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Towards the end of the month Kieran found he was becoming a tourist attraction. Unbeknown to him his announcement that he was “withdrawing from public life” had fuelled speculation as to what could be so marvellous about his retreat lifestyle, that it could make him give up all the pleasures of life in the public eye. Was it really true that he saw no one at the Bay but the other Indigo-ites? And that in spite of their vast wealth they lived in very basic conditions?
Newspapers ran articles theorising as to why people had always felt the need to try out such an existence (well it was August after all, and the pages had to be filled somehow). There was a dangerous undercurrent to all this froth though. Kieran’s behaviour had made people look at his Church (or rather ex-Church) with jaundiced eyes. If he could live without ceremonial rings, silk robes and silver collection plates, why couldn’t they? The age-old grumble that “the Church is always asking for money” began to be heard more and more. All this was dangerous simply because it could fuel even more the bitterness that some of the worst priests felt towards Kieran and his massive and enduring popularity. It seemed that now he had resigned and left the scene he was becoming even more of a problem. Some muttered darkly that he had probably known this would happen and had done it on purpose. He was even more of a marked man than ever, as far as they were concerned.
The Entertainments Manager of Aspiriola hired a small but luxurious yacht, and some fo the more elite of the powers-that-be in the town council booked places on it, for a mini-cruise down the coast to The Bay At The Edge Of The World. When they finally rounded the point on which the ruined lighthouse stood, some of the more sensitive ones of the party felt a shiver of unease. The area was undeniably beautiful, but it all felt a bit odd and off-kilter, as though there was some strange magic at work in the air.
The unease continued when they dropped anchor. The sloop had been shifted to the river at the top of the field. It was more convenient for the Indigo-ites when they were at the Castle to have it there, and it kept it sheltered from any large waves that swelled up in the Bay itself. So the yacht was able to dock at the jetty with no problem, and the holiday-makers disembarked.
The peacefulness of the clearing disconcerted them even more. The Indigo-ites used it often, and there were signs of their habitation scattered all around, from the empty washing-line, to some abandoned bedding in the round hut, to one of Joby’s neat vegetable gardens.
“I hadn’t expected it to be so quiet”, grumbled one middle-aged woman with big teeth “I thought they’d all be here, doing things, like cooking and repairing the buildings. We could have watched them at work. Where are they all?”
“I expect this means they’re down at Midnight Castle”, said the Entertainments Manager, who had possession of a very old map of the area, and even that gave no clues as to the place’s history, merely describing everything as ‘derelict’ or ‘abandoned’.
“Where’s Midnight Castle?” said the husband of Big Teeth “I can’t see anything that looks like a castle”.
“It’s about a mile-or-so down through the forest”, said the Entertainments Manager.
“A mile-or-so?” said Big Teeth, in dismay “Have we got to walk it?”
The Entertainments Manager felt like snapping “how the hell else do you think you’re going to get there?” but, with long experience, he held his tongue.
“I can hear voices. Ssh, listen!” said Joby, who was collecting eggs with Lonts.
“That’ll be the others playing in the maze”, said Lonts.
“No, it’s coming from the forest”, said Joby “It’s more pissing visitors! I don’t believe it!”
He ran into the kitchen where Kieran was fooling about with Adam.
“Visitors!” Joby cried “Almost on top of us! Kieran, get upstairs and hide”.
“Why?” said Kieran.
“You know why!” said Joby.
He pushed Kieran through the door that opened out from the stairs behind the stove and pushed him up it, as though he was shoving him up to a priest’s hole. Kieran ran up the stairs and made for the upstairs loo, where he would get a good view of anyone approaching the front of the house. He took care that he couldn’t be seen from the outside, and spied out on their intruders.
“Tourists!” he gave a laugh of relief when he saw them “Just tourists, that’s all”.
He began to cry and slid to the floor. The relief was overwhelming. It wasn’t a posse from his Church come to arrest him for heresy, not today anyway.
Julian had escaped like a cat out of the library window, marvelling to himself at how easy he found it to climb onto the windowseat and up over the ledge. Stepping down into the shrubbery on the other side wasn’t so marvellous, but to him it was satisfaction enough that, at his biological age, he had managed it at all. He trotted up the stone staircase that led externally up to their bedroom.
He found Bardin asleep by himself in the room, lying on his back in the four-poster with his arms flung out. Julian soaked a flannel from the bowl on the washstand and assaulted Bardin with it.
“Visitors on our doorstep”, said Julian, when Bardin had woken up suddenly “A bunch of tourists. Now suddenly we’re the fifth millennium’s answer to Disneyland! Go downstairs and do your Captainly duty, and find out what it is the bastards want”.
“Where’s Bengo?” Bardin barked. If there were strangers on the premises then he wanted to know exactly where Bengo was at all times, and who he was with.
“Last I saw of him he was heading towards the maze”, said Julian.
“Is he upset about something?” said Bardin “He sometimes runs to the maze when he’s in a tizz. Tamaz has to go and dig him out again”.
(Tamaz was about the only one who could find his way round the maze quickly).
“Freaky was with him”, said Julian “And Bengo didn’t look very upset to me! Rather excited and anticipatory I would’ve said”. “They could have woken me up first”, said Bardin, grumpily putting on his trousers.
“Never mind them”, said Julian “Sort those bloody visitors out, and if they start wanting cream teas and souvenir homemade wine, send them packing pronto!”
The visitors were awed by the size and austerity of the Great Hall. They had found the front door open and so had simply walked in, as if Midnight Castle was a village church. They stood gazing up at the raftered roof, then at the vast marble fireplace. There was the battered upright piano, the box of skittles, a jumble of fishing-rods thrown carelessly onto the windowseat. They had already edged past the bicycle in the porch. Never before had the Indigo-ites looked so monastic.
“There’s no door-knocker”, said an elderly woman, fractiously “You’ll have to shout or something”.
“Perhaps they use this instead”, said the Entertainments Manager, brightly, seizing the handbell from the mantelpiece. (It never occurred to him or his party that the Indigo-ites, living in almost complete seclusion in the wilds of nowhere, had had no need for a doorknocker. The handbell was for summoning each other).
He rang the bell which sounded like bonging of Big Ben in this echoey room.
“Can I help you?” said Bardin, stepping majestically down the wide marble staircase.
“Ah!” the Entertainments Manager doffed his sun-hat. He requested that they be allowed to have their picnic lunch by the river. Bardin agreed. “Then perhaps we could have a look round?”
“A look round?” said Bardin, in alarm.
“Oh we promise not to intrude”, said Big Teeth, who didn’t quite know how to approach this rather fierce-looking little man with the crooked mouth “We just want to observe you going about your day-to-day activities”.
Bardin looked even more alarmed.
“O.K”, he said “But we’d appreciate it if you didn’t go upstairs”.
The women in the party all uttered cries of disappointment. These turned to audible gasps of awe when Julian came down the staircase behind Bardin. Tall, handsome, golden-haired Julian in his black silk pyjamas. A couple of the women were even surreptitiously patting their hair, and wishing the walk through the forest hadn’t made them so hot and sweaty.
“Our little Captain looking after you alright?” he said, suavely, making Bardin sound about five-years-old.
“Who are these bunch of jerks?” Tamaz squawked, with thorough indignation, from the front door.
The visitors turned with looks of horrified fascination towards Tamaz, clad as usual in his drawers and silk vest.
“Ignore Brother Freaky”, said Julian “He’s seriously deranged”.
He deftly steered Tamaz into the gun-room and there, to the disappointment of the women, he stayed with the little wretch. Bengo, who had come into the house behind Tamaz, smiled sheepishly, and in his half-naked state, offered ample compensation.
“Extraordinary creature”, said the husband of Big Teeth, referring to Tamaz.
“He’s got great tits though”, said Bengo.
Bardin gaped at Bengo, his mouth hanging open in appalled astonishment.
“What the fuck made you come out with that?” he said, having got Bengo behind the library door once their guests had gone outside for their picnic.
“I don’t know”, said Bengo, horrified at himself “I just said the first thing that came into my head!”
“It’s always bad news when you start ad-libbing”, said Bardin, waspishly.
“I’m sorry, Bardy”, said Bengo, wretchedly “Anyway, why are you so worried what they might think of us?”
“I don’t know”, said Bardin “I guess it must be for Kieran’s sake”.
Joby was alone in the kitchen, peeling the shells off a load of hardboiled eggs. Alone that is until Hillyard breezed in through the back door, humming a raunchy tune and unravelling himself from his shirt as he did so.
“I thought you was supposed to be cleaning out the guttering”, said Joby.
“Have a heart, miserable sod”, said Hillyard “It’s about 100 in the shade out there by now. You can’t expect a man to work up a ladder outside in these conditions. I thought I’d come in here and try it on with you instead”.
“We’ve got visitors”, said Joby, gloomily. “They’re round the front though”, said Hillyard.
“It’s the thin end of the wedge you know”, said Joby “Soon this’ll be happening all the time. We’ll have boatloads of ‘em turning up everyday, wanting to come and watch us working”.
“Nah, we’re a bit too out-the-way here for all that”, said Hillyard.
Julian dragged Tamaz into the room by his elbow, having manhandled him all through the gun-room, the laundry-room, the library, and down the long cloister-like back corridor which connected the library to the kitchen.
“Joby, get some clothes on this creature”, said Julian.
“You’re hurting my arm”, said Tamaz.
“And get it to behave”, said Julian “It needs calming down”.
Tamaz blew a raspberry.
“Tamaz!” said Joby, who could see Tamaz was in a very excitable state indeed “Come and sit down over here”.
Tamaz sat down at the kitchen table but began to drum his heels on the floor.
“Don’t do that, you’ll hurt yourself”, said Joby “Here, have a drink of water. And if you chuck it anywhere I’ll give you a good hiding”.
Tamaz blew another raspberry, but then took a couple of sips of water.
Julian went over to the dining-room door and met Adam coming in just as he was leaving through it.
“Ah, it’s that dear sweet little old lady who bakes our apple pies”, Julian gushed.
“Oh go and boil your head, Jules”, said Adam “Hang on a minute, where are you going in fact?” “I thought I’d pop out the front and have a word with our guests”, said Julian, silkily.
“Oh no you don’t!” Adam exclaimed.
“They’d love it, dear heart”, said Julian “Think how excited they’ll be telling all their friends when they get home. ‘Just imagine, dahlings, Mr Julian himself came out and joined us for tea’!”
“Julian, no!” Adam cried, in despair, but Julian had left via the dining-room.
“What are you getting all uptight about?” said Joby “It gets him out of our hair for a while, and I spect the daft old biddies’ll go nuts over him”.
“He’ll make fun of them”, said Adam “They won’t realise it, but he will. It’s so cruel, he’ll set little traps for them everywhere. They’ll think they’re being so witty and clever, and all the time he’s quietly mocking them because they’re so thoroughly middle-class”.
“If they’re middle-class they deserve to made fun of”, Joby grunted.
“Well you’re a lot of bloody help you are!” said Adam.
“Joby, Tamaz is real upset here”, said Hillyard, standing by Tamaz, who was now sobbing and knuckling his eyes.
“He thinks the visitors were coming for him or Kieran I expect”, said Joby “It’s always really shaken him when people turn up out of the blue like that”.
“Hillyard”, said Adam “I want you to go outside and keep an eye on Julian”.
“I’m all sweaty”, said Hillyard.
“Hilly please!” said Adam “There’s a slim chance he might behave if you’re there. It is only a slim chance but it’s all we’ve got”.
Hillyard gave a humph but went out, also via the dining-room. Adam noticed through the kitchen window that Lonts was chatting on the back lawn with Farnol and Rumble, all of them sitting cross-legged on the ground and idly plucking at tufts of grass. Hoowie lay nearby in his undershorts, arms and legs flung out in a spreadeagled fashion, soaking up the sun. Adam persuaded Tamaz to go out and join them, and then he watched, enchanted, as Lonts playfully rolled with Tamaz in the grass.
“It’s been so good for Lo-Lo having the younger ones around”, said Adam “If we’d stayed as we were in the old days, with Lo-Lo as the baby of the family, he’d have got more and more spoilt, and it might have made him regress. Do you understand what I mean?”
