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A few days had passed since they had found the mummified Ghoomer in the tumbledown house. Someone suggested burning down the “leprous” house, until Joby pointed out, rather abrasively, that this could result in burning down the whole forest! About a week later they had a parcel-drop from Glynis. This time the pilot managed to drop the hamper into the branches of a tree, where it stuck fast.
“I bet if he’d tried to do that on purpose he couldn’t have managed it!” said Joby, standing on the ground looking up at it, creaking as it was in the breeze.
Hillyard, Mieps and Lonts had gone to fetch a ladder, and now walked over with it.
“Get it down! Get it down!” Tamaz exclaimed, impatiently.
“These things can’t be rushed”, said Hillyard “We don’t wanna damage the precious cargo”.
“It’s probably already damaged”, said Joby, darkly “All mulched up”.
“It’s being so cheerful keeps you going”, said Hillyard “Stand here and hold the ladder whilst I go up and loosen it. Lonts and Mieps can stand below and try to catch it”.
Whilst this delicate operation had been going on, Bardin and Bengo were performing a dance in the great hall of the Castle. Hillyard’s pride and joy, the battered upright piano, had been moved down from the stone cottage in the clearing, and was now installed in the hall, weighed down by Hillyard’s extensive collection of what Joby disparagingly referred to as “reject song-sheets”.
Julian, the only other person apart from Hillyard, who could adequately play the piano, was now thundering out a polka. The clowns danced it sublimely, involving a lot of hand-clapping, but perfectly in unison with each other. Adam, their sole audience, watched from the sidelines with his hands stuffed in the bib of his canvas apron. He drew them out to applaud rapturously when they had finished.
“Did you perform that often?” he asked.
“Not really”, said Bardin.
“It was a musical interlude”, said Bengo “We used to do it as a filler sometimes, say if someone was sick and couldn’t go on”.
“It shouldn’t have been used as a filler”, said Adam.
“Oh I don’t know”, said Julian “It’s a mild improvement on the Test Card!”
“I meant it was too good for that!” said Adam.
The hamper, finally rescued from the trees like a standed kitten, was carried with great pomp into the hall, as though it was the coffin of a general or a world leader.
“Welcome to Madame Julian’s School of Dance”, said Julian.
Tamaz was in no mood for jokes or small-talk. He urged the others to undo the heavy leather straps that were binding the hamper.
“Don’t get your hopes raised too high”, said Julian “There’s us expecting a load of goodies, and instead we might find bits of Codlik wrapped in old newspaper!”
“Perhaps there might be another Easter Egg in there”, said Lonts “Like last time”.
“I shouldn’t think so, Lonts”, said Joby “It’s August!”
“I hope she hasn’t sent too much cheese this time”, said Adam “I did try and hint when she was here last month that we’re never short of cheese”.
“Loads of honey”, said Tamaz, pulling out a few jars.
“Ransey’s been having a word with her as well obviously”, said Adam “He likes it in his tea”.
Glynis, as she always did, had put a lot of thought into her hamper selection, filling it with items that they couldn’t provide for themselves at the Bay, such as tinned ham and sausages, scented oil, chocolates and more packets of seeds and old gardening magazines for Joby. Bardin had taken the letter she had enclosed with it, and was now reading it, whilst looking perplexed and scratching his head.
“She is alright isn’t she, Bardin?” said Adam, looking across at him with concern “Codlik isn’t still tormenting her is he?”
“She doesn’t mention him at all”, said Bardin “It seems that next week she’s flying to Aspiriola for a congress of church leaders”.
“What on earth for?” said Adam “It doesn’t sound terribly enthralling”.
“Perhaps living with Codlik all these years has made her decide to become a nun!” said Julian.
“I think Kieran needs to read this”, said Bardin “Apparently she’s concerned that the Church are getting too much power. There’s no other organisation to match them for power and money at the moment, you see, not now the Ministry’s gone”.
“Good grief, it sounds like a return to the Middle Ages”, said Adam.
“Glynis wants us to meet her there”, said Bardin “Kieran’s the human face of the Church, and people need some reassurance apparently”.
He took the letter upstairs, accompanied by Adam and Joby. Kieran had been reading in the main bedroom, and was infuriated by Bardin’s suggestion that they should bring forward their next supply-run, originally scheduled for the beginning of September, and go to Aspiriola for it instead.
“It makes a great deal of sense when you think about it”, said Adam “It’s only a two-day journey up the coast from here, and we won’t have all that tedious wriggly river-sailing that we normally have when we go to Toondor Lanpin”.
“You mean to say you really want to go and see a load of old bishops from my Church?” said Kieran, in disbelief.
“Of course we don’t wanna see ‘em!” said Joby “But we have to keep an eye on ‘em”.
Kieran gave a moan of exasperation and flounced out of the room.
“Well that was a very constructive reaction”, said Adam.
“I’d better go and see him”, Joby sighed.
“Explain to him how necessary this is”, said Bardin.
“I hope I get the chance!” said Joby.
Kieran was easily located in the room which housed the upstairs loo. He was sitting on it, with the lid down, looking out of the picture window.
“I feel like saying you can’t make me go there”, he quipped.
“Oh yes we can”, said Joby, crouching on the floor next to him “It’d be easy to toss a skinny little squirt like you onto the sloop. And what was all that prima donna behaviour in aid of anyway?”
“And why are you so keen to go on this trip?” said Kieran.
“We have to go on another supply-run sometime”, said Joby “And I quite like Aspiriola. As Adam said, it’s a lot less hassle getting there from here than it is to Toondor Lanpin. And I also think the Church needs watching like hawks. The worst ones in it hate you. So much so I keep expecting ‘em to send a hitman here to get you”.
“Probably find he’s an old mate of Ransey’s”, said Kieran “We’ll make him a cup of tea and send him on his way! Oh sweet Jesus, you don’t have to tell me what the worst of ‘em can be like. There’s nothing you can tell an Irishman about the worst excesses of organised religion. That’s why I’ve never had much time for it”.
“So why did you start up a pissing church then?” said Joby.
“It was what a lot of people wanted”, said Kieran “They needed a focus, somewhere to go to believe and feel wanted. And I had a horror being seen to suppress religion. The cynic in me has always known though that organised religion often has very little to do with spirituality. You didn’t get Christ craving fancy silk robes and solid silver rosary beads”.
“Quite”, said Joby “That’s why they called him a dangerous nutter and crucified him! He was the biggest heretic of the lot: he said money wasn’t important! And that’s what I’m scared stiff of them doing to you! Whenever I think about it I always remember that last scene in ‘Ben Hur’, where he meets Christ on his way to the execution spot”.
“That was a very powerful scene”, said Kieran.
“And Christ is beaten, covered in wheals, staggering under the weight of the cross”, said Joby “And Charlton Heston gives him a cup of water. I always think of you then”.
“I remind you of Charlton Heston?” said Kieran “You can imagine me in the chariot race can’t you? And Julian standing up in the royal enclosure in his purple robes, looking pig-sick ‘cos I was winning!”
“You daft bugger!” said Joby “Now listen, Glynis is getting all worked up about this for a reason, so it must be serious”.
“Glynis just wants an excuse to get away from Codlik for a few days”, said Kieran “And after his recent behaviour I don’t blame her!”
“More than likes he’s coming too”, Joby growled “He can never resist an opportunity to poke his nose in”.
“Are you coming down?” Hillyard shouted from the other side of the door “You’ll miss the best bits of the hamper if you don’t”.
“Be down in a couple of minutes”, said Kieran.
“Have you seen Joby?” said Hillyard.
“Eh?” said Joby.
“He’s in here with me”, said Kieran.
“Both in the loo together?” said Hillyard “You dirty little sods!”
“You should know about such things”, said Joby “Better ‘en most people in fact! Daft old tosser”.
“Not exactly democratic behaviour”, said Julian, who was allegedly reading in the library “Bardin simply ups and decides we’re all going to Aspiriola. No consultation, nothing. Are you listening to me?”
“No”, said Adam, who was sketching in a nearby chair “I’m certainly not going to listen to you when you criticise Bardin’s Captaincy, and I’m certainly not going to listen to you when you start going on about democracy! Where you’re concerned Julian, that’s truly the last refuge of the scoundrel!”
“What are you sketching that’s so bloody fascinating?” said Julian, after a couple of minute’s silence.
“The fireplace”, said Adam.
“Why?” said Julian.
“Mainly because it saves me from having to talk to you”, Adam muttered.
Ransey came in, clutching a mug of honey-sweetened tea. There was a short bad-tempered hiatus whilst he fought for room on the sofa next to Julian.
“It was you who’s encouraged the others into this trip to Aspiriola?” Ransey barked at Adam “Encouraging Kieran to put his head into the lion’s mouth. I don’t know what you were thinking of”.
Adam folded up his sketch-pad and prepared to leave the room.
“Where are you going?” said Julian, sharply.
“Not that it’s the remotest concern of yours”, said Adam “But I’m going to see what Lo-Lo is doing. You two can now get your knitting-needles out and bitch to your heart’s content!”
Why am I at a wrestling-match? Thought Bengo. This can’t be real, so I must be either dreaming … or back in Hell again.
The place was packed out, and the audience was getting very excited.
“He’s gonna fucking pulverise him”, a man said, nearby.
“It’s not fair”, said a woman “It’s not a fair match. They’re such vastly different weights”.
