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By Sarah Hapgood

Bengo stood at the back door of the house and looked out over the countryside. The snow had all but disappeared from the low-lying ground, and now only still lingered on the mountains. The spring sunshine did make a difference to the atmosphere at the house. It felt lighter, more at peace with itself.

Hoowie ran out of the small outbuilding which was attached to the side of the house, clutching an unmarked bottle half-filled with what looked like a sticky brown liquid.

“Here, get a load of this, Benje”, he said “It’s rum!”

“It looks foul”, said Bengo “Probably some dodgy home-brew”.

“Who cares?” said Hoowie “It tastes alright to me, a bit sweet that’s all”.

“What have you got there?” said Bardin, coming out of the back door like a cuckoo out of a clock.

“Bath-tub rum”, said Bengo”I’m not tasting it”.

“It’s alright, I keep telling yer!” said Hoowie.

“You drink some more then”, said Bengo “And if all your bits stay intact I might take a swig”.

“You’re losing all your adventurous spirit you are”, said Hoowie, and he turned to Bardin, as if for salvation “There’s a whole crate of the stuff in that shed there”.

“OK”, Bardin sighed “You’d better show me”.

Joby was sitting on the bottom step of the main staircase in the hallway. Above him he could hear the soft murmur of Kieran and Umbert’s voices as they performed a Blessing and cleansing of the first floor of the house.

Suddenly a hand poked through the banisters and tugged at Joby’s unruly mop of hair.

“Fucking hell, Hillyard!” Joby yelped “You nearly gave me fucking heart-failure!”

“Stop being so jumpy”, said Hillyard.

“It’s a bit hard not to be jumpy in this house”, Joby growled, darkly.

“Weird things used to happen at Midnight Castle as well”, said Hillyard “We learnt to live alongside it. This house just needs some love in it”.

“I bet you wouldn’t be saying that if we were back up here at night, in the dark”, said Joby.

“Lighten up, you old sod”, said Hillyard “Or I’ll give you some of the treatment you give Kieran. And stop fretting about him, he knows what he’s doing”.

He came and sat next to Joby on the bottom step.

“You know”, said Hillyard, looking around him approvingly “This place’d be alright if it was just cleaned up a bit”.

“Well don’t look at me”, said Joby.

“It’s not going to be you who does it is it!” said Hillyard “Not one of Adam’s sacred little boys …”

A racket of excitable voices went up from the kitchen.

“Now what?” said Joby.

He and Hillyard gravitated towards the back of the house, accompanied by Adam, who had been scanning the rows of books in the library. They found Bengo, Bardin and Hoowie standing over an object they had placed on the kitchen table.

“Good heavens”, said Adam, in shock “It’s an old cassette player”.

“Blimey, my Nan used to have one of those”, said Joby.

“What does it do?” said Bengo, as though the machine was about to combust.

“It plays music”, said Adam “Or anything else you record“.

“Did you have them in your time?” said Bengo.

“No, they were considered very old-hat in our time”, said Adam “Technology had moved on. I think I only saw them in old films”.

“We found it in the shed”, said Bardin.

“Next to a crate of home-brew”, said Hoowie, who clearly thought the rum was rather more important.

Adam pressed the ’Play’ button, and was astounded when some very tinny harpsichord music came out. The clowns watched in awe as Adam looked spellbound by this noise.

“Is it good then?” said Bardin.

“It’s Mozart”, said Adam, in a hushed voice “One of the greatest, or as many would have said, THE greatest composer ever”.

“Really?!” Bardin exclaimed.

Bengo elbowed him in the ribs. They were in the presence of high culture, and they had to look suitably impressed.

“It’s not a very good recording I’m afraid”, Adam sighed “In fact I’m amazed it is playing at all”.

He carefully removed the cassette from the machine. He was disappointed to find it was a blank tape. No indication on it as to who the music was being played by, or when it was recorded. Bengo couldn’t help but notice that Adam looked very sad.

“Take no notice of Bardy”, he said “He’s got no taste. He’s just a silly vaudeville clown. He knows nothing about high culture”.

“Oh and you do I suppose?” said Bardin.

“It’s alright”, said Adam “I’m just a little sad because it’s so long since I’ve heard it. So much good stuff seemed to just vanish”.

“You never know, we might find more tapes like that in the house”, said Hillyard.

“There’s another factor here”, said Joby “That cassette player didn’t come from this time. It came from just before ours”.

“You think a time-crosser like you brought it here?” said Hoowie.

“It’s a possibility”, said Adam “Someone from just before out own time. How utterly intriguing”.

Joby carefully picked up the machine and removed a section from the back of it.

“It’s got batteries in”, he said “Perhaps they’re getting low, that would help explain why it sounds so ropey”.

Julian stared at the tape-recorder when it had been placed on the desk in his cabin. For a moment he was speechless.

“Extraordinary”, he said, eventually “Have you played it all the way through?”