“Yeah”, said Joby “He’d have become even more of a pain in the arse than he is now!”
“Haven’t you finished shelling those eggs yet?” said Adam, crossly “I don’t know why it takes you so long to do such a simple task”.
“I keep being interrupted that’s why!” said Joby.
Adam went back to gazing out of the window, with almost religious rapture, at Lonts.
Hillyard’s presence at the riverside picnic paid off as Adam had hoped. At times like this he was like a capable care assistant keeping an eye on a difficult and capricious patient, ready to whisk him away if he started embarrassing the “nice ladies and gentlemen”. Julian oozed charm, like a suave politician winning over voters during an election campaign. He wasn’t being entirely self-sacrificing here though. They were inadvertently giving him enough material for private amusement for some time to come.
“We were so hoping that we would see Kieran”, said Big Teeth “Is he around here anywhere?”
Julian would dearly like to have said acidly “Yes, we’ll wheel him out for your inspection if you like!” Instead he behaved, and merely remarked that Kieran often liked to go off by himself for “quiet contemplation”.
If truth be told Kieran’s “quiet contemplation” at this moment consisted of exercising himself vigorously between Mieps’s legs in the four-poster bedroom which overlooked where the picnickers were currently sitting. Mieps was wearing an orange kerchief wrapped round his hair, and looked like a Provencal peasent woman who had been lured in from the fields by a rampant Medieval priest.
“What an old trollop he is!” Kieran said, drinking coffee with Joby afterwards, both of them sitting on the library windowseat “Ransey came in just as we were both finishing, looking for Finia, and Mieps was giving him the glad-eye! I’d barely pulled me plug out of his socket! I don’t know who’s worse, him or Tamaz. Ransey was blushing like a schoolboy”.
“I dunno how we cope with those two at times, I really don’t”, said Joby.
He looked behind him out of the window, where Tamaz, minus his vest, was jumping up and down on the lawn, as though he was doing some old army drill exercises. His breasts were jumping all over the place, and the others were sitting mesmerised, watching him.
“Again! Again!” Bardin cried, hoarsely, when Tamaz paused for a breather.
Tamaz though had espied their visitors rounding the corner of the house and gave a yodel of alarm. He ran into the maze, swiftly followed by his audience, including Hoowie, who was having to drag up his shorts as he pursued them.
The visitors saw Kieran through the library window and went into gasps of recognition. Kieran stared back at them like a fugitive from justic caught in the glare of police car headlights. He had no choice but to return their greetings, shaking hands with them awkwardly, because of the shrubbery in the way, through the window.
Joby watched in quiet despair. It was as if Kieran had been run to earth, and cornered.
“Ow! You bastard!” Joby yelped “What did you do that for? Tell him, Adam! What a sadistic fucker he is!”
Julian had been passing the back door, on his way from the stables, when he had seen Joby bending over the kitchen table. Unable to resist, Julian had bounded into the room and dealt him a switch across the behind with his riding-crop.
“I have told you before, Jules”, said Adam “That I can’t allow you to treat Joby that way. It distracts him from his duties, but most importantly, it’s my prerogative”.
“Darling, I couldn’t resist”, said Julian, planting a smacking kiss on Adam’s cheek “I’m all wired up. I can’t wait for tonight”.
(He and Adam were spending the night alone together in the four-poster room over the hall).
“Rather looks as though you’ll have to, old love”, said Adam “Now apologise to Joby”.
“Sorry, dear boy”, said Julian, tapping the riding-crop against his leg “You wouldn’t care to give me a little something to be going on with would you? You don’t have to do anything, just lean over the back of the chair”.
“No!” said Joby “You’ll be offering me bribes next, clear off!”
Julian laughed and went back outside.
“Sometimes I seriously wonder if it was a good idea giving him his youth back”, said Joby “At least when he was old and decrepit, I could out-run him!”
“Oh admit it, you find it all very exciting really”, said Adam.
“There’s excitement and there’s excitement”, Joby glowered “I don’t envy you later, being locked in a room with him and the riding-crop”.
“The riding-crop stays outside”, said Adam “I won’t let him use that on me”.
“He uses everything else!” said Joby “Paddles, slippers, canes. So why not the riding-crop?”
“It doesn’t turn me on”, said Adam “It has such a naff image I suppose. One thinks of bourgeois Sunningdale middle-aged housewives dressing up in gymslips, or old-fashioned travelling salesmen using it on women they’ve picked up in some seedy hotel bar. All rather sad”.
“And pretending you’re a schoolboy again isn’t?” said Joby.
“Of course not”, said Adam, and then he caught Joby’s eye and burst out laughing.
“There’s a storm in the distance”, said Julian “Can you hear it?”
“No, all I can hear is someone using the loo next door”, said Adam.
“It’s quite a way off”, said Julian “Out to sea I should imagine”.
“And we’re in here”, said Adam, sensuously “I wouldn’t want to be anyone else, not anyone”.
Someone rapped on the door.
“I bet you any money you like it’s Ransey”, Julian snarled “No one else would be such a damn killjoy. GO AWAY!”
Ransey rattled the door-handle, imperiously. Julian climbed out of bed, unbolted the door and stood there, glaring at Ransey in total disgust.
“There’s someone watching us outside”, said Ransey “I could see a shape on the other side of the river, watching the house”.
“So what?” said Julian “They can’t get in, and if they do we’ll blast them to Kingdom Come!”
“I think we should go out and investigate”, Ransey tried to edge round the door to appeal to Adam, as the more amenable one.
Adam though, his mind and loins full of what he and Julian were going to do next, had never felt more disinclined to go searching the grounds for intruders.
“Go back to bed”, he sighed.
“It’s probably one of the bushes you can see”, said Julian “Some of them can look like people in the moonlight”.
Ransey gave a distrustful look.
“I’m not going mad you know”, he said.
“We wouldn’t worry even if you were”, said Julian “As long as you went back to bed!”
“Nothing but bloody sex, sex, sex!” Ransey muttered, as he stamped back along the corridor.
“How would he know!” said Julian, bolting the door again “Silly old sod!”
Julian opened the tall shutters in the library and pushed open the casements. He blinked as sunlight flooded in and illuminated the room, the floor of which was a minefield of dirty cups, cushions and wine-glasses. He muttered to himself about the whole place going to pot if he didn’t supervise things every minute of the day.
“I suppose that’s all my fault is it?” came Bardin’s cross voice.
He was standing just inside the door that led to the Great Hall.
“I suppose you’ll go on to say that if I was a proper Captain you wouldn’t have had to come down to this mess?” he continued, very waspishly indeed “That’s what you’re thinking isn’t it?”
“Not at all”, said Julian, rallying himself out of his reverie.
The truth of the matter was that he hadn’t paid any attention to what Bardin was saying whatsoever. Instead he was completely mesmerised by the way Bardin was standing there, slim and sun-tanned. A short silk bathrobe hanging open over a pair of skimpy white cotton under-shorts.
“Sorry, dear heart”, said Julian, passing close by him “I can’t give you my fullest concentration if you want a row. You look far too beautiful today”.
Bardin stood there in bemusement, long after Julian had left the room.
Rumble had prepared two large frying-pans of scrambled eggs, and set them down on the table in the dining-room. By the time all this was consumed the heat of the day was already intense, and they all decided to loll around, until later when Bardin had decreed that an outing to the beach was in order.
“You should’ve seen the state of these”, said Hillyard, who had fetched in Adam’s newly-washed thermal shorts and was showing them to Joby in the kitchen, like a pair of fetishists examining a rubber petticoat “He must’ve spewed out gallons of the stuff. Caked in spunk it was”.
“He must’ve prematurely-ejaculated”, said Joby, who was supposed to be stacking plates in the sink “Like Bengo has a habit of doing”.
They started guiltily as Adam came into the room with a couple of books under his arm. Instead of his usual garb of a singlet and high-cut shorts, he was wearing a long, baggy linen shirt.
“Are you two so degenerate these days that you get turned on by fondling my underwear?” said Adam, snatching the shorts and tossing them up onto the indoor drying-rack.
“WE’RE degenerate?!” Joby guffawed.
“A little word of advice, Ad”, said Hillyard, chuckling “When you think you’re gonna come, take your pants off first. It saves on the laundry you see!”
“Is that it?” Adam snapped, as they both dissolved into helpless laughter “I’ve heard Codlik make better jokes! Now I’m going to go and have a lie-down in the hammock for an hour. I want this place to be immaculate by the next time I see it”.
He walked with a noticeable limp out to the hammock at the far end of the garden. He had just got settled when Julian’s shadow loomed over him.
“Are you alright?” Julian asked, in concern “Only I noticed you were hobbling as you crossed the lawn”.
“Oh I’m quite fine Jules really, thank you”, said Adam, his insides melting at his presence, as though they’d fallen in love again for the first time “Lo-Lo’s massaged some more cream into me, and that should do the trick. My butt was beginning to blister a little so I’ve left off my shorts this morning until the cream’s worked it’s magic powers”. “Doesn’t surprise me”, said Julian “That was quite some hiding I gave you. We did go it a bit. I think I’ll have to be a bit more gentle with you in future”.
“How gentle?” Adam squinted up at him.
“Perhaps for a couple of days I should just stroke your beautiful body”, said Julian “If I get thrashing deprivation I can always smack a few clowns!”
“You could smack Hillyard and Joby”, said Adam “You would be doing me the most enormous favour. They are both teasing me mercilessly at the moment”.
“Tell me if they do it again and I’ll use the horsewhip on them”, said Julian.
“And what about me anyway?” said Adam “I desperately need the old corporal punishment bit”.
“Well then I’m sure we can find ways and means”, said Julian.
“They’re like a couple of lovestruck kids at the moment”, Ransey was saying, sitting on the other side of the lawn, under two large parasols with Finia and Kieran “They wouldn’t have noticed last night if the house had burnt down!”
“Oh I think they might have noticed that”, said Kieran.
“Only when the flames were practically beating down their door!” said Ransey.
“You sound jealous to me”, said Finia, idly flipping open the pages of a book.
“No it’s not jealousy”, said Ransey “I guess I’m like Lonts. I don’t like the thought of Adam being hurt”.
“You’d be surprised the amount of punishment Adam can take”, said Kieran.
“Why though?” said Ransey, in disbelief “A nice man like him, it doesn’t make sense”.
“You don’t seem to have any problem with it happening to Kieran”, said Finia.
“Because I know he’s a weirdo!” said Ransey.
“Oh thanks!” said Kieran.
“And besides, you don’t let Julian loose on you”, said Ransey.
“No, I’m too flamin’ cowardly for that!” said Kieran.
“Julian wouldn’t really hurt anyone”, said Finia “He was the first gentleman I ever met, and I mean it in the literal sense. Gentle man”.
“Then why is Adam limping this morning?” said Ransey.
“Because they enjoy playing games”, said Finia, selecting a plum from the bowl on the grass in front of them “At least it’s all between consenting adults”.
“Yeah, Addy doesn’t exactly look deeply traumatised to me”, said Kieran, looking over at Adam, who was now dozing in the hammock, with a book open on his chest.
“I think I’ll go and check the water-level in the well”, said Ransey, getting to his feet and strolling away.
“Doesn’t he ever think you might get jealous?” Kieran exclaimed “The way he fusses on about Adam in front of you I mean”.
“Ransey’s a smart guy”, said Finia, sucking on the plum stone “He knows I don’t get jealous of him and Adam. I like being with Adam myself. I like to sleep next to him whenever I can”.
“I know what you mean”, said Kieran “Me and Joby have always found him a comforting presence, when he’s not having a go at us anyway!”
He and Finia both selected plums at the same time, and then laughingly fed them to each other.
“Where the fuck did I get this bloody naff suit from?” thought Joby, looking down at himself in despair “As if it’s not bad enough that I’m ugly, now I have to look a complete prat as well! You can always tell a really cheap suit. Summat goes wrong with the colour for a start. I mean take a look at this one, just look at it! Electric blue for chrissake! I’d have been better off in me working clothes. At least I have some dignity in them …
Working clothes? What am I talking about? Hang on, it’s that tosser Alec who’s talking really. I’ve got his memories haven’t I? Yeah, Alec the bloke who never really existed, except in the head of some Edwardian poofter (he could’ve given me a better suit to wear!)