Bengo felt a spasm of panic. He pushed his way as roughly as he could to the front of the audience. Bardin was in the ring, being wrestled by Godle. Bardin was putting up a very creditable fight, using some old clowning skills to try and outwit Godle, but Godle was so huge that it must have been like trying to fell a particularly sturdy oak tree with your bare hands. Nobody had ever beaten Godle. Not in all their years of performing, had Bengo ever seen anyone get the better of Godle, The Mighty Strong Man.
“Stop the fight, he’ll kill him!” Bengo cried, but he was drowned out by the crowd.
Bengo would have got into the ring himself and rescued Bardin, if the referee hadn’t taken pity on his beaten state and ordered him to be stretchered backstage. Bengo insisted on going with him, saying he was his partner.
“Let the little fella through”, said an old man, outside one of the dressing-rooms “He should see his mate before he dies”.
“He’s not gonna die!” said Bengo, angrily, to which the old man sniggered.
Bardin certainly did look in a bad way. He was barely conscious.
“Why Bardy, why?” Bengo wept over him “You should never have taken on Godle. Oh why, why? Bardy!”
“You’re dreaming”, Bardin hissed in his ear.
“Again”, Joby grunted, morosely, on the other side of him.
“Oh Bardy”, Bengo wept into his shoulder “When are these dreams gonna stop? When?”
Tamaz was in the same predicament. In his dream he was living in a small cottage in the middle of a dreary, barren valley with Kieran and Joby. One day the brought home a woman and announced that she would be their “girl” from now on. They wanted a “real woman” they said, not a “bits of this and bits of that”. Tamaz was in despair. He tried desperately to pretend he was a real woman too, dressing in chic clothes and combing his hair so that it looked longer. But it seemed the harder he tried the more grotesquely his masculine side asserted itself. When he spoke his voice was deep and gravely, and his penis popped out of his pants, three times the size and thickness that it really was.
“Most blokes’d give their eye-teeth for a dream like that!” Joby tried to joke Tamaz out of his post-dream gloom.
He and Bardin had taken Bengo and Tamaz down to the kitchen to get them calmed, as they were disturbing the others. Bardin poured them all goat’s milk, which was kept in the pantry in a stone jug with a beaded muslin cover to keep off the flies.
“My voice kept coming out all gravely and horrible”, said Tamaz “I sounded like Hoowie!”
“As usual these dreams are our worst fears coming out”, said Bardin, after taking a sip of the milk.
“Are they dreams, or trips to Hell?” said Bengo.
“Both I think”, said Bardin “Look at what Tamaz said about how two-dimensional the landscape round his cottage was, that’s always a hallmark of Hell. I think in Hell we just endlessly live out our nightmares. Those who are trapped there for good never wake up I guess”.
“I think mine was the worst dream”, said Bengo.
“You would”, Tamaz tutted.
“There would no way I could cope with my situation, losing Bardy”, Bengo protested “Whereas you could at least call it quits and decide to be completely male. You could carry on living with Kieran and Joby that way, be one of the lads instead”.
“But he wouldn’t want to, don’t you see?” said Bardin “Tamaz is always priding himself that he can out-feminise any woman if he chooses to. He would never be able to accept playing down his female side and letting someone else take all the honours. Whoever is causing all this to happen knows all that. It’s clever, real clever”.
“I don’t care, I just want it to stop”, said Bengo, sounding like a stubborn child “It’s not fair!”
“You whiney little sod!” Tamaz screamed, impatiently “At least you’re not a fucking freak!”
Tamaz sat down on the kitchen floor and began to cry, helplessly. Joby sat down next to him and caught him in his arms, but Tamaz continued to cry. Bengo looked wretched and looked at Bardin imploringly. He had every confidence that Bardin would be able to sort this out. Bardin was very good with hysterics.
“Tamaz”, Bardin crouched on the floor and spoke very firmly “Tamaz, look at me”.
Tamaz looked into Bardin’s face as directed. He knew Bardin was making Tamaz focus his attention on his mouth. Tamaz, of course, knew all about what a curse Bardin’s harelip had been to him at various times in his life. The childhood taunts and ridicule, his frustration that he hadn’t had the career he felt he was meant to have, and his firm conviction that he was ugly, ignoring all along the fact that all of this had eventually made him a much more interesting and experienced person than if he had been just another handsome five-minute-wonder of a chorus-boy.
“Silly to get all upset like this”, said Joby, stroking Tamaz’s back.
“Bengo meant no harm”, said Bardin “He never does. It’s just that he can be a pain in the neck sometimes that’s all!”
“I’m going to bed if you’re gonna talk about me like that”, said Bengo, crossly.
“Alright, wait for me”, Bardin sighed “Or you’ll probably end up getting lost in the moonlight!”
“Come on now”, Joby helped Tamaz to his feet “Anyway, I always thought you enjoyed being an hermaphrodite!”
During part of the sea-journey to Aspiriola Lonts kept Joby “entertained” with the full details of a story he had just read about a shipwreck. When Joby protested to Adam that this was hardly the sort of thing he needed on an ocean voyage, Adam replied that they had to indulge Lonts as he needed to take his mind off Tamaz and Bengo, whom he was very worried about after their recent nightmares.
“Can’t he find some other way to take his mind off it?” said Joby.
“Lo-Lo does have a very singular way of amusing himself sometimes”, said Adam “It must be his deep Kiskevian soul”.
“That’s one way of putting it”, said Joby.
They arrived in Aspiriola to the usual farce of the Chief Constable’s inspection. Julian caustically remarked that the crime-rate in Aspiriola must be phenomenally low for the CC to be able to concern himself so minutely with the contents of every boat that came in.
Toppy ran round below-deck in a highly excitable state, wanting to make sure that everything was immaculate for the arrival of the great presence.
“Do calm down, old love”, said Adam, when Toppy even started looking under the table in the galley “He’s only concerned with what we’re carrying as cargo. He’s not Matron, coming to inspect our standards of cleanliness!”
“Doesn’t it bother you what he might think of our housekeeping?” said Toppy.
“No, I can’t honestly say it does”, said Adam.
“Toppy”, said Kieran, from the doorway “Do me a favour and run round to the Majestic Hotel. Deliver this note for Glynis, it’s just to tell her that we’ve arrived”.
“Me? Go now?” said Toppy, in dismay, mainly because he thought he was the only one civilised enough to conduct the Chief Constable on his rounds “Can’t you send one of the clowns instead?”
“I’m sending you”, said Kieran “Now get on with it”.
“Yeah, clear off out from under our feet”, said Joby.
Toppy took the note with bad grace and went up the steps to the forward deck.
“I’ve mended some of your clothes”, said Kieran to Joby “They were in a bad way”.
“Finia normally does all that”, said Joby, but Kieran had left the room again.
“Patsy’s mending isn’t bad actually”, said Adam “Quite neat, considering he’s so slapdash in other things. I guess his mother must’ve taught him”.
“He’s trying to keep himself occupied that’s what he’s doing”, said Joby “Trying to take his mind off his bloody Church!”
Back in the cabin again, Kieran put a record on the wind-up gramophone and Bengo began to dance for him. Bengo wore only a pair of skimpy underpants, a tortoiseshell necklace that belonged to Tamaz, and a considerable amount of body-oil to make his suntanned flesh glossy.
“It’s ages since I’ve done this”, said Bengo.
“You’re doing fine”, said Kieran, staring at him with great intentness.
“I used to tinkle little silver bells at the same time”, said Bengo.
“I’ll obviously have to look out for some whilst we’re here”, said Kieran.
The door opened and Bardin wearily led the Chief Constable into the room.
“I suppose we’ll now have to put up with your usual barbed commentary”, said Adam, following on behind.
“Bengo”, said Bardin, gesturing at the little clown to leave the room, put some clothes on, or preferably both.
Kieran was in no mood for the inspection either. He left the sloop, taking a sulky Joby with him, and bundled him into the nearest available pony-and-trap for hire.
“I dunno why you got Bengo to dance for you”, said Joby, glumly.
“I didn’t think you’d want to”, said Kieran, teasingly “Or I’d have asked you to do it instead!”
“Fuck off, Kieran!” said Joby, causing the driver to look askance at the eminent Kieran being addressed in so blunt a fashion.
They passed Toppy in the street, returning from the Majestic Hotel.
“We’d give you a lift, old son!” Joby shouted down at him “But we’re going the other way! … The look on his face, a right picture!”
They arrived at the Majestic Hotel in good spirits after this, and were taken up to Glynis’ suite. She had brought her children with her, but Lilli had taken them out for a couple of hours.
“How the other half lives”, said Joby, sitting down on the sofa with the bowl of complimentary fruit in his lap “Is Codlik lurking around here anywhere?”
“He is not”, said Glynis crisply.
“That’s a relief”, Joby grunted.
“Is he still alive?” said Kieran.
“He’s stayed behind at the Big House”, said Glynis “I know it’s asking the impossible, but do you think you could possibly take something seriously for a change?”
“We’re always taking things seriously”, said Joby “We’re always having rows at home. Someone’s always getting the hump about summat”.
“This is a lot more serious than arguments about who had the last of the goat’s cheese, or who forgot to clear the dining-table”, said Glynis “Kieran, I’m very worried about you. There is a new element in your Church who seem to dislike you intensely”.
“That’s nothing new”, said Kieran, quietly.
“A bunch of dried-up old gits who are jealous of him I expect”, said Joby.
