew to come over and examine the dish of butter at Jamie’s table. “You’re right.” He told her frowning, “What is it?”
“Looks like rust to me.” Brooke told them looking closely.
“Looks like rust to me too.” Jamie announced, “You trying to kill us William?” She joked, but he did not find it funny.
“That butter was fresh only yesterday, I can’t understand it. Are the other dishes the same?” He went from table to table collecting the dishes shaking his head, “This will have to be replaced. Brooke can you go find Vincent and have him unlock the store and bring us some fresh butter. This lot will have to be thrown away.”
While he waited for Vincent to arrive, William stirred his pots. He was puzzled as to how the butter had become contaminated. He always made sure that food was covered and replaced to cold storage when not in use. He also knew that no one would do anything horrible to the food that they had just for a joke because everyone knew how important supplies were in the tunnels. They received from generous helpers and looked after whatever was sent down.
He was still thinking about it when Vincent followed by some more children brought in a fresh chunk of butter, some he had cut off from a larger batch in cold storage, and took it up to where William stood by the oven. “Brooke said you wanted some butter, should I leave it here to warm up?”
“Yes thank you Vincent, did she tell you that the butter you brought to me yesterday had gone off?”
“Yes, and you’ve no idea why?”
“Not at all. Can’t understand it. Will have to throw it away though, no good like that. Brooke can you scrape the butter from the dishes into that bin over there please.” He asked looking in the young girl’s direction.
“When did the store room door stop squeaking?” Vincent asked making his way to his own table.
“What?” William stopped stirring and stood mouth agape staring at Vincent. “The storeroom door’s stopped squeaking?”
“That’s what he said,” Brooke answered with a grin.
“But it can’t have. Everyone knows I give strict instructions to leave it that way. It alerts me to any would be thief. How on earth has it stopped squeaking? Its been squeaking for years.” William was mystified.
“I don’t know William, but when we went in there it opened as smooth as grease. I expected that awful squeak and there was none, opened as silent as a shadow.” Vincent told him.
“It doesn’t make sense. What’s going on? First bitter butter and now the door has repaired itself? Wake me up someone I must be dreaming.” William told them all as he started ladling out large spoonfuls of stew into the dishes of the hungry children.
“Hey!” A shout from the back had everyone’s attention and they all turned to find Kanin walking into the kitchen with a very serious expression on his face. “I’ve just been to the hardware store and the door doesn’t squeak anymore. Do any of you know anything about it?”
Everyone looked from one to the other and shook their heads as William started to tell Kanin what had happened to the storeroom door and the butter.
“Curiouser and curiouser.” Jamie quipped, “Maybe we’ve got a ghost.”
“A ghost my foot! More like a mouse and a big one at that!” William blurted.
“Mouse wouldn’t do those things!” Jamie exclaimed, “Why would he want to do?”
“To get into the store room perhaps? Jamie, come on you know Mouse he’s always taking things.” Kanin shouted.
“And he’s always helping us too. I can’t imagine Mouse doing anything that would not benefit us in some way, and it still doesn’t answer why he would contaminate the butter.”
“Jamie has a point.” Vincent told them, he who was always on Mouse’s side anyway, they hung out together. "You all jump to such conclusions whenever something goes wrong, but I can’t imagine Mouse bothering with something like all of this.” ‘Unless he’s planning a super gizmo with wood, metal and food,’ Vincent added under his breath, and that was always possible, but he decided to keep quiet about that. It was all assumption anyway.
Dinner time came and went and William cleaned away making doubly sure that he wrapped the butter carefully before replacing it in a cupboard alongside the stove, so that it would thaw out a little more before tea time.
Tea time arrived and Jamie filing in with her charges and remembering this morning’s fiasco continued with her rhyme.
“Betty Botter bought herself a bit of butter, but the butter that Betty Botter bought was bitter…” She stopped dead as a yowl from William surprised her. “William what’s wrong? Have you hurt yourself?”
Shaking his head, William’s face grew redder and redder like he might explode any minute and Jamie rushed out to find Father sure that William was ill.
They returned within five minutes to find William muttering to himself but somewhat calmer than Jamie had left him.
“William, what’s wrong? Jamie was worried?” Father hurried to the other man’s side thermometer at the ready intent on taking his temperature.
“Nothing! I’m not ill…I’m just MAD AS HELL!” William surprised Father and Jamie was stunned.
“Why what’s happened?” Father asked concern evident in his tone.
William sighed, “You heard about the butter this morning I take it?” Father nodded, “And the non squeaky doors?” Again, Father nodded. “Well Brooke scraped off the bitter butter into THAT bin.” He pointed, “And I put the fresh butter carefully away into THAT cupboard! But they’re gone! They’ve both gone!”
Father stared at William incredulously, “Gone?” He repeated. “Gone where?”
“I don’t know! Do you think I’d be this mad if I knew the answer to that?” He glared angrily at Father. “It doesn’t make sense. I’m beginning to think you were right Jamie. Maybe we have got a ghost!”
“Rubbish!” Father exclaimed “There has to be a reasonable explanation.”
Just then Mary hurried in, “Do any of you know who oiled the door to the garment chamber?” She asked. “I had taken a leaf out of William and Kanin’s book and left it squeaking. It highlighted any would be thieves that might pick the lock.” She looked around the sea of faces. “What’s wrong? What’s happened?”
They filled her in and mystified each one began to offer up explanations. It was so strange, whatever was going on?
Jamie almost giggled, despite how serious and spooky it all was, she couldn’t help telling the children quietly, “This is just like Betty Botter isn’t it?”
“Why?” Some of them whispered, “What happened to her?”
Quietly Jamie began to recite the whole of the verse she has begun earlier in the day while the council members of the community got their heads together over this latest mystery.
“Betty Botter bought herself a bit of butter. But the butter that Betty Botter bought was bitter.” Jamie grinned then went on, “So Betty Botter bought herself a better bit of butter…BUT…” her eyes shone at the sea of faces waiting in expectation all around her, “Where’s the bit of bitter butter that Betty Botter bought?”
A loud bout of laughter came from the group of children, and seeing the funny side of it some of the older members of the community listening in began to chuckle too. In the circumstances, her rhyme was spot on.
But that was the thing, where had the bitter butter gone? How had the squeaky doors been miraculously fixed so that they no longer squeaked and why?
It would be several weeks before anyone sussed out that Mouse did have anything to do with it when he’d had another one of his brilliant ideas or that the hinges of the doors had been smeared with some sort of grease. In the meantime, Mouse was left free to ‘take’ whatever he wanted whenever he wanted – for afterall it was hungry work making gizmos.