O.K then, where are we now? By the seaside by the looks of things. Are we in England still? The weather’s bloody awful so I suppose we must be! All the signs are in English, Adam spoke to the bloke at the station in English. We’re now trundling through the streets in this fella’s dog-cart, a sort of horse-drawn taxi service. Strewth, look at that! The Old Ship Tea-Rooms! Now I know we’re really in England! Except well over a century before I was even born. Weird!
I wish Adam was his usual self and not this Maurice fella. ‘Cos I’ll tell you this, this Maurice fella is a pain in the arse (yeah I know, pretty obvious joke that weren’t it! I’ll let you have that one for free). But he is though. He can be so stroppy sometimes, thinks I haven’t spoken to him with enough respect. But then he remembers our situation and he comes over all nice and charming.
And he hasn’t got Adam’s sense of humour. All this Maurice bloke does is give a short laugh and say “well said Alec, my dear fellow”. He does a lot of that sort of thing. ‘Dear fellow’ – bit. Sometimes he acts just like an overgrown schoolboy. He thumps me in the shoulder and claps me on the back. I keep expecting him to start wrestling me or summat! I think he’d enjoy that, quite frankly. He seems to like it when I get a bit rough with him. Shakes off all his inhibitions I spose. He’s had to be so restrained and self-disciplined for so long. He was a virgin when he we met, and by God he was desperate to lose it and all!
But I’ll give him this, he’s a decent bloke. I mean you hear such stories about his sort don’t you? Public-school queers, ones who went to Cambridge, all that sort of thing. Most of ‘em seem to turn out like Julian … oh that was me, Joby, my memories. Sometimes it feels as though this Alec person’s taken me over completely! Anyway, what was I saying? Oh yeah, you couldn’t imagine Maurice picking up soldiers in pubs and taking ‘em down back alleys. He’d be horrified at that. So all respect to him. And I have heard tales of queers hiring a coupla rent-boys and paying ‘em to have sex in front of ‘em. I have heard it said that Oscar Wilde quite liked to do that you know! Maurice’d blush just to think about it! Nah, he’s a romantic at heart. One-life, one-love, all that sort of thing. That’s why I wanted him the first time I saw him. He was different. I didn’t want some toff who was gonna dump me and leave me in the shite. That’s what makes it so much harder for blokes like him. They should’ve been born straight, marriage and kids. They’re not cut out for any kind of debauchery, and yet neither are they cut out for celibacy. They know they’ve got a million-to-one chance of finding happiness, so when they do find it they have to make sure they hang onto it at all costs. That’s what he said to me in London. That’s why he made it clear to me he wasn’t gonna let me go. I was the “special friend” he’d always wanted, been searching for all his life.
I wish he’d change his wardrobe though! Perhaps Alec’s gonna have to work on him a bit there, get him to lighten up a bit. All those dark suits and overcoats might’ve been what he had to wear when he worked in the City, but he doesn’t have to bother with all that now. You’d never get Adam in that kind of clobber. He won’t even wear a tie or a cravat, and the dark trousers would have had paint-stains on ‘em by now!
Well here we are. A rundown one-up one-down cottage by the harbour that we’ve apparently rented for a coupla weeks. This is hardly disappearing from public view is it! We’re right bang in the middle of a busy bloody town! “But my dear fellow, no one knows us here”, said Maurice/Adam “It’s give us space in which to think and make plans”. I said yeah, but what about the locals? Won’t they think it a bit odd, two fellas on holiday together? All the nudge-nudge wink-wink’ll start before you know it, sure as fate.
“Who gives a hang what they think?” said Maurice/Adam.
You know he does this a lot. He suddenly goes all impetuous and romantic on me (and not a bit snobbish too if you ask me, thinking he doesn’t need to care what the peasants think). It’s usually left to me to pull him back down to earth again.
“You said to me only recently”, I pointed out “That we’d have to be careful in public. Think of Oscar Wilde you said, getting two years hard labour”.
“But that’s the point my dear fellow”, said Maurice/Adam “As long as we’re discreet we’ll be safe. No one really minds what you do, as long as you don’t rub their noses in it”.
“Good old English hypocrisy”, I said, sarcastically.
“I’m afraid so”, said Maurice/Adam “We have to try and make it work in our favour. We have to, to keep what we’ve found. Wilde made the mistake of thinking he could get society to change its attitudes overnight. It usually takes somewhat longer than that! He paid a big price for his mistake. We must make sure the same doesn’t happen to us”.
Adam (without his Maurice alter-ego) was kneeling on the kitchen floor, half-in half-out of the cupboard under the sink. He had changed into his usual shorts and singlet, as they were due to set off for the beach at any moment, and it was his firm cheeks, slightly bruised from the previous night’s exertions, that greeted Julian when he walked into the kitchen.
“What are you doing?” he exclaimed.
“Oh hello Jules”, said Adam, crawling stiffly back out of the cupboard and getting to his feet “The pipe under the sink is leaking, only a little bit, but it means we have to keep a bowl under it to catch the water. I just remembered that we hadn’t emptied it for a while. I’ve done it now”.
“You shouldn’t be doing that”, said Julian “Get Hillyard onto it, it’s his sort of job”.
“Don’t be absurd”, said Adam “I assure you I’m quite capable of emptying a bowl out of the window and putting it back again! You’ll be saying it’s man’s work next! Of course, to a psychiatrist this would pinpoint the whole nub of our relationship”.
“What are you talking about, you silly arse?” said Julian.
“That essentially you want to regard me as a woman”, Adam giggled.
“Rubbish”, said Julian “I wouldn’t dream of treating a woman the way I treat you! It’d make me a right brute. Mind you, I might make an exception for Mieps …”
“Ah but you didn’t have much to do with my dick last night”, said Adam.
“That so?” said Julian.
He pushed Adam up against the dresser and grabbed his crotch, kneading it.
“Or had I better be careful?” said Julian “Will I make you come in your pants again?”
“No I haven’t had anything to drink today”, said Adam “I have more self-control”.
“Makes a change”, Joby grunted, coming in through the back door.
Julian, feeling slightly embarrassed and not wanting to admit it, strutted past him and out of the door. Adam was expecting Joby to start tutting and complaining, but instead he ran over to Adam and flung his arms around his waist.
“I’m so glad it’s you and not that Maurice fella”, he said, emotionally.
“Have you had another blip?” said Adam.
“I dozed off on the lawn”, said Joby “And it happened again”.
“Where were you this time?” said Adam, excitedly “Oh forgive me Joby, I know you don’t like it, but it’s fascinating for me. I always wanted a sequel to ‘Maurice’”.
“So you’ve said before”, said Joby “So now you’re gonna treat me as fucking library book are you?”
“Now what’s there to complain about?” said Adam “It’s only little old me in the dreams. What is there to be afraid of?”
“It’s not you though, not really”, said Joby “It’s this Maurice person, and he’s no bloody fun at all. He acts like he’s still in the school rugger team half the time, and the rest of the time he’s all buttoned up”.
“Inevitable old love, be fair on him”, said Adam “His sexuality was frozen in adolescence, it never got a chance to develop. Where were you this time anyway?”
“Some seaside town”, said Joby “He said we was there to get away from it all, to think straight. He says that and then scares me with tales of ending up in prison like Oscar Wilde”.
“That won’t happen”, said Adam “E M Forster wanted it to be a happy ending”.
“Oh c’mon it’s out of his hands now innit!” said Joby “I don’t think I could survive two years hard labour, could you?” “I very much doubt it”, said Adam “It completely wrecked Wilde’s health. But Joby, it won’t happen. These blips only last a few minutes at a time”.
“At the moment”, said Joby “But what if we get stuck there?”
“We won’t”, said Adam, firmly.
Adam spoke with the laid-back confidence of someone who had just spent the previous 24 hours in a state of almost non-stop sensuality. Joby found it comforting.
“My dear fellow”, Adam smiled “There’s nothing to worry about”. They went outside to find Julian had picked Tamaz up in his arms and was threatening to drop him over the fence into the goats’ pen.
“I am treated like a worm!” Tamaz spat, indignantly.
On the beach Adam played a game with Lonts of burying shells and pebbles in the sand and then seeing if Lonts could find them again. The others marvelled that this was the same Adam who had played such kinky games with Julian. To all appearances he found this toddler’s game every bit as absorbing as the mild S&M antics.
A cricket match was organised, which Adam and Julian watched lazily from the sidelines, like a pair of lions dozing under a tree. Lonts demanded to be given first bat, which predictably caused a few moans from Joby of “Lonts gets everything his own way”. Lonts dazzled them with some skilful batting, knocking the ball several times into the surf. Rumble scampered after it on his long scissor-like legs, resembling a large greyhound fetching a stick.
“I hope he doesn’t take to hitting it in the other direction”, said Julian, as Adam sat down again after applauding the sporting genius of his little darling “The fielding’s not so good over there”.
Adam glanced towards the other side of the beach, where Tamaz was engrossed in digging out a moat around his sand-castle.
“Is Freaky meant to be fielding then?” said Adam.
“Mm, meant to be”, said Julian “As is Kieran”.
Kieran was lying on his stomach with his chin in his hands gazing out to sea. Adam laughed as Hillyard made some wanking gestures at Joby, who was complaining at him about something.
“It’s hard to credit that Hillyard has a very feminine side to him sometimes isn’t it?” said Julian.
“Hillyard can be very sensitive”, said Adam.
“I don’t just mean that”, said Julian “He likes to put about this image of himself being something like a randy ostler, a quick bugger in the stables sort of thing, and yet lately he seems to have calmed down a bit in the sack”.
“Must be Glynis’s influence”, said Adam.
“God knows, could be”, said Julian “He only seems to be like it with me though. Just lately he rather likes being rogered face-to-face, with him as the passive partner. When we’ve been in the room behind the pantry, he tends to lie there on the bed like some blushing Victorian bride on her wedding night, and I have to approach him with my cock to attention! It gives him an enormous thrill apparently”.
“Oh Jules, that’s rather sweet!” said Adam.
“Just as long as he doesn’t start wearing a lace nightie or something I don’t mind!” said Julian “That kind of shock could be fatal to a man of my age!”
“Perhaps he’s simply making up for all those years when you treated him as a catamite”, said Adam.
“I did not!” said Julian.
“You did use to be a little impersonal with him, Jules”, said Adam “When we lived at the Ministry H.Q”.
“He wanted it that way”, said Julian.
“Of course he did!” said Adam, facetiously “Like the fox always enjoys being torn to shreds by a pack of wild dogs!”
“In those days”, said Julian “In those days his head was still all full of Stombal. It took years for him to get over that. What little serious emotion he would allow himself then was reserved for Kieran, and a bit for Grizzle-Face”, meaning Joby “Oh and a bit for you”.
“And Lo-Lo”, said Adam “He was always very fond of Lo-Lo”.
“Exactly”, said Julian “So you see there was no room for me, none whatsoever. I was just a quick release. But it’s all changed now hasn’t it?” he said, as though implying this was a source of grievance to him “Now he gets all sentimental, whispering sweet nothings. All that, and no bloody spanking!”
“That was never Hilly’s scene”, Adam found it all very amusing “Although he does like patting Joby’s butt”.
“Stop winding me up!” said Julian “You’re worse than that mad Irishman for teasing sometimes”.
“I’m pleased for Hilly”, said Adam, seriously “He’s had more than enough of clinical sex in his life. He deserves some real romance. Particularly after what happened with the Wang Man. Anyway, you don’t mean to tell me that you don’t find it erotic when he’s lying there in that shaded room”.
“Of course I do”, said Julian “He’s a fine strapping figure of a man, even with that stomach on him!”
Tamaz got up from his moat-digging, walked over to Kieran and began to beat him on the behind with his little wooden spade. Then he leant down and kissed Kieran’s buttocks as a sort of “afters”. This spectacle effectively broke up the cricket match, and everyone lolled around on the sand instead, swigging from bottles of tap-water. Bardin began to scribble a list with the stub of a pencil on the back of a used brown envelope.
“The hurricane season’s only a month away now”, he said.
