By Sarah Hapgood

The clowns had finally been let out of quarantine, and (for this afternoon at any rate), they were determined to make the most of it. Several months ago they had finally arrived back at their house in ‘The New Continent’, and in that gloomy old pile they had all endured a Winter of extreme cold, hemmed in by snow for weeks at a time, and constantly on the lookout for one of the dreaded Tall Creatures.

When the thaw had finally come in the Spring, Bardin announced that they must surely be free of any contamination by now, and said they were shaking the dust of ’The New Continent’ finally off their feet, and heading back to the Old. It was now July, and they were at The Village Of Stairs, which was enjoying a wave of prosperity it can surely have never known before in its entire existence. There were even rumours being banded about that it was rapidly becoming the new Krindei, especially as that particular town had never recovered from the ruinous rule of a mad governor only a few years before.

Bardin had marshalled the clowns (and Hoowie) along to the smartest restaurant in town, with the strict stipulation that they weren’t to draw attention to themselves in any way whatsoever. Fat chance. By the end of the afternoon they were playing with balloons, feather boas and squirty cream, and dancing round the table.

Back on the galleon once more, Bardin collapsed into his bunk. He fell into a deep alcohol sleep, which he came out of sharply about 3 hours later. He heard an annoying commotion out in the corridor, and went out there to find that some supplies had been delivered, and that Adam, Joby, and Bengo (who wasn’t as hungover as Bardin for the simple reason that he hadn’t drunk as much) were taking stock of it all. Bardin was furious to see how many tins of spam and corned beef had come in the delivery.

“I said”, he said “I SAID not so much of it this time!”

“And I said”, said Adam “That it is very useful when we are far from civilisation, so you’ll just have to lump it. Now for heaven’s sake shut up, you sound just like Julian!”

“But I gave an order!” Bardin bellowed.

“And I over-ruled you”, said Adam “You may be Captain, but I am in charge of the food-stores, and I want no arguments about that. I am extremely hot and bothered, Bardin, and if you give me any further trouble about this, I shall take the cane to you!”

Bardin looked like he was about to explode. Bengo, fearing that there would be blood on the floor if this conversation was allowed to go on, deftly hoisted Bardin over his shoulder and carried him back into their cabin.

He was still in there when Joby was instructed to take him in a cup of tea 20 minutes later.

“There’s a note here too”, said Joby, pulling out a scrap of paper from the bib of his pinny “From Adam. You’d better read it. I think it’s an apology”.

“You’d better accept it, Bardy”, said Bengo, who had followed Joby in, to make sure Bardin didn’t cause any further trouble.

“Yeah I would if I was you”, said Joby “I’ve never known Adam to write an apology before. Me and Kieran have certainly never had one!”

“And he only THREATENED to take the cane to you”, said Bengo “Julian would have done it!”

“I know!” said Bardin, waspishly “It’s just that sometimes I wonder why I bother being in charge around here! I’m not allowed any say over the food-stores. Hillyard won’t let me have any say about the boiler room, the engines, the horses, or ANYTHING in the hold come to that! I wouldn’t be surprised if I wasn’t allowed to have any say about the heads either, as that’s Toppy’s department!”

“This is what you get with drinking at lunchtime”, said Joby “It makes you all tired and fractious. Nothing worse than having a hangover in the evening!”

“And somebody’s been stealing my pants!” was Bardin’s next, rather unexpected, exclamation.

“Oh for fuck’s sake, Bardy”, said Bengo “I can’t imagine why anybody in their right mind would want to wear your starchy old knickers!”

“There is a pair missing”, said Bardin “I’ve counted them”.

“Kieran’s got ’em”, said Joby “He borrowed ’em from the laundry. Says he’ll let you have ’em back when he’s given ’em a rinse through”.

“What does he want my pants for?” Bardin squawked.

“Yeah I was wondering that”, said Bengo.

“Said he wanted to see what it was like being you”, said Joby “He said wearing all that starch really has an effect. Gave him a good insight into the inner workings of your mind”.