“I regret to say I’ve been harbouring vipers in my bosom”, said Glynis.
Joby laughed and squelched into an apricot.
“Don’t tell me the monks in the East Wing are turning against me”, said Kieran.
“We’ve had a few new ones join”, said Glynis “Our Order is a popular one it seems”.
“I’m not surprised”, said Joby “They can live the life of Riley up there”.
“You know what young people can be like sometimes”, said Glynis “Very idealistic. They see things as totally right or totally wrong”.
“And this lot have decided they don’t like their wayward old fart of a Founder?” said Kieran “And they’ve come here to the Congress to get him booted out?”
“There’s a major difference with this lot”, said Glynis, sombrely “They are women”.
“Women?” said Kieran, shocked “The women are turning against me?”
“They’re not all like Sister Amalia I’m afraid”, said Glynis “As I said, they’re very young and very right-on”.
“But what can they have against Kieran?” said Joby.
“They accuse him of being a misogynist”, said Glynis.
“How?” said Joby “He’s one of the least misogynistic blokes I’ve ever met!”
“You have no women in your organisation”, Glynis pointed out, in her role as Devil’s Advocate.
“We’re not an organisation”, said Joby “Makes us sound like General Motors!”
“And we have got women”, said Kieran “Mieps and Tamaz”.
“They hardly count”, said Glynis, dismissively “They’re not proper women”.
“They bloomin’ well act like proper women at times”, said Joby “Particularly when they’re in a strop about something! Anyway, it’s just the way things have evolved, that’s all. For years we didn’t know any women!”
“Glynis, has Nola been whipping things up in the East Wing?” said Kieran “I take it she still works for you?”
“Yes, but I limit my conversation with her these days to purely practical matters”, said Glynis “Codlik has his own room now, and if she goes to him there I don’t want to know about it. The staff are very good to me. If they know anything, they don’t let on”.
“They care about you that’s why”, said Kieran.
“It wouldn’t surprise me at all if Nola’s been going to the East Wing”, Glynis sighed “She has a fascination for the religious life, and I think she is very bitter that you turned her down”.
“It has her claw-marks all over it”, said Joby, bluntly.
“We don’t have selection procedures”, said Kieran “It’s usually just by chance that anyone fits in”.
“And she wouldn’t have”, said Joby.
“I guess she doesn’t see that she’s anymore difficult to get on with than Mieps or Toppy say”, said Glynis.
“Toppy joined us when he was little more than a kid”, said Kieran “It’s hard to imagine him living any other way now”.
“And Mieps isn’t difficult to get on with”, said Joby “He has his moods sure, but he’s not a whiner, like she’d have been. He’s known such rough times that even the way we live is an improvement!”
They were interrupted by the children returning with Lilli. Leon went potty with excitement on seeing Uncle Joby, and demanded of Glynis that they go back to the sloop with him and Kieran. She left Lilli and the baby at the hotel and the four of them returned to the harbour front.
Toppy was mixing cocktails for Julian, Ransey and Hillyard on the forward deck. Kieran left everybody there and went below to the cabin, where Finia was sorting out everyone’s “best” clothes, as they were all going out for dinner later in the day. Tamaz was standing sulkily by the door, looking curiously overdressed for the weather in a shirt and trousers. Apparently Adam had dug out Tamaz’s red dress (the one with the tiny mirrors sewn into the skirt) for him to wear, but Tamaz was refusing.
“You wear it if you like it so much”, he snapped.
“It would look rather silly on me”, said Adam “Anyway it wouldn’t fit me, I’m too tall! Oh Freaky, I really don’t understand what’s come over you lately. You’re not acting yourself at all”.
“He keeps saying he’s a man”, said Finia “Which is crazy. He’s got tits, tits!”
“And I suppose tomorrow he’ll be saying he’s a girl”, Adam sighed, in exasperation “Is it all because of that dream you had recently?”
“It’s grotesque me pretending to be something I’m not”, Tamaz sniffed “In fact, I’m not anything, I’m a monster, a freak of nature!”
Kieran said he would handle the situation, and ordered Adam and Finia out of the room.
Joby heard about Tamaz’s desolation and Kieran’s forceful behaviour, and paced up and down outside the cabin as though he was on sentry-duty. When Kieran finally emerged, Joby bustled him into the hold so that they could talk in private.
“Drastic measures were called for”, said Kieran “We can’t have him brooding on that bloody dream. That way Evil gets into the soul and wins”.
“What did you do to him?” said Joby, suspiciously.
“Beat him”, said Kieran, casually.
“You did what?” Joby erupted.
“Come off it, I’ve known you raise your hand for a lot less”, said Kieran “So don’t get all pious with me”.
“Only when he’s being awkward or naughty”, said Joby “Not when he’s unhappy I don’t”.
“He’s not unhappy now”, said Kieran, giving an infuriating smile.
“What’s the matter with everybody today?” Joby wiped his face wearily with his hand “I’ve never known you give him a good hiding before, not a proper one. It’s not like you”.
“I popped some sweets into his mouth afterwards”, said Kieran, cheerfully “And he spat ‘em back out at me”.
“I don’t blame him!” said Joby “I’d have done the bleedin’ same, you sadistic little tosser!”
“Joby, he’s fine, believe me”, said Kieran “He didn’t put up much of a fight for one thing. I didn’t get bitten like Julian normally does”.
“There’s nothing of you to bite that’s why!” said Joby.
He and Kieran went into the cabin, to find Lonts had joined Tamaz in there. Lonts was in tears on Tamaz’s behalf. Tamaz, perverse creature that he undoubtedly was, was revelling in it all.
“We’d better calm Lonts down”, said Kieran.
“If you were anyone else he’d give you what-for”, said Joby “Why don’t you have a little lie-down, Lonts? I spect the heat’s getting to you”.
“I’m not a baby”, Lonts bellowed, sniffing violently. “Yes you are”, said Joby, rubbing Lonts’s massive shoulders “The world’s biggest! Here’s Snowy, look”.
Lonts lay down like a bear getting ready for hibernation. Then he immediately sat up again.
“Where’s Yellowy?” he demanded.
“Strewth, he must be round here somewhere”, said Joby, looking round the cabin helplessly.
“The clowns haven’t kidnapped him again have they?” said Kieran, referring to a misfiring prank from a few weeks earlier.
“I hope not”, said Lonts, angrily “They threatened to cut off his ear!”
“It was a stupid joke Lonts, that’s all”, said Joby “They wouldn’t really have done it. Even they’re not that mad!”
He found Yellowy amongst the wreckage on Julian’s desk.
“There look”, he said, holding the bear out to Lonts “Ears intact”.
Lonts grabbed the toy in his paw and immediately settled back down to sleep.
“G’night then”, said Joby.
Kieran had enjoyed this little distraction, as it took his mind off the Church. Coming back to it again gave him the same sense of inevitable sadness that you feel when a love affair has come to an end, and you keep trying to ignore the fact. He watched Joby walk to the door, but then Joby stopped and turned round, like Detective Columbo approaching his summing-up.
“Kiel”, he said “What’s the most important thing in your life? For you and you alone I mean, not the Vanquisher of Evil. What do you want more than anything else?”
“That’s easy”, said Kieran “To be with you and the others, nothing else”.
“Then you have to cut yourself off from your Church”, said Joby “Leave it once and for all”.
“But what about the East Wing monks, and the Bishop of Blossom Harbour?” said Kieran “And all the others who rely on me to provide the balance against the other lot?”
“They can always split off and form their own sect”, said Joby.
“Sectarianism was precisely what I was hoping to avoid”, said Kieran, sadly.
“It’s all out of your hands now”, said Joby “You gave ‘em all the freedom to practise their poxy religion, and now you’ve gotta let go. You were never meant to be a part of it anyway. You’re too good!”
Once the decision was made the Indigo-ites were anxious for Kieran to make a public statement, so that the sooner they could spirit him away the better. Best clothes were put on, and they set off in two hired pony and carts towards the Congress Centre in the town. In the first carriage Kieran was well-hidden amongst the older ones, buried in the midst of them, as Ransey was anxious for his safety with so many “religious nutters” around.
The clowns, Hoowie, Tamaz and Toppy filled the second carriage. Bardin was tense, feeling his responsibilities very acutely. No one would hold him solely responsible for Kieran’s or anyone else’s safety, but he felt it nonetheless. This made him very on-edge, and when he was on-edge he took it out on Bengo. “There’s no need to keep getting at the little guy”, Rumble rebuked him at one point “None of this is his doing”.
Bardin fumed at being dressed-down by Rumble, and Bengo sank lower in his seat, as though hoping to become invisible.
Glynis met them at the Congress Centre, and Ransey demanded that Kieran do his speech immediately and then be taken away. He was like a cat on hot bricks. Large crowds around Kieran always made him nervous, and this one would be worse than most. When Kieran finished making his speech the air would be electric. Kieran was bundled onto the platform, looking as vulnerable as a frail child in the midst of all this overbearing formality and ritual. The difference between him, with his long hair and simple clothes, and the fussy ornateness of his bishops, had never been more marked.
Under orders from Ransey, he kept it brief. He was withdrawing completely from public life, he said. He had increasingly been living in spiritual retreat, and it seemed pointless to continue to be regarded as he head of a church in which he had very little active involvement. He was resigning with immediate effect. He left the platform straight away, and several of his more ardent supporters began to cry.