“Winter draws on”, said Joby.
“We need to make a plan of jobs that need doing before then”, Bardin continued, relentlessly.
“Better shutters at the house”, said Adam “The inside wicker-style ones are fine for keeping out the mozzies, but we need sturdy external ones for the rough weather. The ones that are still there aren’t really up to another winter. They’re quite rotten, most of them”.
“That’ll be a helluva job”, said Hillyard “Getting all that sorted out in only a few weeks”.
“There are enough of us”, said Bardin, officiously making a note of it “We can get it done”.
“It’s hard to think about winter when it’s like this”, said Bengo, flaking out face-down in the sun.
“Yes, but it still has to be done”, Bardin faltered, hypnotised by Bengo’s sweaty near-naked body “W-we have to sort these things out …”
He broke off in embarrassment and huddled low over the brown envelope.
They all stayed down on the beach to watch the sunset. Bardin and Bengo walked hand-in-hand along the edge of the surf as the darkness came on.
“Sit there”, Bardin ordered, pointing at a rock as though it was a dog-basket.
Bengo obeyed, looking nervously at his partner.
“I’m sorry, Bardy”, he said “You must be real annoyed with me”.
“Why?” said Bardin, sharply “What have you done?”
“I wasn’t helpful when you made up the list”, said Bengo, miserably.
“Is that all you’re fretting about?” said Bardin, in disbelief.
“No wonder you want Rumble as your deputy and not me”, Bengo went on.
Bardin suddenly smacked him round the face.
“What did you do that for?” Bengo yelped “That was really unkind, Bardy!”
“Because I’m not sitting here listening to you get jealous about Rumble again”, said Bardin “It’s not him I invited along here to watch the sunset with is it? I’ll tell you what we’re doing later. We’re going to do what Adam and Julian did. We’ll have the four-poster room tonight”.
“Just us two?” said Bengo.
“No, I’m going to invite Rumble along as well!” said Bardin, sarcastically “Of course I meant just us two, you twerp!”
“Oh Bardy!” Bengo cooed, as though Bardin had just lavished him with compliments and heartfelt praise.
Bardin drove the cart back through the forest with Bengo propped on the box next to him. Tamaz and Toppy both sat directly behind them in the cart, holding lanterns to light the way through the intense tropical blackness.
“It’d only take one slip off the track here”, said Toppy “And we could lose a wheel”.
“If you keep coming out with things like that”, said Bardin “You can get off and walk!”
When they got back to the Castle, Joby entered the kitchen first, not without some trepidation. The Castle had such an electric atmosphere at times that it could often seem as though someone invisible had left the room just before you entered it.
Bengo and Bardin went upstairs to light the candles in the four-poster room, and were followed in by Ransey, who pressed on them the need to keep the door bolted throughout the night in case anyone, or anything, from the outside got in.
“And use the po under the bed if you need to”, he concluded.
“What?” said Bardin “The loo’s only next door, Ransey!”
“O.K, but if he needs to go”, said Ransey, pointing at Bengo “You go with him”.
“I know Bengo’s not exactly Brain of the Century”, said Bardin “But these days he can piss by himself!”
“You know what he’s like”, said Ransey “If anyone could get into a scrape simply by visiting the loo in the next room it’s him! Now when I leave the room bolt the door behind me. I shall be listening until you do”.
Bardin rolled his eyes in exasperation but followed out the instructions.
“Happy now?” he shouted through the door after he had slid the bolt across.
Ransey thumped on the door in reply.
“He certainly enjoys his work, I’ll say that for him”, Bardin sighed, pouring out two brandies and passing one to Bengo.
Bengo took it without saying a word, and sat down in a rather dejected fashion on the edge of the bed. Bardin sat next to him.
“Well this night of passion’s getting off to a roaring start isn’t it!” said Bardin, after a couple of minutes of rather glum silence “I bet Adam and Julian didn’t have this trouble!”
Bengo didn’t reply, but continued to stare at the floor.
“Now look”, Bardin put his arm round his shoulders “Don’t get upset about what Ransey says. He gets a bit over-zealous at times that’s all”.
“But he thinks I’m really stupid, Bardy”, said Bengo, miserably.
“He doesn’t actually”, said Bardin “The very worst he thinks of you is that you can be lazy sometimes”.
“Ballast-Brained Bengo that’s me”, Bengo sniffed.
“If it upsets you that much when the others call you that, I’ll get them to stop”, said Bardin “But usually they’re only teasing. I’ve never seen any evidence that Ransey thinks you’re stupid, just a bit too impetuous sometimes”.
“I’d love to be really clever”, said Bengo “Just once anyway. Just to show everyone”.
“For God’s sake, that’s already been done!” said Bardin “Everytime you’ve performed in front of them they’ve seen how brilliant you can be. There are a lot of people who would give their eye-teeth to have a talent like yours”.
“Yeah sure!” said Bengo “Everybody wants to be a clown don’t they!”
“To be able to make people laugh is a gift”, said Bardin “And a sound one, don’t knock it. How many times have we had this fucking conversation over the years, Bengo? If you’ve got any problem at all it’s that you don’t flamin’ listen! You forget things from one minute to the next!”
He pushed Bengo forcibly back onto the bed, and they kissed whilst still holding their brandy glasses to stop it spilling.
“Bardy”, Bengo said, nudging him away slightly so that they could talk “Perhaps I should read a book”.
“What?” said Bardin, in dismay “NOW?!”
“No, I mean tomorrow or something”, said Bengo “If I read one of the books out of the library, and I don’t mean one of Lonts’s ‘Happy Bears’ books either before you say anything! If I read a book, that might impress the others mightn’t it?”
“Amaze ‘em I should think!” said Bardin “But don’t start doing it right this minute eh?”
“Of course not!” said Bengo.
“It didn’t surprise me when it happened that night. I’d been expecting it for hours. It was just a feeling I had in me water. What did surprise me was that I wasn’t scared of it this time. I was always a bit nervous like that I’d get stuck there, in the autumn of 1913, I couldn’t imagine never seeing Kieran again for one thing. But on the whole it was beginning to fascinate me as much as it was fascinating Adam when I always told him about it afterwards. I wanted to know how it would all work out for those two fellas, seeing as they just had about every odds you could imagine stacked against ‘em. It felt that way sometimes for me and Kieran in the early years too.
I woke up this time on a very small sailing-boat, just about room enough below deck for the two of us. We must have hired it and taken it for a short trip up the coast. I spose that’s the sort of thing two guys on holiday together would have done so it wouldn’t have caused any comment amongst the locals. I was paranoid about what people might think. The thought of Oscar Wilde in the jug was never far from my mind. And by God, prison in those days was summat else I’m telling yer! When they sentenced you to hard labour they meant it alright! Vindictive bastards. Adam … Maurice told me an old colleague of his from Cambridge got put away for “immoral behaviour”, six months hard labour, and if he hadn’t been a Viscount he’d have got a bloody flogging on top as well! Flogging!!! Shit, it’s like the Middle Ages! All that just for wanting to get your leg over!
When we first crossed over into this time (the 41st century I’m talking about now not 1913. Don’t worry, it’ll get a lot more confusing before I’ve finished!). I had a real hang-up about gay sex. I remember letting rip to Adam about it in the woods just beyond Kiskev. I ranted on about how “unnatural” it was. How he kept his temper with me I’ll never know, although I spose I do really. He felt sorry for me. For what had happened to us. I go hot and cold when I think of some of the things I used to say. What I put Kieran through, how I used to insult Hillyard, and yet Adam was so patient with me. It can’t have been easy to be kind to a homophobic little bastard like me in those days.
Anyway, there I was on this boat with Adam, who was demonically possessed by Maurice. And I was waking up in Alec Scudder’s underwear, which was pretty uncomfortable I can tell yer! How they used to wear stuff like that all the time I don’t know, perhaps they thought it was good for the character or summat! It was a vest and drawers made out of really cheap, harsh wool that scratched like emery boards. I’ve often had to wear thick thermal undies in the past, when we lived up at Wolf Castle for instance, or when we sailed round the Horn of Wonder, and they weren’t the most glamorous of attire. Good job no women were around ‘cos I wouldn’t have set their pulses racing exactly! But even that stuff was an improvement on this! Slate-grey in colour it was, as though it hadn’t been washed for a while. Revolting.
I decided to go up through the hatch and see where we were. It was dawn, really misty and pretty damn cold. We had anchored in some marshland, surrounded by tall rushes that reminded me of the marshes out beyond Toondor Lanpin, where we all used to go duck-shooting. We’d have got a full bag in this area, as there were ducks sounding off all around us.
Apart from that though we were quite alone. No other boats in sight, and not a single house either. I sat down on the narrow deck and tried to work out where we were. I thought Essex seemed the most likely place, being so marshy and everything. And in those days there’d have been a lot of really remote spots like this in it. It’s hard for a 21st century boy to imagine Essex as wild and isolated, but it was then.
“Is this private enough for you?”
It was him. Maurice. Come up on deck to join me. But for a moment he sounded exactly like Adam, not just the voice, but what he said was exactly what Adam would have said. Perhaps there’s hope for him yet! And he did look more like Adam this morning. His hair was all over the place, flopping into his eyes, and he had a cheeky grin on his face. Very Adam-ish. I couldn’t help noticing too that his undies were in better nick than mine. Newer for a start, and white! And I bet his didn’t scratch him anywhere near as much as mine did me!
“My dear fellow, you’ll catch cold up here, come below”, he said, in a very no-nonsense way.
I have to watch him when he carries on like this. He starts ordering me about all over the place. It’s gonna take me a while to cure him of this. Trouble is you see, the likes of him aren’t used to having to be courteous to the likes of me. They just go “do this”, “do that”, and not so much as a please or thank you. When I first met him Pendersleigh Park, he was very much the honoured guest of Mr Durham, and me being only the under-gamekeeper, well I wasn’t sposed to speak to him unless I was spoken to first. I wished him “happy birthday sir”, about a month ago, before we got together properly, and he looked at me as though I was being really insolent! I wasn’t. O.K, I did want him to notice me as a person and just as some domestic machine, but I also wanted to cheer him up. It was his birthday you see, and no one else of that house had noticed, not even his so-called great friend Mr Durham. He’d looked really down in the dumps about it. It was then that I could really tell how lonely he was, and I wanted to do summat about it.
Back below deck again, I got into his bunk with him and we got each other warm under the blankets.
“So what happens now?” I said “We can’t stay on holiday forever”.
“We’ll find work”, he said “I’ve chucked my job, I’m not going back to it. We’ll get jobs in the country somewhere, it’s what we both know. That shouldn’t be a problem. There will always be work for healthy able-bodied men”.
(Oh yeah? Thought Joby, cynically. Blokes of his generation could never have imagined how much the world was gonna change. Perhaps now’s a good time to mention the War, and it’ll break my heart if he tries to swear blind there won’t be one).
“You know there’s gonna be a war, Maurice”, I said “Sooner or later, it’s only a matter of time. They’ve all been gearing up for it for years. Summat’s gonna set it off, sure as fate, and what happens to us then?”
“We’ll come through it”, he said, resting his head on my chest the way he liked to do.
I almost blurted out that millions didn’t come through it, but I stopped meself in time. I can see Alec’s gonna have to be the real strong one of that relationship. Maurice might be the one from the good family, with the expensive education behind him and the really complicated job in the City, but sometimes he’s like a babe in arms. He’s clever, and he don’t half like laying the law down sometimes, but there’s a whole side of his personality that he had to nip in the bud at an early age. Sometimes he looks at me as though I was a kid, a young nephew he’s taken out with him. But then his real romantic bit comes out, and to be honest it’s hard not to be swept along with it. He really does only seem to need me, and nothing else. I’m what he’s always been waiting for. That must’ve been why we felt such a strong pull towards each other right from the very beginning.
And that was then that I thought it’ll really work for these guys, in spite of all the odds. If they managed to beat the odds to even get together in the first place, then nothing’s gonna split ‘em up in a hurry.
“I’ll do anything for you, Alec”, he said.
“Will you?” said I “In that case could you buy me some new underwear? ‘Cos I don’t think I can take too much more of these bleedin’ passion-killers!”