“What a gruesome thought!” said Bengo.

“I’ve never seen him wear anything so restricting before”, said Joby “Normally everything Kieran wears sort of flows”.

“Is everybody round here completely kinky?!” said Bardin.

“Yes!” said Bengo “You most of all! I mean, wearing a pink nightie and starched shorts isn’t exactly the sign of a normal person is it!”

“He says he’ll give ‘em back to you as soon as they’ve dried out”, said Joby.

“He can keep them!” said Bardin “Have them on me! I’m going up on deck for a few minutes”.

“That didn’t go very well did it?” said Joby, when Bardin had left the room.

“Oh take no notice of him”, said Bengo “He’s got dozens of them. One pair won’t make any difference”.

Hoowie found Bardin sitting in a corner of the main deck, with his cap practically pulled down over his ears. It was a sultry evening, and there was a party going on aboard one of the neighbouring boats. The guests occasionally tried to cool themselves down by diving into the water.

“I suppose that’s going to go on half the night”, Bardin grumbled.

“It don’t matter”, said Hoowie “We’ll be away from here soon”.

He sat down next to Bardin.

“Any idea where we will go yet?” he asked.

“I’m still torn between two options”, said Bardin “One is to go north. Adam suggested that it might be interesting to see what Port West is like these days. It’s been years since we were up that way. Another is to turn down one of the rivers that go into the hinterland beyond here. That has more of an air of mystery about it, as there’s no knowing where we might end up”.

Bardin sounded very subdued whilst he was saying all this. Hoowie wasn’t used to seeing Bardin subdued. He was more used to seeing him bustling around, shouting orders and blowing his whistle. This subdued Bardin was unnerving.

“I think you need a hair of the dog”, said Hoowie “I’ll go below and get you one”.

As he stood up, there was a terrific shaking from underneath them. The air suddenly became saturated with the sounds of screams and startled cries. The tremor lasted for several seconds, which felt more like minutes. Hoowie landed with a smack on his side.

“Are you alright?” said Bardin, going to help him up when the tremor had subsided. Nearby the washing-line, which had been overloaded with clothes and towels, had fallen down onto the deck.

“Yeah, I think so”, said Hoowie “That was a long-y”.

“I think I’d better fetch you the drink!“ said Bardin.

Joby had been in the galley when the tremor had struck. He had fallen over and hung onto the table leg whilst it lasted. As soon as the rumbling had stopped, he ran along the .below-deck corridor, looking for Kieran.

“I’m in here!” Kieran shouted from their cabin, when he heard Joby calling him.

“Are you alright, Kiel?” said Joby, breathlessly.

“Fine“, said Kieran “I just fell on me backside that’s all”.

“Oh well that’s used to taking punishment!” said Joby, helping him to his feet.

Kieran was looking even more beautiful in the early evening light. His hair had grown down below his waist again, and was bleached white by the sun. Like most of the rest of them, he had got very bronzed during the 3-month voyage across the ocean. He was also losing the gaunt look that he had acquired in the City and during that miserable Winter at the house. Kieran had enjoyed that Winter at Bleak House (as Adam had nicknamed it) though. The other Indigo-ites said that nobody relished austerity and hard times as much as Kieran did, but he did seem to flourish under these trying conditions. And it wasn’t as if he hadn’t worked hard. He had been in charge of keeping all the fires going, which had been a strenuous full-time job. Joby gave Kieran’s slender body a hug.

“This’ll get ’em all going”, said Joby “Everyone in town I mean. There’s been a lot of these tremors lately apparently, and it’s got all the doom-mongers going”.

“Not to mention the vivid sunsets”, said Kieran “There have been some spectacular ones, and some of them seem to think it’s a sign of the end of the world or some such nonsense”.

“Blimey”, Joby sighed “Don’t tell me there’s another comet coming to hit us is there?!”

“Hopefully not anything as dramatic as that!” said Kieran.