“No, we were going to do that at dinner”, said Adam “So that everybody could hear it. We don’t know how much longer the batteries will last”.

“I don’t understand why everyone’s making such a fuss of that thing!” said Hoowie “Not when we found a crate of rum as well!”

“Hoowie, go and play with the other clowns for a bit”, said Julian.

Hoowie left the room and went along to Bengo and Bardin’s cabin, where he found them in much the same frame of mind as himself.

“It’s just a glorified music-box as far as I can see”, said Bardin “I’ve heard Rumble come out with better tunes on his banjo!”

“Your trouble is, you’re just not cultured, Bardy”, said Bengo “I’ve told you that before”.

“Yes, and it’s bloody annoying!” said Bardin “High culture! Remember that opera singer we had come to the Cabaret for a couple of weeks? The audience used to head for the bar en-masse when he came on! How’s that entertainment?!”

“It’s a different type of entertainment”, said Bengo.

“Yeah, a rubbish one”, said Bardin.

“Why’s everybody going on about that weird music when we found a crate of rum?” said Hoowie.

“You needn’t think you’re getting dug into all that”, said Bardin “We’ll conserve it. Anyway, what are you doing in here again?”

“Julian’s thrown me out”, said Hoowie, who had now made himself at home in the armchair by the fire.

Bardin froze with horror.

“What do you mean, he’s thrown you out?” he exclaimed.

“What?” said Bengo “Forever?!”

“Haha”, Hoowie laughed “You should see your faces! No, just for a little while, whilst he and Adam go on and on about that bloody music-box. I had you going there didn’t I!”

“I was nearly in a state of shock”, said Bardin “I thought we were going to have you underfoot in here all the time!”

“Nah, sorry to disappoint you”, said Hoowie.

“Oh look Hoowie”, Bardin sighed, running a weary hand over his face “Just clear off elsewhere for a moment. You’re boring me, I’m not in the mood”.

Bengo watched open-mouthed as Hoowie (surprisingly silently) left the room. He was used to Bardin talking abrasively to Hoowie, but this was different.

“Don’t have a go at me about being harsh”, said Bardin “He’ll get over it”.

“Bardin, what’s wrong?” said Bengo.

“I don’t know, something’s not sitting right with me”, said Bardin “I just keep sensing something’s awfully wrong, but I can’t figure out what exactly”.

“Well Kieran always says you’re psychic than you realise”, said Bengo.

“Yes, I just damn well wish I wasn’t!” said Bardin “Not if it makes me feel like this. What is the damn point of me having these feelings if I don’t know what’s causing them, or what to do about it?”

“Is it something to do with the world at large?” Bengo asked, nervously.

“Yes”, said Bardin “Yes it is. But WHAT?! It’s no good. I’m going to go and ask Umbert to fiddle with the wireless set again. I know it probably won’t amount to anything, but I can’t stand around here just pondering”.

“Oh listen to him”, said Bengo, standing at the galley door and staring in the direction of the dining-room.

“Why?” said Joby “What’s he up to now?”

“Still fiddling with the wireless”, said Bengo.

“He’ll be lucky if gets a damn thing out of that”, said Joby.

“I know”, said Bengo, sounding truly pitiful “But if worries me when he gets all obsessive like this”.

“Is there anything we can do?” said Joby “Short of coshing him or sedating him I mean!”

“I think we’ve just got to let him burn it out of his system”, said Adam “He can’t get up to much around here”.

Bengo though had worked himself up into a state. “I wish there was something I could do”, he wailed.

“Throw yourself into your work?” Joby quipped.

Bengo ran into his cabin and slammed the door.

“Oh heck”, said Joby, and he made to go after him.

Adam stopped him.

“Stay here”, he said “I’ve got an idea”.

He went into the dining-room and hauled Bardin away by his waist.

“Bengo’s upset about you”, said Adam “I want you to go and reassure him”.

“He’s just being an attention-seeking little drama queen”, said Bardin “You should know that by now”.

Adam went to box his ears, but Bardin moved at the last minute and got slapped on the jaw instead. Adam took advantage of his dazed state to pick him up and carry him towards the cabin.

“Thank goodness you’re not as big as Lo-Lo”, he said.

Bardin landed on the floor just inside the cabin door, where he lay sprawled, like a clown puppet which had had all his strings cut.

“Bardy”, Bengo forgot his own upset to run towards him “What’s happened?”

“You may well ask”, said Bardin “This is all your fault!”

“Mine?” said Bengo, looking around him in confusion (Adam had returned to the galley) “H-how? I don’t understand”.

“Thanks to your constant histrionics”, said Bardin “Adam just slugged me round the jaw! I hope you’re satisfied”.

“Adam did?” said Bengo “Well you must have upset him in some way for him to do that”.

“Oh yes, it has to be my fault doesn’t it!” said Bardin “I get held responsible for your ridiculous tantrums. Well there’s nothing new there is there, nothing new at all!”

“Oh Bardy”, Bengo laughed, throwing his arms round him “I do love you!”

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