After breakfast Bengo went to the library and looked rather nervously at the books on the shelves. The Indigo-ites’ book collection was diverse to say the least, although generally rather masculine in tone. Plenty of volumes on gardening, First Aid, animal husbandry, fishing, trees and plants, and literary masterpieces on how to unblock sinks and mend window-frames, and a couple of volumes on bread-making and cooking with only the most basic of equipment and ingredients. All the sort of thing one would need for living out in the wilds. The fiction selection comprised of whodunits, horror novels, what few historical pieces the time-crossers had managed to get their hands on, plus Julian’s extensive collection of pornography.
Bengo was very unsure where to begin his literary odyssey. To be honest the pictures on the covers were enough to scare him, without actually reading any of it! Bloodstained knives lying on carpets, somebody (obviously terrified out of their wits) being ambushed in a forest by a vicious-looking man with a gun, and on the erotica some evil-looking whips, and young boys being buggered whilst handcuffed to bedposts. It was very hard to find a book that didn’t have some act or method of violence being portrayed on it! In the end he selected a crime novel, which had the relatively peaceful picture on the cover of a cemetery, and an old man standing outside the gates with a bemused expression on his face, under the heading “ONE DOSE TOO MANY?”
He took it into the dining-room and sat at the table, with it propped in front of him, as though he was revising it for an exam. He stayed like this all morning. No one had ever known Bengo to be this quiet and still for so long, and it unnerved everyone in the house.
“Bengo, darling boy”, said Adam, at one point “The other clowns want to know if you’re coming out to play”.
Bengo turned an anguished face towards him, shook his head sorrowfully, and went back to the book.
“I hope he snaps out of it soon”, Bardin barked, stamping out through the back door.
Adam had problems of his own. Joby had spent an age sitting at the kitchen table, scraping at one potato. In the end Adam removed it from him and recommended that he go for a walk round outside. He called in Toppy, who was doing stomach-toning exercises on the back lawn, to help him instead. Joby wandered glumly round the corner of the house, and came out by the river, where he found Kieran sitting on the bridge, dangling his feet in the water in a desultory fashion.
“Come into the woods with me”, said Joby “It’s getting on for noon anyway, and you haven’t got a hat on”.
They walked a little way into the forest and then leaned against a couple of trees.
“You’re quiet today”, said Joby, eventually.
“I didn’t want to start on about anything”, said Kieran “In case it made you wish you was back with Maurice”.
“Oh you’re not getting jealous of him are yer?” said Joby “He never existed for crying out loud!”
“He seems to exist quite a bit at the moment”, said Kieran “You’re getting quite a fascination for this life you have with him”.
“I dunno what it is I feel”, said Joby “I feel completely schizophrenic most of the time to tell the truth. It’s hard to explain but I really care for those two men. A part of the time I’m me, Joby, and the rest of the time I’m Alec, with his memories and his feelings. And the really weird thing is there’s no join you see. I slide in and out of each. I’m fascinated by it ‘cos it’s the only way I can cope with it. I’d go bonkers if I kept getting worked up about it all the time”.
“I’m scared you’ll get stuck there”, said Kieran.
“I’M bloody scared I’ll get stuck there!” said Joby.
“I was going to add that could only happen I think if you wanted it to”, said Kieran “It would be the worst thing Angel could do to me, make you WANT to leave me”.
“I only wanna leave you when you keep on about Angel all the friggin’ time!” said Joby, which at least made Kieran chuckle “Your resolution to ignore the Devil didn’t last long did it!”
“I tried”, said Kieran, wryly “But you know how it is”.
“You’ve been the most major part of my life since we were 17”, said Joby “I just can’t imagine not being with you, it’s impossible. We’re under each other’s skin. I think that’s why I’m beginning to feel for this Maurice and Alec pair so much. They’re gonna end up like us, given half a chance. They’ve certainly got it in ‘em, and we had to fight some pretty steep odds when we first got together too”.
“And how will you cope if this all keeps happening?” said Kieran.
“Treat it like the old hollow-suite things you used to get on sci-fi series I spose”, said Joby “That’s the only way to deal with it and keep sane”.
“You’re so wise sometimes”, said Kieran.
“Pah!” said Joby, waving his hands dismissively “C’mon, let’s go upstairs. We should have the room to ourselves at this time of day”.
They went up the external stone staircase to the main bedroom. Joby closed the makeshift curtains against the bright glare of the sun, and then rogered Kieran on the main communal bed.
“Thank you, thank you, I love you”, Joby gasped, kissing the back of Kieran’s shoulders as he clung to him afterwards.
“And what about me?” Tamaz exclaimed.
“Eh?” Joby looked up.
Tamaz was standing in the doorway that led outside.
“Well you weren’t there were you!” said Joby, climbing off Kieran “Too busy fooling around with the clowns no doubt”.
“I was not”, said Tamaz “I was listening to you in the forest, and then I followed you up here”.
“To listen to us at it in here”, said Kieran, rolling onto his back and pushing his long hair out of his eyes.
“All that very important conversation you had, and I wasn’t mentioned once”, said Tamaz.
“We do talk about things other than you occasionally you know!” said Joby “Anyway, it concerned mine and Kieran’s relationship”.
“That does involve me!” Tamaz squawked “Where the fuck would it leave me if you decided to carry on playing gamekeepers for good?”
“I’m not gonna carry on playing gamekeepers for good!” said Joby “Both of you are acting as though I’ve got any control over all this and I haven’t”.
“You’re enjoying it though”, said Tamaz, viciously.
Joby groaned in despair and slammed a pillow over his face. Suddenly he lobbed it at Tamaz, who ducked.
“If you can’t be nice to me”, Joby cried “Then clear off! I’m a man under a great deal of pressure, and you’re too busy shaking your tits at the clowns most of the time to notice! I think you should be made to go and stay at the old lighthouse for a few days with Mieps”.
Tamaz hissed and flicked his long tongue in annoyance.
“Is that supposed to scare me?” he said, defiantly.
“It was worth a try”, said Joby.
“Play it properly, you oaf!” said Adam “Play it properly. I know full well you can”.
Julian was sitting at the piano in the Great Hall, thumping out a souped-up version of a Tchaikovsky tune, a cigarillo clamped between his teeth, and his foot down hard on one of the pedals. On Adam’s orders he calmed down into a mild tinkle. Bengo emerged from the dining-room with the book under his arm.
“Did we interrupt the great scholar at work?” said Julian, taking the cigar out of his mouth.
“I don’t want to read anymore of this book”, said Bengo, despondently “It’s all about people dying”.
“That’s because it’s a crime novel, dear one”, said Julian, taking a mouthful of homemade beer from his mug on top of the piano.
“I don’t really think it’s my thing”, said Bengo.
“There are loads of other books in the house”, said Adam “Although sadly they all tend to be a bit on the lurid side. On our next supply-run perhaps we should buy you some lighthearted comic romances. Would you like that?”
Bengo nodded. “Sheer waste of money”, said Julian “Bengo is not going to turn into a compulsive bookworm”.
“Julian, you unspeakable rat!” said Adam, angrily “It was hardly Bengo’s fault that he had a rotten education. In fact, from what I’ve heard, it was no kind of education at all”.
“Julian’s right”, said Bengo, sadly “I was always lazy you see. Bardy used to try to get me to read when we were kids, but I’d start crying because I didn’t have the patience with it”.
“You should have been beaten soundly for slacking”, said Julian “That would have got you better disciplined. Adam had the same problem. Everyone used to say it. He could never apply himself. It was left to me to sort him out”.
“No it was not!” said Adam, although in all honesty this was the truth.
“I would have been really scared of your school”, said Bengo “It sounds terrifying”.
“You would have been alright actually”, said Julian “Not just because you’re cute, but you’d have been good at sports, particularly running and gymnastics. That would have counted for an awful lot. And you could have played the court jester around the hard-nuts”.
Bengo was thrilled by this praise and lavished them both with hugs and kisses. He then gave the book to Julian and went outside to find Bardin.
“You know all this reading could go giving him ideas”, Farnol was winding Bardin up.
“Such as?” said Bardin, lying glumly on the forest floor.
“Well increased spiritual awareness, you know”, said Farnol “He might get ideas about becoming celibate”.
“He’d better not!” said Bardin.
“And then you’d have to make do with Hoowie!” said Farnol, and he went off into fits of laughter. Bardin pulled up clods of earth and hurled them at him. Then he picked up the tatty brown envelope that he was still attempting to write a list on, and dusted it off.
“We never seem to get anything done”, he grumbled “Two months ago I talked about repainting the bottom of the canoe and I still haven’t done it! We seem to spend all our time lolling about the forest like this”.
“It’s too hot to do anything else”, said Farnol.
“At the moment”, said Bardin “It’s only a month until the storm season starts though, and we still haven’t listed what we need to do, let alone actually started doing it!”
“We need to move the sloop first off”, said Rumble “Move it further up the river out of the area of the bay itself. It’ll be more protected that way. We don’t want to go up there one morning and find it’s been shattered like matchwood”.
“Move the sloop. Good”, said Bardin, and he industriously wrote it down, like a frustrated chairman at the end of an exceedingly long and vastly under-productive meeting.
“Here comes Brother Bengo”, said Rumble, pointing to the near distance, where Bengo was shuffling towards them with his hands in his pockets “Our chief librarian, the keeper of the scrolls!”
“Having a break?” said Bardin, hopefully.
“That book wasn’t my thing”, said Bengo, dropping to his knees “Adam says he’ll buy me something more suited to me when we go on our next supply-run”.
“Something with cardboard pages and plenty of pictures you mean?” said Hoowie.
“Rack off, Hoowie!” said Bengo, nudging Hoowie’s backside with his foot.
“I’m going for a dip in the river to cool off”, said Bardin, getting to his feet “Come along, Bengo”.
They moved of through the forest together. Bengo scampering at Bardin’s side, constantly glancing at Bardin like a dog expecting his master to speak at any moment. Hoowie stuck out his tongue and made panting noises.
“Looks like it’s left to you to do the thinking, Rumby-boy”, said Farnol.
“I can’t do anymore of that without a smoke to get my brain back into gear”, said Rumble “We’ll have to pop back to the house”.
It was a strict rule that nobody would ever smoke in the forest, and for a change it was one everybody adhered to, even Julian. Nobody particularly fancied the idea of a forest fire raging outside their house. Farnol and Rumble ambled back to the house, and Hoowie strolled behind, rather like a dog himself.
The depth of the river directly outside the Castle was fairly shallow, and when they got to it Bengo and Bardin found Lonts strolling about in it, with the water up to his torso, like a sea-god going for a watery amble through the ocean.
“Don’t splash about and make a lot of noise you two”, he boomed on seeing Bengo and Bardin stripping off to get in “I’m thinking”.
“We just want to have a float in the water”, said Bardin “It’s probably the quietest time we’re gonna get for several days!”
Bardin ordered work on the storm shutters to be commenced at dawn the following day, before the worst of the fierce heat came on. Although this was hard work, it was a relatively simple job. Long rectangles of wood to be chopped and planed, so that in the even of the roughest weather they could be simply slotted into place inside the windows of the bedrooms, bathrooms, library, dining-room and kitchen.
“I don’t see why it needs to be done at all”, said Tamaz, who was following Bardin on a tour of inspection of the ground floor rooms “This Castle stood years of rough weather before we moved in, and I don’t see any broken windows anywhere”.
“There will be in a minute if I decide to chuck you thorugh one!” said Bardin, going into the library “Now hold the other end of this tape-measure”.
Tamaz stood in a longsuffering way, holding the tape, as Bardin measured the width of the library window.
“We are actually quite sheltered down here you know”, said Tamaz.
“I do know”, said Bardin, climbing up onto the windowseat “But peace of mind is worth everything don’t you think?”
“Spose so”, said Tamaz “Although there’s not much peace out there at the moment”.
The back lawn looked like a builder’s yard, with lengths of wood placed strategically on tables. Hillyard, stripped to the waist, was sawing up a large piece, whilst Bengo and Toppy leaned across it, acting as human clamps.
“It won’t go on forever”, Bardin sighed, getting back down from the windowseat “And then you can go back to running around out there in your underwear, and pretending you’re a wood nymph or whatever it is you do”.