Bardin paced one of the side rooms, until Bengo, who had been getting increasingly anxious for him, ordered him to sit down. Bengo could get very forceful with Bardin when he chose, and this time he chose. Bardin obeyed, sitting down, but all the while fanning himself frenziedly with his black sombrero-style hat. The others returned from witnessing one of the most dramatic public speeches in years, to find the clowns more interested in their own minor personal disputes.
“You should’ve heard the way they’ve all been going on”, said Tamaz.
Adam was pressuring Kieran to take a swig from Julian’s hip-flask.
“Did you get a load of that ruby ring the chief bishop was wearing?” said Julian “My Mother would have been practically tearing it off his finger!”
“Far more ornate than the one you wore as President, Patsy”, said Adam.
“What do you expect, where the Church is concerned?” said Joby, lugubriously.
Bardin proposed that they move onto the Majestic for dinner, which had been the original plan for their afternoon out when all was said and done. Kieran announced that he wanted to walk there through the streets.
“You’re kidding?” said Bardin “This place is gonna be electric from now on, after what you’ve just done”.
“I’m a free man now”, said Kieran, stubbornly “And free men walk through the streets when they choose”.
“There is no arguing with Patsy when he’s like this”, said Adam, getting into one of the carriages with Julian and Ransey.
“You could at least try!” Ransey snapped “That’s what you’re here for!”
“Oh thank you very much”, Adam snorted “Here, have some of Julian’s brandy, it’ll help you to recover your temper!”
Kieran had collected a long walking-stick from an umbrella stand near one of the side doors, and prepared to set off, ordering Joby to come with him. Joby complained that this was sheer insanity, and Kieran rapped him across the back of his legs sharply with the stick.
“I’m having to sort out both you and Tamaz today”, said Kieran.
The news had reached the streets in no time at all, and Joby found the experience of walking through them bizarre to say the least, like driving a car down a steep mountain road whilst high on cannabis. Faces loomed up near them, gazing in bewilderment. He was dimly aware of Kieran pressing hands with a few, but they didn’t stop at all, and actually reached the Majestic before any of the others, who had got held up in the traffic.
At the Majestic Kieran ordered a couple of beers and they went to sit in the conservatory area to drink them. The small press contingent, who had come to Aspiriola expecting a dull few days covering the Church Congress, couldn’t believe their luck at this sensation story breaking under their noses, and flocked to them, demanding the privilege of taking “a nice picture for our readers”.
“Can we have one of you and Kieran kissing?” one of them asked Joby.
“No you bloody well can’t!” Joby exclaimed, indignantly “Naff off! Bloody cheek you’ve got!”
Kieran sat impassively through this exchange, and as it was well-known that he could mentally switch himself off from a situation if he chose, the press departed, to lie in wait outside for the other Indigo-ites to appear.
“Adam’ll be nicer to ‘em”, said Joby “He always is”.
“Depends how much they pester Lonts though”, said Kieran “He always got riled if they did too much of that”.
“Not today they won’t”, said Joby “It’s you they’re after”.
Lonts could be heard approaching them very soon after, his sandals slapping against the stone floor.
“Hello you two”, he said “We’re here”.
“About bloody time”, said Joby.
He watched with trepidation as Lonts sank heavily onto a fragile-looking wicker chair. He arranged his teddy-bears comfortably on his stomach and proceeded to suck his thumb.
“Are we going home now?” he said.
“That’s up to Bardin”, said Kieran.
“He said it was up to you”, Lonts protested.
“Ah well we’ve reached a bit of an impasse then haven’t we?” Kieran laughed, gently.
There was a commotion as the rest of the Indigo-ites, accompanied by Glynis, wound their way through the main part of the hotel, watched with nervousness and disdain by the residents, who seemed to consist mainly of elderly men in blazers clutching little dogs. A long table had been reserved for them to eat on nearby.
“Of course if you young people want to go off and do you own thing”, said Adam, as they hovered around the table.
“There’s nothing to do in this town, it’s a dump”, said Tamaz, incurring a disgusted look from one of the waiters.
“And we can’t trust you not to get yourself arrested anyway”, said Joby.
“Everybody sit down!” Bardin suddenly barked, having got himself as wound up as a tight spring.
“Give us a chance!” said Joby.
Bardin was in no mood to be reasonable though. Bengo and Rumble were whispering together at the other end of the table, with Bengo casting furtive looks at his partner.
“Bengo!” Bardin pointed imperiously at the empty chair next to him.
“Sit!” said Joby.
Hillyard, as he was the one who was paying, sat at the head of the table.
“This is depressingly beginning to feel like a coach-party”, said Adam.
“I dunno why we have to eat here at all”, said Joby, morosely.
“It gives us an evening off cooking I guess”, Adam sighed.
“I don’t mind doing that”, said Joby.
“Is that so?” said Adam, in astonishment “Can I have that in writing?”
“Don’t start on me, Ad”, said Joby “Not after the day I’ve had, I’m telling yer!”
“Oh you poor little love”, said Adam “I’ll make sure you get in next to me later and I’ll give you a cuddle”.
Glynis was persuaded to stay and dine with them, and was coaxed into the seat between Hillyard and Adam. Mieps was kept firmly out of her range at the other end of the table, next to Julian. Adam could sense that Glynis was desperately lonely. Not only was she estranged from her husband, but she’d been betrayed by the woman she had hoped to count on as a solid friend. Adam felt very sorry for her. He remembered loneliness only too well from his old life, however many years had passed since then. Glynis unfolded under his kindness, and a couple of strong liqueurs.
“Why can’t all men be like gay men?” she said, emotionally.
“I think you’d find it rather frustrating if they were!” said Adam.
“No, I mean in personality”, said Glynis “Gay men are so warm and kind and sensitive”.
“Of course”, said Adam, dryly “Of which Julian is such a perfect example!”
Hillyard guffawed heartily and slapped the table.
“Like you”, said Glynis, playfully nudging Adam’s arm.
“You women have a rather romantic idea about queers”, said Adam “We don’t sit around at home knitting and dispensing worldly wit and wisdom all the time you know. Sometimes we get rather bestial”.
“Do you get bestial with Lonts?” said Glynis, sceptically.
“Usually when he wants to play polar bears”, said Joby.
Adam found Glynis’s tipsy comments rather alarming.
“Why, do you think she’s after you?” said Hillyard, as everyone milled around the table after rising from it at the end of the meal. Glynis was a few feet away, saying goodnight to Kieran.
“Hardly likely, old love”, said Adam “What on earth would she do with a geriatric arse-bandit like me?”
“Have you looked at yourself in the mirror lately?” Hillyard chuckled.
“I’m going go give you an order, Hillyard”, said Adam, sternly “And I want you to follow it most carefully”.
“Shoot”, said Hillyard “Anything for you, precious”.
“Take Glynis up to her suite”.
“It wouldn’t be the first time I’ve had to help her up to her room!”
“And stay the night with her”, said Adam “She needs a bit of love and affection”.
“I’d be glad to”, said Hillyard “But how’s it gonna help her when I leave after breakfast to come back to you lot?”
“That rather depends how much comforting you manage to give her in those few hours!” said Adam “Seriously though, I think she could do with being made to feel wanted. Codlik and Nola between them have managed to make her feel sidelined in the great scheme of things. And be with her as Hillyard the father of her children and her lover, not as Julian’s bum-boy”.
“That’s real deep, Ad”, Hillyard smiled “You ever thought of writing a problem page in a magazine?!”
The first editions of the press the following morning carried a short profile of Joby, blaming him (in a discreet, roundabout way) for Kieran’s resignation, with the headline “A DANGEROUS POWER BEHIND THE THRONE: THE MAVERICK CONSORT”.
“Where did they get all this?” said Joby, reading a copy whilst sitting on the edge of the sloop’s gangplank, dangling his feet over the side “They pluck fucking facts out of thin air!”
“But it WAS your idea, Joby”, said Lonts, who was sitting beside him, and getting increasingly bored with Joby’s ranting “You did tell Kieran to do it, so they got that right”.
“They weren’t there though were they?” said Joby “They couldn’t have known what we said”.
“I expect they just guessed”, Lonts shrugged “Knowing what you’re like”.
Bardin had set the other clowns to work cleaning the forward deck, anxious to make sure that they could hold their own against some of the more swish vessels they were moored alongside. Hoses had been attached to water hydrants on the quayside, which of course was asking for trouble. Lonts enjoyed watching the ensuing slapstick more than listening to Joby complaining.
“That was very funny wasn’t it, Joby?” Lonts giggled, swinging his bare legs in the sunshine.
“Yeah”, Joby grunted, rustling pages of newsprint “Bengo came off worst as usual. One of life’s persecuted victims, bit like me”.
“Looks like you’ve wet your pants, Bengo”, said Bardin, climbing out onto the gangplank “You’d better go and change ‘em”.
“I can’t”, Bengo thundered at him “I’ve got no clean ones. Toppy’s supposed to be in charge of the laundry at the moment and he hasn’t done a damn thing”.
“Toppy said he’s going to try and grow a beard”, said Lonts, contemplatively.
“I see”, said Bengo “So we have to wait until he’s produced a bit of bum-fluff on his face first do we!”
Joby and Lonts laughed at this.
“Don’t encourage him”, said Bardin, agilely stepping over them to get to the quayside, so that he could turn off the hoses at the main.
“He’s a clown”, said Joby “I thought he was there to be laughed at!”