There was a playful knock on the door. Hillyard was standing there, holding a dust-covered bottle he had found in the hold.

“The earth been moving for you has it?” he said.

“Yeah great, Hillyard”, said Joby “That joke must be as old as the hills!”

“Almost as old as this port I’ve found down below”, said Hillyard.

“Jayz, a bottle of booze that’s gone undetected on this boat?!” said Kieran.

“Come on up on deck and share it with me”, said Hillyard “Ransey’s joining us as well”.

“Come along, Spanky”, said Joby to Kieran.

When they had arranged themselves on big cushions on the main deck, they overheard a woman on a nearby yacht scolding her maid for serving up a sub-standard supper.

“I found a boiled cockroach in my meal!” she exclaimed.

“Well don’t shout too loudly or everyone’ll want one!” Joby muttered.

“Do you think the maid put it there on purpose?” Kieran chuckled.

“I wouldn’t blame her if she did”, said Hillyard “That employer of hers is a right vinegary faced old besom. Is it me or have people round here got a lot ruder?”

“It’s the prosperity”, said Kieran “It’s all new to them”.

“I used to see it all the time at the Ministry”, said Ransey “Some men, as soon as they got a promotion, it didn’t matter if it was only from Assistant Filing Clerk to Chief Filing Clerk, would soon be strutting around like little tin-pot gods. It seems to be the human condition”.

“But Kieran never got like that”, said Hillyard “And he’s had more power than anybody in his time!”

“Yeah, but there’s no way that Kieran is normal!” said Joby.

“I get my arse whipped everyday”, said Kieran “That tends to concentrate the mind you know. It’s a wee bit hard to go goose-stepping around when you’ve got a great big sore bruise on your right buttock!”

“Perhaps we need to step up on giving Bardin a hard time”, said Hillyard “Stop him getting so worked up about things”.

“I think Bengo already gives him a good thrashing on a regular basis”, said Kieran.

“No I wasn’t meaning that so much”, said Hillyard “More say, once a month, we make him do all the chores”.

“ALL the chores?!” Joby exclaimed. Running a large ship like the galleon on a day-to-day basis involved an incredible amount of work. With nearly two dozen of them aboard, the chores got spread out quite satisfactorily though. One man doing it all by himself was inconceivable.

“No, just some of ’em”, said Hillyard “Making the tea, taking the slops down to the goats, filling up the water buckets, that sort of thing”.

“No”, said Joby, surprisingly “You know what Bardin’s like, he’ll make a bleedin’ time-and-motion efficiency study out of it!”

“We’ll all be subjected to long miserable lectures on how he did it in half the time it takes the rest of us”, said Kieran.

“Blimey”, said Joby “Life wouldn’t be worth living!”

“Better stick to spanking him”, said Kieran.

Joby suddenly had an image of Bardin, with his fanatical love of spotless white shirts, socks, and immaculate starched knickers, being spanked very soundly by a sweaty Bengo in his canvas pinny, his hands grimy from peeling potatoes. It was an intoxicating image he knew he’d find very hard to shift from the forefront of his mind.

“Can we at least ask Bengo to do it on an even more regular basis?!” he said.

Their stay in The Village Of Stairs was turning out to be longer than planned. The old stove in the galley finally gave up the ghost, and a new one had to be fitted. This was a massive job, which put Adam in a thoroughly bad frame of mind. Added to that Kieran suddenly got one of his whims to go to church. After much arguing and door-slamming, he was allowed to go. Joby went with him, which he didn’t object to. But he did object to Bardin coming in halfway through the service, and sitting on the other side of the congregation to spy on him.

“There was I”, Kieran complained to Adam when he got home “Almost in a state of spiritual rapture, with the sun pouring through the windows as well, and then I look across the room, and there’s Bardin sitting there!”

“That would be enough to put anyone off their state of spiritual rapture!” said Bengo.

“I’m sorry, Patsy”, said Adam “But he was only keeping an eye on you”.