“I thought you were going to move the sloop today”, said Tamaz.
“Later on in the morning”, said Bardin, noting down measurements on another used brown envelope and then sticking the pencil behind his ear “Another job we need to do sometime is sweep the chimneys. God knows what could be stuck up that one!” he looked apprehensively up at the chimney-breast “It probably hasn’t been used in years”.
“There are some old brushes in one of the outhouses”, said Tamaz “Bit rusty though”.
“Doesn’t matter”, said Bardin “They’ll do the job I expect”.
“Eek!” Tamaz suddenly cried “You’ve forgotten the most important job of all. Move all the supplies upstairs in case the river floods. If they get damaged we’ll all starve”.
“I can’t imagine you starving at all!” said Bardin “If the worst comes to the worst we could always send you and Mieps out to catch a few rats!”
“I’ve eaten rats before”, Tamaz shrugged “It’s no big deal. They taste a bit like chicken when they’re cooked”.
“Oh you did actually bother cooking ‘em then?!” said Bardin. “Skinned, filleted and roasted”, said Tamaz, in an almost swaggering fashion.
“You must let us have the recipe sometime!” said Bardin “Let’s go and measure up the kitchen window now”.
They didn’t make it to the kitchen though. Instead the next thing they were aware of they wre waking up in a skiff. Tamaz sat up in alarm and looked out at the expanse of ocean that surrounded them. The sky was a strange colour, as though a thick poisonous gas was blanketing the whole area.
“Bardin, wake up!” he hissed at the only other person in the skiff.
“Oh fuck!” said Bardin, looking around him “Oh fuck fuck fuck!”
Suddenly another boat appeared a short distance away from them. It was a sloop the same size as the Indigo MKII, but it had black sails, and the long snout of a cannon poking out in their direction.
“We have to get away from it”, said Bardin “If that thing fires it’ll blow us clean out of the water”.
“We’ll never out-run that in this poxy little thing!” said Tamaz.
“We have to try”, said Bardin, seizing an oar “Help me”
Somehow they got to the shore, which had appeared by this time. The sand resembled cold ash, and the whole area gave the appearance of a nuclear test site immediately after a blast, as though they’d landed on Bikini Atoll.
“I can hear voices”, said Tamaz, helping Bardin to drag the skiff onto the beach “There are people nearby”.
Just beyond the first lot of sand dunes they found a large group of people sitting at an open-air beachfront café. A menu-board posted nearby was incomprehensible, made up of words too long and mostly vowel-free. Next to it was a blackboard on which was scrawled the bizarre words “OUR PET HATE: TEA-BAGS”. A surprisingly cheerful waitress came up to them and offered them a small table.
“Our speciality today is beetle spit”, she said.
“Why don’t you like tea-bags?” said Tamaz.
“Because we can’t get them to taste right”, said the girl.
“I’ll show you how to make tea”, said Tamaz, to Bardin’s surprise. Tamaz normally had to bullied into making tea. Tamaz went up to the counter and directed the girl behind it to put two tea-bags into two plastic cups. When she added boiling water though, it came out of the kettle bright purple, and it smelt foul.
“We’ll starve if we stay here”, said Tamaz to Bardin.
“Does everything smell this awful?” Bardin asked the waitress.
“Nothing stays right here”, said the girl, sadly “Not anymore. Hell is slowly being destroyed. It’s imploding on itself”.
“Kieran will never come here if the tea tastes so bad”, said Tamaz.
The dream ended.
“You forget the golden rule didn’t you?” said Kieran.
He had been informed of the latest Hell dreamscape in the kitchen, where Joby had been making tea for all the workers outside.
“You should have got out of the boat”, Kieran continued “The water would probably have been about as deep as the river outside”.
“Hard to bear that in mind when you’re surrounded by what looks like nothing but ocean”, said Bardin, and he went out of the back door in search of Bengo.
Joby finished making the tea, and directed Tamaz to wheel the trolley outside.
“You’re going to start on me aren’t you?” said Kieran, once he was alone with Joby “In that case I’ll put the tea-cosy on me head and seek oblivion”.
“Daft sod”, said Joby, pulling the tea-cosy off Kieran “I don’t blame you”.
He sat on Kieran’s knee and buried his face in his hair. He felt he would probably have sat there for the rest of the morning if Hillyard hadn’t come in, demanding more tea.
“You haven’t even got fresh water on the boil”, he complained to Joby “For crying out loud, you’ve got the easy job, just keeping the tea coming! You’re not out there grafting, working up a sweat”.
“Alright don’t go on”, Joby grabbed the two kettles and filled them at the sink “You hear the racket these pipes are making? ‘Bout time you took a look at these before they burst and go all over the kitchen”.
“Have you been crying?” said Hillyard.
“No I ent!” said Joby, fiercely.
“Your eyes are red”, said Hillyard.
“It’s between me and Kieran”, said Joby.
“I thought we didn’t keep secrets from each other”, said Hillyard.
Kieran suddenly stood up and embraced Joby. Hillyard patiently sat at the table, and adopted a rather formidable pose, like an admiral sitting for a formal portrait, all he needed was a plumed hat and gloves resting on the table next to him.
“Tamaz and Bardin had a blip into Hell”, said Kieran, eventually “It happened just after they finished measuring up the library window”.
“It happened whilst they were awake?” Hillyard exclaimed.
Tamaz dragged the tea-trolley back into the kitchen, the empty cups rattling around on it. He drew up short when he saw Joby.
“What’s the matter with you?” he cried.
“Joby got a bit worked up about your wee trip to Hell”, said Kieran.
“Why?” said Tamaz “It’s me it happened to, not him”.
“Haven’t you learnt anything about humans yet?” said Joby “After all these years? And you’re half-human yourself!”
“Yeah, but that half comes from Ransey, so it probably doesn’t count!” said Hillyard.
“They all want more tea”, Tamaz grumbled “Drinking gallons of the stuff”.
“Better put the kettles back on then”, said Hillyard, nudging Joby, who picked up the kettles and stamped over to the stove.
Kieran began to rinse the cups under the taps, which resumed made the pipes resume their thumping noise.
“You’re gonna have to look at this, Hillyard”, said Kieran “I think there’s something stuck in the pipes”.
“Yeah”, said Joby “With any luck it’s Angel!”
Bardin had ordered Bengo to follow him into the maze. Eventually they had found their way to the centre and sat down on the ancient wooden bench put there years ago by long-gone inhabitants of the Castle. Bardin sat with his head in his hands for some while, and Bengo watched him with trepidation. He was convinced he had done something wrong, and that Bardin had taken him into the maze to tell him off.
“What have I done, Bardy?” he asked “What have I done?”
“You’ve done nothing”, said Bardin, looking at him in surprise “I just wanted your company that’s all”.
He went on to tell Bengo what had happened to him and Tamaz.
“It’s all down to Tamaz that we got out”, he concluded.
“It was him who got us out the other time too”, said Bengo, his eyes welling with tears “When we had to perform in that theatre”.
“Tell me what you’re thinking”, said Bardin, taking his hand.
“That we’ve been so happy here”, Bengo sobbed “And all these ‘things’ will drive us away”.
“Why?” said Bardin “We might as well stay here. Whoever it is that’s got it in for us could probably get us anywhere, even if we went to the ends of the Earth … well actually we are at the ends of the Earth! You have such beautiful eyes”.
Bengo clambered onto his lap, and Bardin put his arms around him.
“Cripes! Have you been on the oatcakes again?” said Bardin “Sneaking into the pantry and raiding the tin behind my back?”
“No”, said Bengo, which was all too obviously a disguise for ‘yes’.
“I think I’m gonna have to keep a closer eye on you”, said Bardin, teasingly.
It took them a while to find their way out of the maze again, and then they cheated by pushing their way through some of the hedges, which from the looks of things, Tamaz had already done occasionally. When they got back to the lawn they found the others having another tea-break, with Tamaz, rather reluctantly, handing the cups round. Joby was onhis way to the goats-pen with the milk-pail, and looking a bit miffed about it.
“I think there’s a strong likelihood of a storm this afternoon”, said Ransey, who had been scrutinising the sky for some time “The clouds are building up to the west of here”.
This spurred Barin into getting the sloop moved immediately, although ‘immediately’ didn’t happen as quickly as he’d hoped, not by the time everyone had drunk tea and rearranged tasks. By now the clouds had got a lot thicker and darker.
“I think you should let Toppy help”, said Adam, in the kitchen, where Bardin was fetching his shoes.
“What for?” said Bardin “The five of us can manage on our own. We don’t need any cooking doing, so he doesn’t need to come”.
“Well that’s a very ungracious attitude”, said Adam.
“Oh alright, he can come”, said Bardin, in exasperation.
Toppy began the slow methodical process of changing out of his slippers and into his canvas deck-shoes.
“See what a performance he makes out of everything!” Bardin complained.
“Bardin, if you don’t stop going on”, said Adam, sternly “Captain or not, I shall put you over my knee!”
Bengo gave a splutter of laughter, and Bardin glowered at him.
“I’ve got a bone to pick with you anyway”, Bardin turned back to Adam “I wish you’d keep the biscuit tin out of range. Bengo can get at it too easily”.
“It wouldn’t matter if I put it on the top shelf of the pantry he’d still climb up to it”, said Adam “So would Freaky. They’re like a couple of little monkeys”.
“They are a couple of little monkeys”, said Joby “And Lonts would only fetch it down for ‘em anyway”.
“Yes, he’s such a magnificent lug of a thing”, said Adam, hugging Lonts whilst Joby groaned.
“I’m trying to clean my pipe, Adam”, said Lonts, who was standing at the draining-board.
“When are you gonna start growing your beard then?” Joby asked Toppy.
“I have started!” said Toppy, indignantly.
“Have you?” Joby peered closely at the wispy little fuzz on Toppy’s face “Oh yeah. Sort of”.
The sloop was taken upriver with the minimum of fuss. Farnol and Hoowie were banished down into the hold to check over the engine, Rumble steered, and Bardin paced around looking important. Bengo and Toppy hauled up the anchor and then sat on the coil of chain during the actual sailing, until it was time to lower it again.
“I sometimes think that if we did get driven away from here”, said Toppy, whilst they were still chugging up-river “I wouldn’t mind sailing out onto the open seas, like they did on the old Indigo before they picked us up. That’d be good. I quite miss shipboard life at times”.
“I know what you mean, but YOU’D like to go out on the ocean?” said Bengo, looking at him in astonishment.
“Why is that so surprising?” said Toppy, sharply.
“Because you’re such a wimp usually”, said Bengo.
“Is that so? Was I a wimp when I rescued Tamaz from that strange creature in the marshes that time?” said Toppy.
“No, but I try not to think about that too much”, Bengo shuddered.
“If we carry on being a tourist attraction we might have to go sailing”, said Toppy “Depends how unbearable they get I suppose”.
“It’ll be Bardy’s decision”, said Bengo “He’ll make the right one”.
“Get ready to drop anchor”, said Bardin, coming down from the poop-deck a few minutes later.
Bengo and Toppy stood up and began to unravel the chain once more. By now they were about a mile from the jetty, and the sloop would be sheltered from the open sweep of the bay.
“We should just about get home before the storm breaks”, said Bardin, looking out at the expanse of overgrown fields to the side of them.
The storm broke early evening. Julian went to bed, convinced he was starting a summer cold through sitting out on the grass at dawn, and took up regal residence in the four-poster in the main bedroom. Finia, Bengo and Toppy went up to keep him company, and nearly drove him mad. Finia sat on the bed, doing an extensive pedicure on his own feet. Toppy pranced around, dosing up the oil in the lamps, and Bengo tried to “make himself useful”.
“Is there anything else you’d like me to do?” he said, hovering by the bedside.
“Yes, go away”, said Julian.
“Do you need the po?” said Bengo, undaunted.
“No I do not!” said Julian “And even if I did I’m quite capable of taking myself to the bathroom. I’ve caught a chill, not had a stroke!”
“Can I puff your pillows?” said Bengo.
“If it’ll make you happy”, Julian sighed, in a longsuffering way “Why did I end up getting such idiotic children?!”