Hillyard returned home in a rickshaw, looking louche and dishevelled in last night’s crumpled best clothes. He had spent his first hour of wakefulness trying to persuade Glynis to throw Codlik and Nola out of the Big House.
“I don’t want the hassle of that”, Glynis had said, tiredly “Anyway, they don’t bother me too much. When I see Nola I’m more bothered that she might start a scene, and that tenses me up. But she doesn’t make my blood boil like Mieps does”.
“Oh Mieps is alright”, said Hillyard, over the breakfast tray “You have to make allowances for the fact that he’s a different species”.
“No I won’t actually”, said Glynis, stubbornly “I don’t see why that menas he should get away with things”.
“He doesn’t get away with anything, not a damn thing”, said Hillyard “Me and Julian see to that. We’ve perfected a way of handling him you see. The main thing is, it’s important not to show any fear”.
“You make it sound like handling a temperamental horse!” said Glynis.
“I suppose it is a bit like that that’s why”, said Hillyard.
They had been interrupted by Leon coming in to say good morning. He had been very matter-of-fact about Hillyard’s presence in his mother’s bedroom.
“I hope he’s not getting cynical”, said Hillyard, when Leon had gone again “That can be a bit upsetting in a little one”.
“He takes after you so much that I don’t worry greatly on that score”, Glynis smiled “He might have been a bit abrasive with you because he gets protective of me. But then little boys tend to be protective of their mothers don’t they?”
“I guess so”, said Hillyard, awkwardly.
“I’m sorry, that was tactless”, said Glynis “You’re so laid-back and in control all the time I forget you had such an institutional start in life. It must have been awful”.
“People always say that these days, but I don’t remember it being too bad”, said Hillyard “Mind you, I suppose I didn’t have anything else to compare it with. Ransey gets more bitter than me about it. He always says it made him emotionally repressed for too long”.
“Leon gets quite horrified at the thought of it”, said Glynis “He’s convinced you were fed on bread and water and beaten everyday”.
“Nah, it weren’t like that”, said Hillyard “The food was a bit basic, but it was healthy, and we were usually made to stand outside as a punishment. Beatings were for the real worst offenders, and even that wasn’t too harsh. It was more of a shaming thing than anything else. I think they did the best they could with us at the time. Then again, perhaps I was just lucky. There were no evil bastards in our camp”.
“I think you’re the sort of person who’d make the best of any situation”, said Glynis, fondly “Does life with the others ever feel like the camp at times?”
“Only when Julian tries chucking his weight around!” said Hillyard “I suppose there might be bits of it, but not a lot. In the camp I just tried to get on with the other boys, ‘cos it made life easier, and it was all we had. Whereas I love this lot, all of ‘em. Sometimes it feels like we all think as one person, it’s uncanny. You should come and spend a bit more time with us you know, it’d do you the world of good. Stop you feeling so tense”.
“I’ve been a bit frightened these last few years of imposing”, said Glynis “I made such a fool of myself over Joby, lost my head, and I feel rather ashamed that I caused Kieran so much unhappiness over it. I barely seemed to consider his feelings at all”.
“It weren’t all your fault”, said Hillyard “Joby didn’t help matters himself at times. What a right awkward little bastard he used to be! Sometimes I’m amazed I never gave him a good slap myself, the way he used to carry on! Not even Julian managed to wind me up like he did!”
“He’s a bit easier these days”, said Glynis.
“Dead easy”, said Hillyard “We just beat him up if he sulks. We should’ve done it years ago! I dunno why we used to worry about his feelings so much! Right, now here’s the deal. I’m gonna call back here later today and see if you’d like to sail back to the Bay with us for a little while. Call it a spiritual retreat if you like, healing your wounds. Your monks in the East Wing will understand that. Bring Lilli and the kids, and anything you need. I don’t know where you’re all gonna sleep on the sloop mind, but we’ll think of something”.
“How will we be able to tell the Big House when we want to go home?” said Glynis “Seeing as you idiots won’t be so civilised as to possess a wireless set!”
“Send your pilot back with a message to forward the yacht on to the Bay”, said Hillyard “That solves that one. And tell Codlik not to come with it!”
Joby asked after Glynis when Hillyard returned to the sloop.
“She might be coming to stay with us for a while”, said Hillyard “So I hope you can behave yourself”.
“Me behave myself?” Joby exclaimed “You’ve got a bloody sauce ent yer! You’re the one who can’t keep his hands to himself! Anyway, I doubt I’ll be allowed out of the galley long enough to misbehave. Still I suppose then I don’t have to read upsetting articles about meself in the rag”.
“I wish you’d stop going on about that, Joby”, said Lonts, in a longsuffering way “It’s really boring”.
“I read that article back at the hotel”, said Hillyard “Don’t let it get you down. Sticks and stones and all that, they can’t harm us. I dunno what they think the point of it is, unless they just want someone to blame. Is everybody in?”
“The old dears have gone out”, said Joby, referring to Adam and Julian “Said they was gonna do a bit of shopping, but I think they just wanted to have a row in peace”.
“What about?” said Hillyard.
“You”, said Joby “Julian’s a bit jealous I think. Reckons Adam put the idea in your head out of spite”.
“Adam was trying to help”, said Lonts, fiercely “Julian had no right to go on like that”.
“Oh don’t worry about it, Lonts”, said Hillyard “Those two spend most of their time looking for an excuse to have a fight! They wouldn’t be happy if they got on with each other!”
He went up to the deck, caught Bengo in his arms like a child and twirled him round. Adam and Julian returned home about the same time, surprisingly genial with one another. They had had “words”, but had then stopped for coffee at a bar in town, and had united to tut-tut over the amount of revolutionary graffiti that had been sprayed over the cloistered area outside. Both agreed it was a crying shame to see such a potentially-attractive spot ruined by political slogans, and came home united with sorrowful indignation. Julian went to sit down on the cushioned sun-lounger on deck and found it had been completely saturated during the clowns’ hose-fight.
“Arses will burn for this!” he roared “Which one’s going to volunteer to be whipping-boy?”
“I think most of it was my fault”, said Rumble, taking a quiet mischievous delight in the thought that Julian wouldn’t get any sexual charge out of chastising him.
“Yours eh?” said Julian, with unconcealed disappointment “Oh”.
“I’d turned the hose on Bengo”, said Rumble “And he was standing in front of the sun-lounger”.
“So it was really Bengo’s fault?” said Julian, hopefully.
Julian didn’t get much chance to chastise anyone though, as suddenly everything began to happen at once. Some goods they had ordered the day before began to arrive, and this continued in a steady flow all morning. A while later Glynis and Leon turned up, both casually dressed, and with a modest amount of luggage.
“It’s just us two joining you”, said Glynis, coming aboard in the midst of the melee “I didn’t think this was any place for the baby, and Lilli hates sailing. The rivers make her nervous enough, let alone the ocean! And Leon’s been filling her head with statistics about how deep it gets in parts. So I’ve sent her home with Louise on the air-buggy. We’ll just stay with you for a couple of weeks. I’ve arranged for the yacht to come and get us at the end of the month”.
“Lilli’d rather fly than sail?” said Hillyard, in total astonishment. He had never entirely conquered his fear of flying.
“Very commendable, old love”, said Adam, looking at their small set of luggage “I had images of you turning up in high heels, with about 50 suitcases!”
“I did live on a boat myself for several years, Adam”, said Glynis.
“One forgets”, said Adam “You’re so much the lady of the manor these days”.
“An old navy tradition”, said Julian, who had been busy pouring out drinks “You must have your daily tot of rum. Come along, prove your toughness by getting it down you”.
“I suppose I’m going to have to put up with a lot of jokes about what a frail useless woman I am”, Glynis groaned.
“Oh yes, and we’re a bastion of rugged manliness!” said Julian, caustically.
Glynis watched with a certain amount of trepidation as Kieran came over. She hoped he wouldn’t think she had come on-board to seduce Joby. Kieran gave her a welcoming kiss and sniffed her hair.
“Mm, smells nice”, he said “You get to notice these things after several days of living on a sloop!”
“As you’ll find out in due course”, said Joby, darkly.
Julian was casting disgruntled looks in Bardin’s direction. Bardin was very busy, supervising the various deliveries, and directing the other clowns as to where everything should go.
“Look at him”, said Julian “Good job we don’t have a captain’s table isn’t it? Because he wouldn’t be on it that’s for certain, he’d be too busy working in the engine room no doubt!”
“Don’t start criticising Bardin again”, said Adam “He has his own way of doing things. He’s a worker, unlike you”.
“Not anymore he’s not”, said Julian “He’s supposed to be the top brass these days”.
Glynis was rather glad Bardin was occupied elsewhere. She found him rather intimidating. He had given her a theatrical kiss on both cheeks when she first arrived and then went back to the unloading.
“He’s a very self-contained person”, she said “Can make him seem rather brusque and dismissive. I’m not surprised he frightens Bengo”.
“It does Bengo good to be frightened”, said Ransey, robustly “Otherwise he’d just have hysterics everywhere”.
“I don’t think he does frighten Bengo actually”, Adam protested “Bengo certainly wasn’t very cowed by him last night. I do wish you’d stop expecting Bardin to do everything exactly the way you did, Jules. It’s very unfair. I’m going to go and start the lunch. Come along, Joby”.