“Oh Adam”, said Bengo “Don’t make excuses for him. Kieran didn’t need keeping an eye on”.

“Thank you, Bengo”, said Kieran, speaking too soon.

“He had Joby with him for that”, Bengo continued “Bardy’s really overstepped the mark this time. I shall give him a really good talking-to in a minute”.

They heard Bardin going into their cabin just across the gangway.

“No time like the present, old love”, said Adam “I think I’ll stay here and keep out of the way though”.

Kieran and Joby had no such scruples though. They wanted the free entertainment, and so followed Bengo into the cabin. Because of its close proximity to the galley, Bengo and Bardin’s cabin was being used as a temporary store for the perishable food that would normally be in the galley cupboards, whilst the new stove was awaiting imminent installation. As such their cabin was rather more congested than it would normally be.

“What’s all this about?” Bardin barked “You look like some kind of official delegation”.

“I’ve come to tell you off, Bardy”, said Bengo “You won’t give people their proper space, and it’s not fair. You didn’t need to go to church today. You never go to church. You haven’t got a single spiritual bone in your entire body!”

“That’s not true”, said Bardin, standing amongst the food boxes.

“Maybe you have”, said Kieran “But I would have appreciated you letting me be in peace there today”.

Bardin’s dander was well and truly up at this public scolding. He bridled visibly.

“I might just remind you that I am in charge around here”, he said “Not some long-haired will-o-wisp!”

Bengo looked as though he might faint from the shock of Bardin speaking to Kieran like this.

“Oh the shame!” he gasped “Bardin!”

“You might be the leader, Bardin”, said Kieran, with icy calm “And for the record I happen to think you’re a great leader, but even great leaders have to experience some humility now and again”.

He turned as if to leave, but then suddenly stepped back and seized Bardin round the waist, turning him round.

“Joby, grab his trousers!” Kieran shouted.

Joby deftly yanked Bardin’s trousers down, and Kieran then administered a spanking on the starchy behind. For someone who had arms like broom-handles, Kieran had a lot of strength in his spindly body, and the spanking was hard. Bardin protested vociferously.

“Shut your face!” said Kieran “You’ve been gagging for this! I know how to dish it out as well as take it!”

When he had finished he gently set Bardin back on his feet. To Bardin’s utter embarrassment he had grown an erection, and it was sticking out of the front of his shorts like the bowspit.

“I think you quite enjoyed that, Bardin!” said Joby.

“You deserved that, Bardy”, said Bengo “You shouldn’t have spoken to Kieran like that”.

“I haven’t even started yet!” said Bardin, and he pointed at Kieran “You just wait. You wait in fear for my retribution!”

“I’ll wait in feverish anticipation!” said Kieran, and he and Joby left the room in a stately fashion.

“And you”, said Bardin, turning to face Bengo “I didn’t notice you come running to my aid!”

“Why should I?” said Bengo “You needed it! Oh don’t look like that, Bardy. You were sensational, a true star. I loved it!”

He pulled Bardin back onto the sofa and cuddled him.

“That got me going almost as much as when you’ve got whipped cream in your hair!” he said.

Bardin whimpered for an answer.

It didn’t matter how much his own body told him that he had enjoyed the spanking, Bardin was determined on revenge. With the ruthless efficiency with which he had once organised their stage routines, he planned it down to the minutest detail. He primed Toppy to come and fetch him the instant Kieran was alone in his cabin, and Joby was occupied elsewhere. This opportunity came the following afternoon, when Joby was up on deck playing draughts with Lonts, and Kieran was putting fresh linen on their bunk.

As soon as he heard the news, he ordered Toppy out of the way, and fetched one of the buckets of water which Hillyard had left in the long corridor, and was in the process of taking down to the animals. He marched into the cabin and hurled it at Kieran, who was liberally splashed from head to foot. Before Kieran had a chance to recover himself, Bardin yanked his (Kieran’s) trousers and pants down and smacked him hard on his bare buttocks. Even for a thoroughly seasoned spankophile like Kieran, a sudden and unexpected bare bottom spanking could be somewhat disconcerting.