Adam came into the room, carrying a beaker of wine. Julian took his arrival as a chance to expel the other three.
“What, even me?” said Finia.
“Most particularly you”, said Julian “And take all your bottles and lotions and brushes and pumice stones with you. You look like a witch-doctor’s apprentice!”
“I’m sorry, Jules”, said Adam, after they’d gone “I thought they’d amuse you”.
“Very thoughtful I’m sure”, said Julian, sipping at the wine “I’m surprised Freaky wasn’t in here as well, asking me if I’d brought my will up to date!”
“He’s been with Patsy all afternoon”, said Adam, opening Julian’s cigar-box “I’m going to half-inch one of your smokes, darling”.
“I suppose you think because I’m laying low you can do exactly what you want”, said Julian.
“Only if you were genuinely ill but you’re not”, said Adam “Did you realise we could call our little country here, Finisterre?”
“That was in France”, said Julian “Bay of Biscay. Used to hear it mentioned on the shipping forecast”.
“But it meant literally ‘ends of the earth”, said Adam “That’s what we could call our land here”.
“What was wrong with just leaving it as The Bay At The Edge Of The World?” said Julian “If we go changing it now we’ll have to tell the Post Office! Be frightfully inconvenient!”
“You silly old fool!” said Adam, blowing out a puff of smoke “And you don’t sound as though you’ve got a cold to me”.
“No just a bit rheumaticky I think”, said Julian “Put that cigar out and come and lie down with me”.
Adam obliged, climbing in next to him on the four-poster.
“The younger ones have suggested that if things get too uncomfortable for us here”, he said “Then we could take the Indigo out onto the ocean. I think they got a bit jealous of our little sailing-trip round the Horn of Wonder all those years ago”.
“More likely that they’re so bone-idle and spoilt they can’t face a winter here”, said Julian “God forbid, they might have to do some work!”
“You should listen to yourself sometimes”, said Adam “You sound like the worst kind of pensioner. You’ll be demanding the return of National Service next!”
“That wouldn’t work on our lot”, said Julian “Rumble and Bardin might get through it o.k, but the thought of Bengo and Hoowie doing it is quite disturbing. And Farnol would spend his entire time in the glasshouse for talking too much!”
“Toppy would do well at keeping his kit as it should be”, said Adam.
“Yes, he’d probably end up doing all theirs for them too!” said Julian “Anyway in the generational war you are supposed to be on my side, instead of ingratiating yourself with the kids all the time”.
“I do not ingratiate myself with anyone!” Adam protested.
“That has always been your way”, said Julian “You never defend your own kind. Like always trying to deny you’re one of your own class”.
“Oh don’t start on that one again”, said Adam “It just irritates you because I refuse to be a crashing snob like you”.
“To thine own self be true”, said Julian.
“I am being true to myself!” said Adam “Class warfare and generation gaps simply don’t interest me, so why should I get het up about them?”
“We have reached an impasse here”, said Julian, sitting up and pulling off his shirt “So we’ll have to find something else to do to pass the evening”.
Tamaz arched his back and contorted his face in a rictus-like grimace. He was lying on the bed in the room behind the pantry, having his clitoris rubbed by Kieran. He climaxed and then lay there panting.
“I wish that feeling could last a lot longer”, he said, eventually “It’s too brief”.
“The exquisite agony of it”, Kieran smiled “You have to throw yourself into those few seconds for all you’re worth”.
“But sometimes you get all that long build-up just for a few seconds of that … that feeling”, said Tamaz.
“Ah, but it’s worth it”, said Kieran.
“You’ve got a thing about clitty’s haven’t you?” said Tamaz.
“I’ve got a thing about most parts of the body”, said Kieran, gently stroking one of Tamaz’s nipples.
“But you’re the only one who’s happy to spend ages rubbing my cunt”, said Tamaz “The others, even Joby, get all wired-up and impatient”.
“I enjoy it because I love watching all the expressions on your face”, said Kieran.
“And you like having me at your control”, said Tamaz.
“You’re under complete control then!” said Kieran.
“Ssh, there’s someone out in the passage”, Tamaz sat up.
Mieps walked quietly into the room.
“Oh you’re in here”, he said, looking down at Tamaz.
“Come and join us”, said Kieran, relishing the idea, in his bad boy Catholic way, that he probably sounded like someone out of an old soft porn movie!
“Yes, yes, yes”, said Tamaz, hissing with excitement and bouncing around on his knees “Kieran can rub your clitty too”, then he added to Kieran that “before he joined us Mieps had had no idea what his clitty was for!”
Mieps blushed and snapped at Tamaz to be quiet. Nonetheless he took off his clothes and climbed in a stately fashion onto the bed.
“Come unto me both, my little demons”, said Kieran, putting his arms around them both.
This was the last straw for Angel. He had been walking around the house, undetected by anyone, whilst the storm had been in progress. He thought it was time he should check up on them all, and see how all the “blips” were affecting them. Seeing Kieran in bed with his “demons”, Tamaz and Mieps, had driven him to complete distraction.
He hadn’t assumed a solid state for this visit, instead he was dark and shadowy and insubstantial. He left the room behind the pantry and dashed into the dining-room, where Lonts and Joby were playing draughts. On through the great hall and into the library, where the clowns were lounging around with the gramophone on full-whack. In frustration he ran into the hall and screamed, his high-pitched inhuman voice echoing all around the cavernous room, at the same time scraping his talons along the whitewashed walls, leaving deep indents behind him.
“It’s him!” Joby yelled, running in from the dining-room.
He felt a whoosh of air as though he was trapped in a wind-tunnel, as Angel’s form ran straight at him. Joby positioned himself so that he was in front of Lonts, remembering that Angel carried a deep resentment for the Kiskevian. Angel gripped his arm and hurled him against the piano.
“Out of here!” Bardin shouted at the top of his voice, as he pulled open the front door “OUT!”
Angel whooshed past him, screaming as his now-invisible form ran towards the river. With Farnol’s help Bardin managed to get the door shut again. Bardin caught his breath, and by the time he’d composed himself Ransey and Finia had come down the hidden staircase by the fireplace, and Adam and Julian had appeared on the main stairs. Joby was inspecting a burn-mark on his arm, tearfully assisted by Lonts.
“Bengo”, Bardin gulped “Fetch the nearest brandy decancter”.
“Where’s Patsy?” said Adam.
“He should be in the room behind the pantry”, said Joby.
They all trooped en-masse to the far end of the house, marching in single file down the narrow corridor. They burst in the bedroom to find Kieran lying contentedly in the middle of the bed between Mieps and Tamaz. All of them had been dozing in a post-coital fashion, and vaguely listening to the thunder outside. Bardin pushed his way through the others and stood gazing down at them.
“Hello Bardin”, said Kieran, looking up at him blearily “What’s the matter? Is the house on fire or something?”
“Are you sure that’s going to be alright?” he asked, about twenty minutes later when most of them had decamped to the library. Finia was putting antiseptic cream on Joby’s arm.
“Yeah”, said Joby “It’s just a Chinese burn, that’s all. Nothing serious”.
“I didn’t hear a damn thing, I’m amazed”, said Kieran, sitting down next to him on the sofa.
“It’s a big house, and there’s a storm going on almost directly overhead”, said Joby “Anyway, if I was in bed with Mieps and Tamaz, I doubt I’d take any notice of Angel either!”
“That’s what got him so wild”, said Finia.
“He’s ruined the paintwork in the hall”, said Hillyard.
“Oh dear!” said Joby.
“I’ve a feeling this marks a turning-point”, said Kieran “Angel’s just been a cog in the wheel since all this began, but all this way down the line and he’s getting nothing out of it. Nothing but a lot of grief anyway. I think he might drop out from now on, and the big guns’ll get wheeled on”.
“And just who are the big guns?” said Bardin, moving over from the bookshelves where he had been talking to Ransey.
“Caln’s one”, said Kieran “But there’s no way he’s operating on his own. All this has been way too subtle for him. There’s a major force operating behind him. So far this person’s stayed in the shadows. But I think it’s time he came out. After all, it won’t benefit him just to keep playing these tricks on us. He must be getting bored with it by now, as bored as we are”.
“Who is the bastard though?” said Hillyard, still sounding aggrieved about the paintwork.
“I don’t know” said Kieran “But if he wants a proper duel, then we’re calling him out. He has to stop being a coward and show himself”.
“I hope you know what you’re demanding, Patsy”, said Adam, consoling Lonts, who was still tearful.
“Ach, whoever it is we can handle ‘em!” said Kieran.
“He’ll take one look at us lot and run a mile I should imagine”, said Julian, who was sitting magisterially by the fireplace.
“Bengo, walk round with the decanter again”, said Bardin, who was sounding very tense.
“I don’t think there’s quite enough left in it for everyone, Bardy”, said Bengo.
“Just do it!” Bardin snapped.
Rumble reached over and prodded him in the backside with the brass poker. Bardin gave him a ferocious look and went to stand over by the window. Bengo tiptoed around with the decanter, stepping over everyone’s feet as though he was picking his way round a battlefield strewn with corpses.
“I shall stay down here tonight”, said Ransey, imposingly.
“What for?” said Joby.
“Just to keep an eye on things”, said Ransey “Mieps can stay with me”.
“Oh yeah?” Hillyard grinned “You dirty old basket you!”
“He has the best instincts for keeping guard”, said Ransey.
“In that case why not choose your beloved child for keeping vigil with?” said Julian.
“I want someone who’s not going to get over-excited”, said Ransey.
“Not much chance of that when spending a night with you I would have thought!” said Julian.
“I’ll go and fetch you some blankets”, said Adam.
He went into the laundry-room next door, accompanied by Lonts.
“You’re being very calm, Adam”, he said “I wish I could stay as calm about it as you”.
“We’ve been through worse ordeals than this”, said Adam “This is relatively mild compared to some. And it’s nothing compared to the worst one of all for me”.
“W-was that …?” Lonts asked “When I was ill that time?”
“Absolutely”, said Adam “Very little compares on the scale of things with that”.
To Ransey’s relief they spent a relatively peaceful night, even the storm had moved off by the time everyone turned in. The first shades of dawn began to appear at around four-thirty. He got up out of the armchair, where he had spent the night and, leaving Mieps sleeping on the sofa, padded through the gloom to the kitchen.
Here he raked the stove into life and put a kettle on to boil. Whilst waiting for it he sat down at the table and savoured the peace and quiet. It was during this moment of reflection that he realised how much the Castle had become theirs. When he sat alone in a room now it was impressions of them that were the strongest, not the mysterious beings who had originally lived there, and who still left traces of their ethereal presences here and there. It was then that he realised they would come out of this protracted dream-trip in one piece, it was just a case of what would happen to them in the meantime.
Back in the library once more, he woke Mieps and handed him a cup of black coffee. Mieps had been lying face-down on the sofa, his breasts spread like two slowly melting marshmallows against the fabric. He sat up and deliberately let the blanket stay around his waist, exposing his breasts completely in the grainy early morning light.
“Am I giving you a hard-on?” he said.
“Behave”, said Ransey, returning to the armchair “It’s not dignified for someone of your age to try and sound like Tamaz”.
“But I don’t look my age”, said Mieps “Neither do you”. Ransey made a dismissive sound, but he was secretly pleased. He was the sort of person who when young had felt and acted middle-aged. His renewed youthfulness hadn’t had the same dramatic effect as Adam’s, Julian’s and Joby’s had had, but he still noticed it, particularly the smoothness of his skin when he rubbed his hand over his face.
Mieps got off the sofa and crossed to the window. Ransey thought that here was something that was a vast improvement on his youth. In those days if he had seen naked breasts, either in an old picture or an illegal film, or by chance in public adorning some pill-popping eunuch, he would have feasted his eyes on it like a starving man seeing a haunch of roast beef. These days he could see it anytime he wanted, even if they did come on a hermaphrodite! He gave a satisfied smirk and sat back in his chair.
“You can’t do this to me, I’m Captain!” Bardin squealed.
“I don’t care who you are”, said Adam, continuing to spank Bardin’s neat, round buttocks “When Julian was Captain I treated him the same say if he got unbearable. And you’ve been getting unbearable, you little toad!”