Julian went below to dig out Mieps, who he rightly suspected had hidden himself away in the hold to avoid Glynis.
“I can’t live with her”, Mieps hissed, as Julian dragged him out into the corridor.
“No one’s asking you to”, said Julian “She’s only staying with us for a couple of weeks, and I’m sure she’ll be very civilised”.
“I shall leave”, said Mieps, very nearly gibbering by now.
“You will not”, said Julian, crisply “I’m keeping a very firm hold on you. You’ll never go anywhere without me, even if I have to marry you!”
“Do you take this hermaphrodite to be your lawful wedded wife?” Joby guffawed. He and Adam were spying on them through two small holes in the galley door.
“Isn’t Jules magnificent when he takes control?” said Adam “I bet Mieps is going quite weak at the knees”.
“I shouldn’t think so for one minute”, said Joby, dourly “He’ll probably go and sulk in a corner and spend the rest of the day spitting at us!”
“Damn it, Mieps”, said Julian, gripping Mieps’s jaw between his fingers “I love you”.
“Oh lor”, said Adam, breathlessly “It’s like something out of a Barbara Cartland novel!”
Mieps was wearing a pair of Ransey’s old pyjamas. Julian pulled gently on the cord, and the pants slid down to Mieps’s ankles. Adam pulled Joby away from the door and set him to work beating some eggs.
“You always switch off just as it gets to the interesting bit!” Joby grumbled.
“I expect you can use your imagination to guess what happens next”, said Adam “We are not voyeurs”.
“I would be given half a chance!” said Joby.
Julian came in a few minutes later, pulling up his braces and rearranging his shirt.
“You look positively animal”, said Adam “We’re going to have to be careful at the moment, Jules. We’ve got a child on-board”.
“Doesn’t this sound like a touch of jealousy coming out, Joby?” said Julian.
“Nonsense”, said Adam “I’m merely saying that’s all. We can’t expect a child to live in a den of iniquity”.
“Jealousy!” Julian kissed Adam on the cheek and slapped his arse at the same time.
He then bounded up the wooden steps to the forward deck, whistling. Adam grabbed Joby’s egg-whisk and chucked it after him.
“Hang about!” said Joby, going to retrieve it “I’m gonna have to wash that now! Glynis’ll think we’re uncivilised”.
“Where Julian’s concerned, she’d be right!” said Adam, crossly.
After lunch Adam showed Glynis her new quarters, a section of the hold, in which they’d put two camp-beds and a hurricane lamp.
“It’s not much of a guest-room I’m afraid”, said Adam, apologetically, thinking it looked even worse now that Glynis was seeing it “But it’s really all we can do. It wouldn’t be advisable for you and the boy to come in with us. We can’t be guaranteed to behave. Absolutely anything can happen during the night sometimes”.
“With 16 people in one bed I’m not surprised!” said Glynis. “Sometimes it’s like puppies frolicking in a hayloft”, said Adam, whimsically.
“I should have sent Leon home as well obviously!” said Glynis.
“Probably best to leave your door open”, said Adam “Otherwise the reek from the horses on the other side of the wooden partition might get a bit much”.
“Leon will find it all very exciting I’m sure”, said Glynis, stoically.
They stayed in the harbour that night, which found itself in the grip of a fog-bank. Glynis woke up after midnight to hear the horns going off from the coastguard station. She had always found it an exceptionally mournful sound, and it unsettled her. Leon wanted to pretend that he found it all very exciting, but he was unnerved.
“I’m glad you’re here, Momma”, he said, when she leant over his camp-bed to check on him.
“Everything alright in here?” said Hillyard, from the doorway.
“Can’t any of you sleep either?” said Glynis, hearing voices from the cabin.
“No, it all feels a bit unsettling”, Hillyard whispered to her, so that Leon wouldn’t be unnecessarily frightened by what he was saying.
“Fog always is”, said Glynis “It takes me back to my barge days. It’s so hot in here too”.
“Take your pyjamas off then”, said Hillyard “None of us’ll mind. You didn’t worry too much about it in the old days”.
“I was younger then”, said Glynis, ruefully “And I hadn’t had two children!”
“You’ll probably find Kieran’s magic’s working on you too”, said Hillyard.
“Anybody want a drink?” said Toppy “I’m going to the galley you see”.
“Did you hear that our kid’s trying to grow a beard, Glynis?” said Hillyard.
“What do you want to do that for?” said Glynis “You’ve got far too lovely a face to go covering it up”.
“It’ll make me look older”, said Toppy “Then I might be able to intimidate the clowns”.
“It’ll take more ‘en a beard to do that!” said Hillyard.
“A whip and a chair at least I would’ve thought”, said Glynis.
A speculative look crossed Toppy’s face, as though he was seriously considering this idea. He went away to the galley, deep in thought.
“What a solemn little thing he is!” Glynis chuckled.
“Real deep is our Toppy”, said Hillyard.
The others were drifting around below-deck, in varying degrees of wakefulness. Farnol had taken one of Finia’s new glossy magazines and was trying out a quiz on Bengo.
“It’s to find out how suited you are to a committed relationship”, said Farnol, as they sat just inside the cabin-door.
“Oh I never like these magazine quizzes”, said Bengo “I can never get the hang of the scoring”.
“You leave me to worry about that”, said Farnol “First question. You have been having a brief but intense affair which is now over, but you feel you have to tell your partner about it. Do you (a) break it to them gently over a nice meal, (b) get down on your knees and beg their forgiveness, or (c) say bluntly that it will never happen again, but it wasn’t all your fault as these things happen”.
“I-I think I’d hope Bardy wouldn’t find out”, said Bengo.
“You can’t use that one, that one is not an option”, said Farnol “You would have to tell him”.
“W-would I?” Bengo quailed at the thought “Couldn’t I just throw myself under a train instead?!”
Kieran stood behind Farnol and took the magazine out of his hands.
“I notice it doesn’t have an option that says I wouldn’t have the focking affair in the first place!” said Kieran.
“Very promiscuous these magazines aren’t they?” said Farnol “Encourage all sorts of depravity when you think about it”.
“The quizzes obviously should have a sub-section for hypocritical Catholics”, said Julian, who was writing the logbook at his desk.
“Can’t any of you lot hear that bell ringing?” Joby burst into the cabin in great agitation.
“It’s Quazimodo!” said Julian, drawing leisurely on his cigar.
“There’s a bell ringing in the distance, I can hear it”, said Joby.
“Joby calm down, it’s no big deal”, said Kieran, gripping his shoulders “It’s probably just someone on one of the other boats”.
“I heard something like it before”, said Joby “When we had sailed round the Horn of Wonder”.
“What a very bleak part of the world that was”, said Adam.
“Right out in the middle of nowhere, a bell ringing on the ocean”, said Joby “It didn’t make sense”.
“Here we’re in a harbour”, said Ransey, firmly “So here it does make sense”.
“I’ve never noticed him have hysterics about bells ringing before”, said Julian.
“It’s the fog disturbing him”, said Kieran “Brings back memories of last winter”.
The boat gave a sudden dramatic lurch as though a large sea-animal was swimming right underneath them and had banged against the hull. Bardin, who had been checking the animals in the hold, decided to go up on deck and see that everything was still as it should be. Only he was amazed when Tamaz flattened himself back against the quarterdeck steps and refused to let him pass. His little fists were gripping the handrail so firmly that his knuckles were white.
“Has everyone taken leave of their senses?” said Bardin, in annoyance.
“You felt the boat move just then didn’t you?” said Tamaz, wild-eyed.
“Yes, that’s exactly why I want to go up and check over things topside”, said Bardin “Tamaz, if you don’t let me pass, I’ll lift you out of the way or climb over you”.
“I’ll fight you”, Tamaz squawked “I’ll bite you in the balls!”
“This is crazy”, said Bardin “Oh, I’ll bargain with you. Give it a while, but if that movement happens again I’m going up aloft, and I’ll flatten you if you try to stop me!”
Tamaz shrugged and let go of the handrails.
“Is the kid alright?” Hillyard asked Glynis, referring to Leon.
“Shaken more than he’s letting on”, said Glynis “He’s read too many stories about sea-monsters! Hillyard, I think I’ll have to take him home in the morning. It’s a shame I know, but I have to put his welfare above all else”.
“Yeah you’re right”, said Hillyard “Too many strange things happen around us sometimes. Are you gonna be alright when you get back to the Big House?”
“I’ve only got Codlik to face, not sea-monsters”, said Glynis.
“I think I’d rather have the sea-monsters!” said Hillyard “I suppose people would say if I was any kind of a father I’d come home with you”.
“You’ve led an extraordinary life”, said Glynis “I can’t expect you to give up Kieran and all that goes with him. That’s true isn’t it?”
“It is”, said Hillyard, quietly “It seems all I can do is provide for you. You deserve better luck with blokes, Glynis”.
“Who knows what may happen in the future?” said Glynis “I’m going to worry about your return journey though”.
Bardin was pacing up and down the corridor nearby, with his hands on his hips, muttering to himself. Glynis halted him and arranged with him that her pilot should fly over the Bay area in a few days time. Bardin arranged a signal on the beach that would mean they’d all arrived safely, and another one if, God forbid, anything had gone wrong.
“Like anyone is injured”, said Bardin “Or … or … well you know”.
“Quite”, said Glynis.
There was a thumping sound overhead as though a large rubber pipe was being dragged across the deck. Leon ran out into the corridor and threw his arms round Glynis’s waist for protection.