When Joby came in, Bardin roughly tipped Kieran onto the floor.

“Now just a minute!” Kieran yelled at Bardin, who was about to leave the room “When I did you, I acted like a gentleman! I did not pull your pants down, I did not chuck water over you, and I set you carefully back on your feet. I did not chuck you on the floor!”

Bardin drew himself up with magnificent hauteur.

“Yes”, he said “But I have never claimed to be a gentleman!”

Joby jumped to one side to allow him to leave the room in true grand style.

“Joby, damnit, you should have said something to him!” said Kieran, still on the floor, with long, wet strands of hair hanging over his face.

“For God’s sake, Kiel”, said Joby, picking up a towel and then helping him to his feet “You go picking a fight with the chief clown, what do you expect!”

Bengo ran clumsily into the room, wearing only a baggy pair of drill shorts and a pair of gumboots which were a couple of sizes too big for him.

“Cool outfit, Bengo”, said Joby.

“I’ve just heard”, Bengo gasped “I had to come and see if you were alright, Kieran. Every time I think Bardy couldn’t embarrass me anymore, he goes and does it, I’m so sorry!”

“Oh come off it”, said Joby, who was rubbing Kieran down with the towel “Kieran’s had worse humiliations than that. Remember that time you fell into a cactus patch and I had to pick all the bits out of your behind, Kiel?”

“That’s not the point!” Kieran protested.

“And as I was just saying”, Joby continued “You’re lucky it wasn’t worse. With all that food he’s got stored in his cabin at the moment, you were lucky you didn’t get one of the cakes we got from the bakery in your kisser!”

“Bardy wouldn’t do that to Kieran”, said Bengo.

“Why not, he’s just chucked a bucket of water over me!” said Kieran.

“Yeah I know”, said Bengo “But the cake in the face is probably gonna be MY punishment, it always is! Never mind, there’s more than one of them in there, if he does do it, he’ll get one in his!”

“Why aren’t you more angry?” asked Ransey, who was sounding rather peevish.

He was sitting up on the main deck with Adam and Hillyard early that evening. A short distance away from them Hoowie was practising some rather complex dance steps by himself.

“If we were in the middle of nowhere I would be”, said Adam “I would be very cross about the waste of food. But as we’re in port, I don’t see what the problem is”.

Bengo’s prediction had come true. Bardin had clouted him with a trifle cake as soon as he got into their cabin. Bengo was annoyed because, not being given a chance to prepare himself, he had had his eyes open when it hit, which can be quite painful. When he had scraped enough jelly, custard, and whipped cream away to see what he was doing, he had smacked Bardin with the other one, taking great care to run it through his hair as well.

“I think it’s nice to see them having fun, after all the grimness of the past year”, said Adam.

“Fun is one thing”, said Ransey “But do they have to be quite so anarchic about it? I’m surprised we haven’t been presented with a massive cleaning bill from that restaurant where they had lunch the other day!”

“From what I can gather, that restaurant is well used to high spirits”, said Adam “Some of the parties they have there go on for days apparently”.

“This town is going to the dogs”, said Ransey.

“No, it left the dogs”, said Adam “But now it seems hell-bent on getting back to them again!”

Hillyard guffawed.

“The sooner we’re on the move again”, said Ransey “And get a bit of order restored around here, the better”.

Brother Umbert came up on deck, carrying a sandwich board he had made himself out of two large pieces of cardboard threaded through with string. The cheery words ‘THIS WORLD IS DOOMED’ were scrawled on both of them. Without saying a word to anybody, he laboriously clambered off the boat.

“He’s found his true vocation at last I see”, said Hillyard.

“I don’t like the look of that at all”, said Adam “Hoowie, run down and ask Bardin to come up here, would you please?”