Bengo, the only other person in the kitchen, stuffed the hem of his t-shirt into his mouth to try and stop himself from laughing out loud. Bardin was finally allowed to get to his feet. He was seething with rage and blushing deep crimson.
“Now go outside the pair of you”, said Adam, returning to his original task of putting newly-laid eggs into cardboard egg-racks “And Bengo, stop eating your clothes”.
Bardin flounced outside, followed by Bengo, who kept pace with him as he stamped up and down the path at the side of the house.
“And in all that I came out without my cap!” Bardin shrieked, indignantly “How could you just stand there and laugh like that?”
“You’d have laughed if it’d been me”, Bengo retorted “Which it has been, loads of times. Anyway, I don’t know what all the fuss is about. You normally like being spanked, it turns you on”.
“Not like that”, said Bardin “Adam … he treated me like a little boy”.
“You were acting like a little boy”, said Bengo.
“I thought you of all people would be on my side”, said Bardin “When Adam belted you in the Village of Stairs that time, you got into such a state about it you went and hid under the desk in the cabin”.
“Yeah, but I’m stupid”, said Bengo “You’re not. Or you’re not supposed to be anyway. You’re getting far too worked up about things, Bardy. Rumble’s been saying the same thing”.
“Oh, so you’ve been discussing me with Rumble have you?” said Bardin, angrily.
Bengo gave a “wa-a-a-ah!” of extreme frustration and stamped in the general direction of the river. When he got to the corner of the house he turned and shouted “And I hope your arse hurts!”
Bardin stamped after him. When he got to the river he found Bengo lying on the bank. Kieran, Joby and Tamaz were sitting up beyond the bridge. Bardin tried to sit down next to his partner, but found it too rough on his behind and so had to crouch on his ankles.
“What did you and Rumble actually say to each other about me?” he asked.
“Can’t remember, not properly”, said Bengo, getting to his feet again “And if all you want to do is get at me, Bardy, I’m going somewhere else”.
Bardin ran after him and pushed him into the river. He then stood on the bank and crowed with laughter as Bengo splashed around in the water.
“You two have more fights than we ever did”, said Joby, running up with Kieran to try and haul Bengo out of the water.
“I’m going indoors”, said Bardin “There’s work to be done around here you know”.
Bengo, now back on dry land again and looking very wet and muddy from where he had been dragged through the damp soil on the bank, made as if to go and punch him.
“Let him go in”, said Joby, holding him back “The mood he’s in you won’t get anywhere with him, you’ll just carry on fighting that’s all”.
“And I think we need to clean you up”, said Kieran “Get the tin bath and the scrubbing brush out”.
“Yeah I’m sorry mate”, Joby laughed, helplessly “But you don’t half look funny!”
Bardin found the large trap-door raised in the great hall. This, via some very chilly and damp stone steps, led down into the cellar. Farnol and Rumble were loading sacks of goods onto a wheelbarrow, in preparation to carry this up the marble staircase between them, for storage on the upper floor, safely out of range should the river burst its banks during the wet season.
“We could do with some help from you and Bengo you know”, said Rumble “Me and Choppsy are having to do all this by ourselves”.
“Where’s Hoowie?” said Bardin, irked by what he regarded as Rumble’s sanctimonious tone.
“Just this once I’d like to know as well!” said Farnol.
“I’m not sure it’s a good idea putting all this upstairs”, said Bardin, just to be bloody awkward “Mice might get at it”.
“We’ve put traps down”, Rumble sighed.
“So be careful when you go into the closet”, said Farnol “Or your little tootsie’s will get snapped”.
“Let’s get on with this”, said Rumble, nudging Bardin “You can help us carry it upstairs. It might put you in a better mood”.
Kieran hosed Bengo down on the back lawn, and then propped the hose, which was connected to the taps in the kitchen, into the tin-bath.
“Right Ad, turn the hot water on as well!” Joby yelled through the kitchen window.
Toppy collected Bengo’s discarded clothing, shook it disdainfully and spread it out on the bushes by the back door.
“I hope this isn’t going to take long”, Adam shouted “The pipes are making the most horrendous noise”.
“Oh they always do that”, said Joby, dismissively.
“You can’t expect the poor wee scrap to bath in cold water now can you?” said Kieran.
“I don’t see why not, it might calm him down”, said Ransey, who was drinking tea at the kitchen table.
“It’s Bardin who needs calming down”, said Adam.
Raucous sexual innuendoes broke out as Julian and Hillyard returned from the stables, enjoying the sight of the bathing Bengo.
“That’s what I need, a bath”, said Julian, pulling off his sweat-soaked shirt and tossing it onto the draining-board “Hillyard, get my hip-bath filled up. I’ll go out on the lawn too”.
“Well in that case why can’t you just go in the tin-bath after Bengo?” said Adam.
“Don’t be disgusting”, said Julian “That might suit a little savage like Bengo, but I have standards to maintain”.
“Since when?” said Hillyard.
“Just get on with it”, said Julian.
Hillyard picked up the china hip-bath, which was kept propped outside the downstairs loo, and lugged it outside.
“It’s going to be an awful strain on the plumbing, Jules”, said Adam.
“Stop faffing”, said Julian “You always carry on so. What’s the point of having water on-tap if you can’t use it!”
“You can bloody well clear it up if the pipes burst!” said Adam.
“That I’d like to see!” said Ransey “Him clearing it up I mean, not the pipes bursting”.
Mieps and Hoowie returned from the forest carrying three dead rabbits.
“We’ve just been round the snares”, said Mieps, gruffly, swinging the rabbit uncomfortably close to Adam’s face “Bonus day”.
“Yes, it would be”, Adam sighed “Put them in the pantry for now”.
“You didn’t take me”, said Tamaz, indignantly, following them in through the back door “You took Hoowie instead”.
“You were too busy smooching Joby by the river”, said Mieps, sounding catty and put-out.
“Miaaow!” said Julian.
“I hope it’s not going to get much busier in here”, said Adam “Somehow I’ve got to start doing the lunch”.
“What are you talking about?” said Julian, looking around him “Bags of room for everyone. You’re faffing again”.
“With good reason”, said Adam “Sometime this kitchen feels like a bloody bus-station!”
“You should have been in here at 5 o’clock this morning”, said Ransey “It was so peaceful and tranquil. I really got a feel of the Castle then. Marvellous”.
“Alright, you can switch it all off now”, said Hillyard, shouting in through the kitchen window.
“And not before time”, said Adam.
He was in the middle of turning off the taps when one of the pipes came away from the wall, broke off at a join and hurled water all over the draining-board and onto the floor. Tamaz yodelled with excitement and clambered up onto the kitchen table.
“Hillyard!” Julian shouted, as though it was simple a case of the telephone ringing and needing to be answered.
“Oh bloody hell”, Hillyard groaned, looking in again at the kitchen window.
Ransey waded across to the sink and closed off the stopcock. Slowly, (all too slowly), the water dribbled to a cessation, but by this time the floor felt like a paddling-pool.
“Are you o.k?” Julian asked Adam, and when grumpily assured that he was, Julian announced that he was going outside for his bath, on the supremely aristocratic principle that there was no point in wasting the water.
Adam, needless to say, was extremely annoyed about this.
“Go outside too”, said Ransey, firmly “We can get cleaned up in here”.
“Yeah, you go and have a row with Julian”, said Hillyard “Take your mind off it all”.
“Oh very well”, Adam pushed his way out through the onlookers at the back door, who included Bengo wrapped in a large towel.
“Don’t bloody start”, said Julian, now ensconced in his hip-bath on the lawn “Hillyard and Ransey’ll get it sorted out”.
“You could at least have offered to help clear it up”, said Adam, although he knew full well that this would have been highly unlikely “Especially considering it was all your fault”.
“Don’t be absurd, that pipe could have come away at any time”, said Julian, and then added in a much gentler tone “Soap my back for me. Come along now, it’ll help to calm you down”.
Adam knelt on the grass and softly swabbed Julian’s back with a sponge, much as he had used to do during their younger days.
“Are you going to stop being angry with me now?” said Julian.
“You make me angry when you’re being arrogant”, said Adam.
“I’m never arrogant, not truly”, said Julian “No seriously, I’m not. I just say what I feel and people sometimes misconstrue it. When I think of arrogance I think of Codlik poncing around in an aura of sanctity, thinking he has some divine right to tell people how to live. That’s true arrogance”.
“I guess so”, said Adam “But he wouldn’t have left everyone else to clear up the bloody kitchen!”
“No he’d hang around and get in the way, feeling he had to ‘organise’ everyone”, said Julian “Which do you think would have caused the most irritation to everyone else? I bet you it wouldn’t have been me”.
The mopping-up operation was in full progress, and Joby picked his way around the kitchen topping up everyone’s brandy glasses. Finia gathered his petticoats up between his legs and then climbed onto the table next to Tamaz.
“We’ll run out of brandy at this rate”, said Lonts “And it’s ages until the next supply-run”.
“We’ve got bags of the stuff”, said Joby “And nothing destroys brandy. It’s invisible, I mean invincible”. “I think I can hear Bardy coming down the stairs”, Bengo whimpered, who was wearing his towel like a toga “Oh he really hates me at the moment, and this’ll make him worse, as it’s all my fault”.
“It’s no one’s fault”, said Hillyard “The plumbing’s ancient that’s all”.
“What’s going on in here?” Bardin demanded, emerging from behind the stove.
“We sprung a leak”, said Joby “All getting fixed up now. Would you like a brandy?”
“Yeah, pour him one before he gets too excited and starts going on”, said Hillyard.
“Is that any way to talk to me?” Bardin snapped, sloshing his way across the kitchen.
“Uh-oh, the megalomania’s setting in”, said Joby “It was only a matter of time I spose”.
“It’s not megalomania, it’s paranoia”, said Hillyard “These theatricals are all the same. They see conspiracies everywhere”.
“Oh Bardy!” Bengo gave a cry of anguish and ran through the puddles towards him. He flung his arms around Bardin’s neck and completely lost the towel.
“Terrific”, said Joby “Now the scenario’s complete. Somebody had to lose their clothes, and it would have to be either him or Tamaz”.
“Bengo never had any on to start with”, said Kieran.
“Bardy’s suffering torments”, Bengo cried.
“I spose so, he usually is”, said Joby.
“Alright Bengo, calm down now”, Bardin kissed him “Don’t get yourself in a state. Who’s been giving him brandy?”
“We’ve all had brandy”, said Hillyard.
“These taps are not to be used for anything heavy-duty”, said Ransey, above the chaos “Nothing more than filling a sink, o.k? In future anyone taking a bath outside should fill it up from the rain-barrels”.
“And what if they’re empty?” Tamaz snorted, as though Ransey was too dim to notice such an obvious problem.
“Then you can go in the bloody river!” said Ransey “I don’t know why anyone wants to scrub outside anyway, not when we’ve got a perfectly good bathroom upstairs”.
“You wouldn’t”, said Kieran “You’ve got no poetry in your soul”.
“Are you surprised?” said Hillyard “He is an accountant after all”.
“I just thought perhaps it would make you feel better if you took the head of the table from now on”, said Adam to Bardin, in the dining-room “You are Captain now after all”.
“So I said earlier”, Bardin growled, and then relaxed his stern stance “I don’t want the head of the table. It’s Julian’s place, he is the eldest when all’s said and done. It should be him who sits there”.
“You’re a very reasonable young man”, said Adam, patting him on the shoulder.
The others gradually filed into the room, where Toppy had been setting up the lunch against all odds.
“I think we should always do it this way”, Bardin continued “Make it a naturally continuous process, like the changing of the seasons. Whoever’s the eldest should sit at the head of the table”.
“If Julian ever dies it’ll be your turn”, said Joby to Adam.
“But when it’s Toppy’s turn he’ll be sat there all alone”, said Lonts.
“No I won’t”, Toppy hissed, putting a dish of tomatoes on the table “Hoowie’s the youngest, not me”.
“Hoowie’ll be sat there all alone”, said Lonts.
“That’s the best thing I’ve heard all day!” said Bardin.
Everyone gradually sat down, except Toppy, who was still bringing the dishes out. Then they sat in monastic silence whilst he walked the length of the table and found his place. Then they ate.
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