“Go through into the cabin”, said Bardin “In fact everybody go through into the cabin!”
Although very disturbing, the dragging sound overhead was the final inexplicable noise they heard that night. From then on it was just the intermittent wail of the fog-horns.
Bardin prowled the forward deck in the hot morning sunshine.
“Nothing”, he said to Ransey “Not a trace of anything. Do you think it could have been some kind of large sea-creature?”
“Seems the most likely thing”, said Ransey.
None of the other boats gave any indication that they had had a disturbing night at all. A black dog was running along the quayside, barking merrily.
“Usually a sign of bad weather coming”, one of their neighbours shouted “When he starts barking and the arthritis plays up in my knee!”
Leon was feeling dejected a the thought of going home. With the return of the sun he had almost forgotten his terror during the night, and now could only remember that he would be expected to return to the school on the estate when harvesting was done. He sat next to Bengo on a box, and watched Farnol, Rumble and Hoowie playing football on the deck, using a bundle of old rags that had been soaked in water and then left to bake dry in the sun.
“You were lucky”, said Leon “You never had to go to school. You never had to have lessons”.
“We did have some”, said Bengo “A local tutor used to come in a couple of times a week and give us the basics. He wasn’t very reliable though. I think he used to get sidetracked by the bar. I used to forget everything from one lesson to the next. The others were better, they could remember things for longer. I used to sit at the back and hope he wouldn’t notice me”.
“Your problem is laziness, pure and simple”, said Ransey, censoriously “Sheer laziness. You think if you can act stupid it’ll get you out of doing things”.
“That told you”, said Bardin, sitting down on the deck.
“Mean old basket”, said Bengo, after poking his tongue out at Ransey’s back.
Kieran and Joby came up on deck a few minutes later to find Leon joining in the football, and Bardin kissing Bengo, his hand thrust into the bib of Bengo’s dungarees.
“Let’s do what they’re doing”, said Kieran.
“I ent in the mood”, Joby grunted.
“Am I supposed to have no focking feelings or something?” said Kieran, irritably “I have me needs as well you know!”
“Sorry Kiel”, Joby put his arms round him.
“No I’m sorry”, said Kieran “I shouldn’t have spoken to you like that”.
“I like it when you do”,s aid Joby “It means you’re totally human then, and sex seems to be the only way I can give you anything. I can’t make the big gestures like you’ve done for me, like when you abdicated, and when you left the Church. You must’ve given away more than any bloke in history has ever done”.
“I can’t imagine the sane ones wanting any of it in the first place!” said Kieran.
“I don’t mean to get all abrupt with you”, said Joby, leaning his forehead against Kieran’s.
“I know that”, Kieran kissed him.
“No stop!” Joby suddenly exclaimed, pulling away “What are we doing? Leon’s here!”
He stomped over to Bengo and Bardin and yanked them apart.
“There’s a kid here!” he shouted.
“But we’re only having a cuddle”, Bengo protested.
“No you was not only having a cuddle”, said Joby “You was kissing!”
Kieran drew an exaggerated intake of breath.
“Leon hadn’t been taking any notice of us until you started shouting”, said Bardin “Anyway, he’s seen us canoodling before”.
“Maybe, but it ent right”, said Joby.
“What are you carrying on about now, ugly git?” said Hillyard, who was just come up on deck.
“He doesn’t stand a chance with a father like you”, said Joby.
“Joby, c’mon behave now”, said Kieran, who was quietly finding it all very amusing “There’s certainly no need to get insulting”.
“Well the poor little bastard doesn’t stand a chance does he!” said Joby.
“He seems to be doing alright to me”, said Hillyard “Stop moaning, or I’ll call you an old killjoy. Let’s go for a walk in the sunshine, and smell the horse-dung in the streets!”
Glynis and Leon walked back to the Majestic as though they were taking part in a bridal-procession. The Indigo-ites were used to walking out together en-masse, and no longer considered what an awesome sight they were. Julian bought a newspaper in the hotel foyer, read the front page, and then had to go outside as he felt unwell. Ransey and Kieran followed him.
“Proof that however long I live I still haven’t heard everything”, said Julian, shakily “What kind of monster, depraved monster, can do such a thing?”
“Someone who must hate women beyond out comprehension”, said Kieran “It’s the ultimate desecration of the female body”.
A woman’s decomposing corpse had been uncovered in a shallow grave just outside the city walls. The body had been severely mutilated, and a dead fish put up her vagina, and the lips of her labia sewn together with darning-wool.
“He’ll be caught”, said Ransey “Doing something like that he should’ve left plenty of clues”.
“Jack the Ripper was never caught”, said Julian.
“Not that we know of anyway”, said Kieran.
“I’ll suggest to Bardin that we stay here until Glynis has been taken off”, said Julian “I wouldn’t feel easy leaving her in this town with a psycho like that at large”, he turned to Kieran and said with gallow’s humour “Not one of your lot was it?”
“They’re not my lot anymore”, said Kieran “Didn’t you take any notice of what I did yesterday!”
Back inside the hotel all the others, including Glynis and Leon, were drinking fruit cocktails in the conservatory.
“Anything in the paper?” said Glynis, reaching to take it from Julian.
“Nothing you want to see”, said Julian, withholding it from her.
“Be like that then”, said Glynis “I’ll buy a copy when you’ve gone instead”.
“Sometimes you’re worse than Tamaz!” said Julian, sitting on the paper, in case Leon got any ideas about reading it.
“I am proud to live in this town!” someone screamed from the main doorway, a middle-aged man mad-eyed with anger, and self-consciously dressed in rags. Self-consciously because they weren’t his usual attire, he had put them on at home that morning in order to make his angry point “Proud that most of us have so little whilst the rest of you have so much. I shall stand on the beach and shake my fist at the rest of the world, for not being us! Waving our new flag so proudly. I …”
“Get him out”, the manager hissed at two stewards.
“I thought the revolution was supposed to cure all that”, said Adam “Make everything here equal”.
“Oh you poor sad innocent!” said Julian.
“I don’t think there’s any need to take that attitude, Jules”, said Adam, rattled “You’ve always made fun of my socialist beliefs. At school you were always doing it. And yet if it hadn’t been for campaigns by left-wing boys like me they’d have still had archaic old rules in that had been there for hundreds of years”.
“I quite liked those archaic old rules”, said Julian.
“Yeah I bet you did!” said Joby.
“Mm, particularly anything to do with younger boys and slippers”, said Adam, caustically.
“My darling angel”, said Julian “You can have whatever beliefs you like, it is your right as free human being, but I also have the right to laugh at them if I think they’re absurd!”
“What’s absurd about being a socialist then?” said Joby.
“Nothing”, said Julian “Except when aristocratic idealists like Adam choose to be one, and then it all gets rather silly. And as to regarding the idea that revolutions actually change anything, that is equally daft. Think of Soviet Russia, with its separate traffic lanes for the elite in power, and its exclusive shops for those in the first circle. It’s a relief Adam wasn’t around in that era. He’d have probably defected there like Burgess and Maclean”.
“Rubbish!” said Adam, hotly “I would never have betrayed my own country, however infuriated I might have got with it. Never!”
“Not even to go and live in a land full of strapping young men like Lonts?” said Julian.
“I’m quite satisfied with one of him, thank you”, said Adam.
“One’s enough!” said Joby.
“I might not be the only Kiskevian left in the world you know”, said Lonts, rather unexpectedly “I’d forgotten all about Akim”.
“Who’s he?” said Joby, in complete astonishment.
“Akim was banished from the village for stealing food, a few months before the fire”, said Lonts “He was sent to the mountains. Nobody ever saw him again, so he could still be there”.
“But Lo-Lo, why didn’t you ever mention him before?” said Adam “We could have tried to have him traced. It wouldn’t be easy, it’s such an inhospitable area, but …”
“Oh I never liked Akim”, said Lonts, matter-of-factly “He was one of the boys who used to make fun of me all the time. I wasn’t upset to see him go. I’d forgotten all about him until just now”.
“So he could still be lurking up there after all these years?” said Joby “Like the Abominable Snowman. Someone like you! The thought send shivers down my spine!”
A lengthy lunch-party took place in the conservatory, whilst they waited for Glynis’s air-buggy to be made ready. She found eating with them like taking part in a chimps’ tea-party, riotous and enjoyable. Afterwards she went to the Ladies, cadging a newspaper from the attendant, so that she could read the news Julian had been sitting on for the past couple of hours. When she finally emerged from the room, she found Joby and Kieran roaming around hand-in-hand, waiting for her.
“Wondered where you’d got to, you were so long”, said Joby, clapping a hand on her shoulder.
They rounded the corner to find Bengo strolling up and down outside the Gents, waiting for Bardin, with his hands in his pockets and his bum cleavage well in evidence. He was being watched from the bar by a very old woman in a veil and fur-stole, who was eating him with her eyes.
“Shit, she looks like Caln’s mother!” said Kieran, shivering at the thought of those bony, clawlike hands all over his body. Like being touched up by one of the living dead.
“Probably find she is”, said Joby.
When Bardin came out, Joby had a go at him.
“He shouldn’t be allowed out looking like that”, he said, pointing at Bengo.
“I know, I should’ve got him to put a shirt on before we came out”, said Bardin.
“A shirt?” said Joby “He hasn’t even got any pants on, let alone a shirt!”