Bardin was in the middle of washing his hair, and was bent low over the bowl when Hoowie ran into the cabin. Unable to resist the opportunity, Hoowie galloped up to him and shoved his head further into the bowl.

“Right that’s enough!” Bardin exclaimed, when he had resurfaced again “As if I haven’t had enough humiliation this past couple of days!”

“Sorry, Bardin I couldn’t resist”, said Hoowie “Just a bit of fun”.

“I hope you still think it’s fun when you’re on latrine duty for the whole of next week!” said Bardin, grabbing a towel off Bengo “Why are you in here anyway?”

“Oh there was something”, said Hoowie “It sort of slipped my mind with all the excitement. Adam asked me to fetch you. Wants to see you up on deck”.

“If Adam wants to see me he can come down here”, said Bardin.

“BARDIN!” shouted Bengo “Will you never learn?!”

“Well what’s he imperiously summoning me for?” said Bardin.

“Brother Umbert’s gone ashore”, said Hoowie.

“That must be the most under whelming news of the day!” said Bardin “He can go ashore if he wants, he’s not under boat-arrest”.

“No it’s only Kieran we do that to!” said Bengo.

“He’s gone all rigged up some sandwich boards”, said Hoowie “Wants to spread the gladsome tidings that we’re all doomed”.

“Oh let him”, said Bardin, chucking the towel irritably on the wash-stand “If he wants to make a public spectacle of himself that’s up to him. Although I doubt anyone will take any notice”.

“Everybody’s making a public spectacle of themselves in this town at the moment”, said Bengo.

“And The Village Of Stairs has never exactly been short of cranks!” said Bardin “Look all that’ll happen is he’ll wander around a bit, shouting his gob off. Then he’ll get bored and go and get pissed somewhere. The worst that’ll happen is that we might end up having to bail him out of the pound later”.

Bardin was relaxing on his bunk later that evening when Adam bustled in and informed him that Bardin’s prediction had come true. Brother Umbert had been arrested for being drunk and disorderly, and was being held in the cage at the Town Constable’s office.

“Good”, said Bardin “Keep him there. It’ll do him good”.

“Bardin”, said Adam, with as much patience as he could muster “However annoying he’s been, you can’t leave him in that ghastly place. He’s a sick man. He’s not been in his right mind since we went to the City”.

“I can see I’m going to get no peace”, said Bardin, getting wearily to his feet “I bet if it was one of us you’d leave us there to teach us a lesson!”

“Nonsense”, said Adam.

Bengo accompanied Bardin to the cop-shop, which was located in a particularly insalubrious part of town, down a narrow flight of steps, and along an alleyway which stank of urine. Brother Umbert’s raucous tones could be heard a soon as they set foot in the building, singing the words “put some oil in your lamp, I pray” over and over again.

“Get him out of here”, said the slovenly officer, who was sitting below a flickering oil-lamp “He’s doing my head in!”

“What’s the damage?” said Bardin, taking out the small purse of coins which Ransey had given him for the bail-money.

“You need to sign here 3 times”, said the officer, shoving a grubby bit of paper at him.

“And we want a receipt for that money”, said Bardin, who had been well-primed by Ransey.

They got Umbert home with difficulty. Bardin was supporting him, and Bengo was carrying the wretched sandwich boards. Bardin was annoyed to see Adam chatting idly to Joby, Ransey and Julian on the main deck. Adam and Julian were enjoying a late cigar in the humid night-air.

“Here you are”, said Bardin, roughly pushing Umbert away from him “What you sent me out to fetch. Now that’s enough for one day. I’m not putting him to bed as well, one of you can damn well do that! I’m going to bed. Goodnight”.

He stamped towards the quarterdeck steps. Bengo dropped the sandwich boards with relief.

“He’s got a bit of an arse on tonight hasn’t he!” said Joby.

“We’re still in the process of taming Bardin”, said Adam “It’s just taking us a little longer than we bargained for”.

“It’ll take forever”, said Joby.

“Well we’ve got forever!” said Adam.

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