“Not another of your bloody morality lectures, Joby”, said Kieran “Glynis, doesn’t it make you glad you’re going home after all?”
Not really. Glynis and Leon were very emotional when the Indigo-ites took them out to the landing-strip.
“I read that article after all”, she said to Julian.
“I might’ve known you’d find a way”, said Julian “Now you know why I was trying to keep it from you”.
“It’ll be a while before I can eat fish again!” said Glynis “Take care now. I hope Mieps doesn’t give you too much trouble in the near future”.
“I’ll flog him to within an inch of his life if he does!”
Glynis moved on to Kieran and embraced him.
“I think you’re far more at risk in this town than me”, she said.
“We’ll be leaving immediately you’re gone”, he reassured her.
She embraced Hillyard next, but they said very little. Everything was perfectly understood between them.
They used the engine to steer out of the harbour. Once beyond the breakwaters though, it was switched off and the main sail unfurled.
“That always thrills me so much”, said Adam, leaning back against the bulwark “I feel like I’m on Viking longship”.
Now they were out on the sparkling blue ocean, Bardin went below deck where he told Bengo to wait for him in the cabin. He slid off the dungarees, to reveal that his penis was already at half-cock.
“It’s not gonna take much to bring you to the brink”, said Bardin “This is gonna take immaculate timing”.
He put Bengo across his knees and gave him a few hard spanks to bring him up to full tilt. Bengo groaned “oh here it comes, here it comes”, as he felt as though he was on a funfair ride approaching the top of a run, before the sharp, exhilarating drop downwards. Bardin quickly stood him on his head and gobbled his penis into his mouth, to take the full eruption of the juices when they came.
Adam and Joby were in the galley, preparing supper when the two clowns ran through, butt-naked.
“Couldn’t you two use the other staircase?” said Adam, plaintively.
“No, we wanted to titillate you”, said Bardin, following Bengo up the wooden steps to the forward deck.
“Well go and torture Julian instead”, Adam shouted after them “He deserves it!”
“I had a glance through the door whilst they were at it”, said Hillyard, sitting with Julian and Finia on the main deck, as the two naked clowns hurtled past them as well “Seems like you was a bit slow to discipline Bengo, Julian”.
“Haven’t you got an engine to man?” Julian snapped.
“In case you haven’t noticed”, said Hillyard “The sail’s up. We don’t need the engine!”
Ransey came down from the poop-deck, and helped himself to the carafe of wine that they were sitting around.
“You’d better steady on there, mate”, said Hillyard “Or you’ll be in danger of enjoying yourself!”
“I can relax now that we’re away from that accursed town”, said Ransey “The ship is free of intruders, and Kieran’s where I can keep control of him. It’s just us, the sloop, and the ocean”.
“And the sea-monster”, said Hillyard.
“At least it’s not the bloody Church!” Ransey muttered.
“Goodbye to Aspiriola”, said Julian “Town of failed revolutions and perverted sex-murderers”.
“Dolphins!” Tamaz squawked, running along the outer edge of the deck “Somebody fetch Joby, he should see the dolphins!”
A small school of dolphins were leaping in smooth arcs in and out of the waves, and everyone watched, enchanted.
“16 ARE ALL O.K”.
Was what the large symbols in the sand said. The younger ones had etched them out several hours before, and then sat around on the beach, waiting for any sign of the air-buggy to go over. It was now getting dark, and they had had to light a fire in the sand to help floodlight their message.
Tamaz was idly doodling on the sand, a twig stuck between his toes. Bardin and Rumble were talking on one set of rocks, watched by Bengo and Farnol on another set. Bardin had recently decided that Rumble was to be his deputy, his first lieutenant, as Adam had been Julian’s during the days of the first Indigo. Farnol noticed that Bengo had been rather sulky about this. “I’m not jealous”, he snapped.
“Sounds like you is to me”, said Farnol, still lazily watching the sky.
“I just think Bardy took me for granted by not discussing it with me first”, said Bengo.
“Take you for granted?” said Farnol, sounding unusually annoyed “He couldn’t do that if he tried! I saw that guy after you’d run off and left him in the Village of Stairs. He looked like he’d had his guts removed! I don’t think he’ll ever be able to take you for granted every again! Get real, man!”
Bengo felt terrible after being told off by Farnol. He barely noticed the air-buggy when it finally appeared. When it had gone again they put out the fire, and went back through the forest to the Castle. Once home, Bengo ran up to a room on the first floor to be alone. This room was a the extreme western end of the house, directly over the pantry and under the main attic bedroom. At one time it must have been some poor longsuffering servant’s bedroom, as there was still a very narrow bedstead in it. The room wasn’t used by the Indigo-ites at all. Being so small it got far too hot and stuffy, and it was completely dominated by the main hot water tank, which emitted a violent banging noise everytime a tap was turned on anywhere in the house.
“What the hell are you doing in here?” said Bardin, yanking open the door, which opened outwards into the first-floor corridor.
“I needed to be alone”, said Bengo, from the bedstead.
“O.K, but why pick in here?” said Bardin, carrying in a candle in a holder into the room, which was now riddled with shadows “You’d panic like crazy when you realised how dark it had got, like you used to do when the other clowns locked you in the props-room that time. ‘Boo-hoo Bardy, I’m so scared of the dark!’”
“I’m not a kid anymore”, said Bengo.
“Yes you are”, said Bardin, setting the candle on the floor and then sitting down beside it “You always will be. Are you peeved with me ‘cos of me making Rumble my deputy? I know I should’ve mentioned it really, but I suppose I thought you’d understand”.
“Yeah, I understand that you needed someone with a brain”, said Bengo, sourly.
“I’m sorry”, Bardin stroked his thigh “I didn’t mean you to get offended”.
“Farnol told me off”, said Bengo, going on to relate the conversation he’d had with him on the beach.
“Oops”, said Bardin “That was quite a scolding you got! I didn’t think Farnol would be any good at that”.
“Bardy, I’m not surprised you hated me when we worked at the Little Theatre”, Bengo sniffed “You used to treat me like the set-dressing, and I don’t blame you, after dumping you the way I did. I must’ve put you through misery”.
“You’re making me cry”, Bardin brushed away some tears on his face “Stop it. You were always brilliant at pathos!”
“It’s a horrible thing to think you’ve caused someone such harm”, said Bengo, sounding very mature for once “Just through being bloody thoughtless”.
“I might have hated you in those days”, said Bardin “And I think I did. But I still had to be near you. That time when I lived alone in the Village of Stairs was the worst in my entire life. I’d put up with anything than go back to that. You were all I had for too long, my entire family. I couldn’t have given you up, it would have been asking too much of anyone”.
He climbed onto the narrow confines of the bed and they held each other close, as they had done when they were very small children, and they’d cry together because they were all that they had in the entire world.
The hot water tank started its thunderous banging.
“Fucking thing!” said Bardin, looking across at it “It’s like the fucking family poltergeist!”
They went down to the kitchen, where Adam and Joby were putting the finishing touches to supper. Lonts was sitting at the table, deep in thought, as though pondering matters of grave significance to the human race. Toppy was carrying things through into the dining-room, and looking very harassed about it.
“Bengo, go and tell those lazy twats in the library that supper’s ready”, said Adam.
“Me?” said Bengo, looking significantly at Lonts.
“Yeah you”, said Joby “Go and get on with it, or you’ll feel my hand on your backside”.
“Oo er!” said Adam.
The small gathering in the library actually seemed to be using it for what libraries were intended for, i.e reading. All except Finia, who was embroidering a cushion cover, and Julian, who was looking vaguely worried about something, tapping the poker lightly against the sole of his foot, and staring into the unlit fireplace.
“Dinner’s ready”, said Bengo, as though uncertain how this news would be received.
There was a general lethargic grunting and groaning as everyone heaved themselves off chairs, sofas and windowseats. Kieran cast an inscrutable look at Julian, who was the only one to remain seated.
“Aren’t you hungry, Julian?” Bengo leaned over him in concern “Everyone else has gone into supper”.
Julian stared into Bengo’s handsome little face.
“Sometimes Bengo”, he said “I would give anything to be like you”.
“Stupid you mean?” said Bengo.
“Innocent, unread, guileless”, said Julian.
“Bardy says things like that”, said Bengo “I think it’s just a polite way of saying that I’m a halfwit!”
“You’re not a halfwit”, said Julian “Even if I have called you one at times”.
“Something’s bothering you isn’t it?” said Bengo “It has been since we left Aspiriola”.
“You see, you’re very perceptive really”, said Julian.
“Now you’re making fun of me!” said Bengo.
“Perhaps”, said Julian “But I don’t mean it unpleasantly”.
“Was it that woman who got killed?” said Bengo “It was a nasty story, I’m not surprised it’s upset you. You seemed really shaken up about it when you read it in the paper”.
“I feel that there’s a clue in there somewhere that has to do with everything that’s happened to us”, said Julian “All to do with the manner in which she died. And last Christmas too. Oh God, it’s all so bloody obscure!”
Bengo stared at him in frustration. He couldn’t even begin to comprehend what Julian was on about. Julian looked at him fondly, almost imagining he could see the rusty cogs desperately grinding into action in Bengo’s brain.
“P-perhaps”, Bengo hazarded “You should talk with Bardy about it”.
Julian roared with laughter and kissed him on his forehead.
“Bengo, you are worth your weight in gold”, he said “Now let’s go and eat”.
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