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Toppy was dozing in the hot afternoon sunshine. Completely stripped as he was, he looked like a very young boy. His skin had the smoothness of a 12-year-olds. His buttocks as peach-like and rounded as a baby’s. Farnol knelt by the bed and ran his fingers playfully over the incline of Toppy’s spine. Toppy woke up with a start.
“Ah the brandy zonked you out our kid”, Farnol laughed.
“What’s the time?” Toppy snapped.
“I dunno”, Farnol shrugged “It’s Sunday, definitely Sunday, I do know that much”.
“That’s all you know!” said Toppy “Where’s my shirt?”
Rumble, kneeling on the other side of the 4-poster bed, handed it to him with the mock-gravity of a butler.
“If you’re looking for Tamaz”, said Rumble “He’s down in the linen-room with Lonts”.
“I think he’s a teensy-weensy bit miffed with you”, said Farnol, taking a sadistic pleasure in bringing an embarrassed flush to Toppy’s face “You goes and passes out on him”.
“He won’t let you forget that in a hurry”, said Rumble.
Toppy desperately wanted to deny it, but unfortunately that legendary amnesia which is supposed to affect drunks hadn’t worked it’s charm on him. He vividly recalled Tamaz imperiously ordering him to strip in this very room, and Toppy eagerly obeying. He must’ve zonked out straight afterwards. The upshot of all this now was that Tamaz would be furious. The clowns would revel in it for ages. And Lonts had got all the pleasure which was supposed to be his! Life could be bitterly cruel sometimes.
“I can hear somebody in the kitchen”, Joby groaned, trying to pull his nose out of the comfort of the pillow.
He was piled on the narrow bed in the room behind the pantry, with Adam and Kieran. Today was his birthday, although numerically it had had no significance. Even if he could remember exactly how old he was meant to be (which he couldn’t), he looked instead about 23.
“Sounds like Toppy to me”, said Kieran, drowsily “Snapping at one of the others”.
“Wots …” Joby sat up and pushed his mop of hair out of his eyes “Who’s he yelling at then?”
“I’ve no idea”, said Adam “Go back to sleep”.
“Nah, I wanna know what he’s up to”, said Joby “Sounds like he’s wrecking the damn kitchen”.
“At home with Toppy the homicidal maniac”, said Kieran.
Toppy wasn’t yelling exactly, it was just that Joby in his slightly hungover state thought he was. Joby, clad in only a ragged vest that didn’t quite conceal his genitals, roamed into the kitchen, where he found a sweaty Toppy carrying out fencing thrusts and parries with the stove poker. There was nobody else in the room.
“Anybody we know?” said Joby.
“I’m working off my aggression”, said Toppy “So that I can feel vindicated again”. “Oh”, said Joby, nonplussed “Good”.
“It’s all your fault anyway”, said Toppy “That infernal brandy wouldn’t have got brought out at lunchtime if it hadn’t been your birthday”.
“Sure!” said Joby, sarcastically “I held you down didn’t I? And stuck a funnel in your mouth and poured it down you!”
Joby wandered into the dining-room. The remains of the birthday/Sunday lunch were still on the table, and several of the others were still seated around it. Bardin was talking enthusiastically about painting the bottom of his canoe. Next to him Bengo had wearily rested his chin on the back of his chair. He looked like a dog who had padded around with his leash in his mouth in the optimistic hope of getting taken for a walk, only to be ignored, and then retreating to his basket in a hurt sulk.
“Strewth!” said Joby “Are you lot still in here? I can imagine archaeologists breaking in here in a 1000 years time and finding you all still sitting here!”
“Have you come to clear the table at last?” said Julian “We could do with some coffee”.
Joby patted Julian’s cheeks facetiously and then slipped away before Julian could grab him. He went into the hall next, intending to do a leisurely circuit of the ground floor of the house. He often did this when Adam gave him a rare break from the kitchen, and Joby usually hoped he’d find some means of distraction to keep himself away for a while. He went to the porch and stood looking out across the river. A few seconds later he saw what at first appeared to be a swarm of flies gathering on the horizon. Then he saw it was far worse than that.
“VISITORS!” he screamed, pelting back into the dining-room “Fucking visitors heading across the fields towards us!”
“Alright, calm down”, said Hillyard “It was bound to happen sooner or later”.
“Why?” said Joby, indignantly “We’re meant to be a closed order”.
“Yeah, but the rest of the world doesn’t seem to take that fact as seriously as we do”, said Bardin.
“And put some pants on”, Julian barked at Joby.
Tamaz and Lonts appeared. Tamaz was completely naked, and refused to obey when Bardin ordered him to go and get dressed. So Bengo hoisted Tamaz over his shoulder and carted him into the library, where Tamaz promptly escaped out of the window, saying he was going to go and hide in the maze.
“You should’ve kept a firm grip on him”, Bardin bellowed, when he came in to inspect them both a couple of minutes later.
“You go and fetch him then”, Bengo mumbled. He sat in an armchair whilst Bardin vigorously brushed his tousled mane of hair for him. So vigorously in fact that Bengo shrieked with pain.
“Too bad”, said Bardin “With this mop you can’t get away with just brushing it once a day. Sometimes I’m amazed you even manage to have a shave”.
“Mieps shaved me this morning”, said Bengo “I was shit-scared, rigid with terror the whole time. I thought he was gonna slit my throat. Ow! Now you’re just being a fucking sadist, Bardy”.
He wrestled the hairbrush off Bardin, and then began to belabour him with it.
“I wanted you to come with me straight after dinner”, said Bengo, smacking Bardin on his rump with the brush “But instead you sat there jawing on about your damn boat”.
“You should’ve said!” Bardin squawked. “You told me to shut up!” Bengo smacked him even harder.
“There’s no time for enjoyment now!” said Julian “Where’s Freaky gone?”
“He escaped out of the window”, said Bengo.
Julian smacked Bardin too.
“It wasn’t my fault”, Bardin protested.
“Of course it was”, said Julian “You’re Captain, everything’s your fault. Besides, you have the neatest arse!”
Julian tore himself away from the irresistible sight of it, and went back into the hall, where it had been confirmed that the army of visitors was still advancing remorselessly on them across the fields. It was indeed, as they had feared, Codlik and Glynis, accompanied by an ominously large group, including Leon riding a small pony. They had left their yacht moored up by the sloop.
“Alright, let’s have all the loonies lined up for inspection in here by Mr Codlik”, said Julian “Where’s Mieps? I want to know where he is at ALL TIMES during Codlik’s visitation”.
Mieps had disappeared up the enclosed staircase by the fireplace in the great hall. Midnight Castle was riddled with hidden passageways and staircases. This one was rarely used, as it came out through a trap-door into one of the largely-unused bedrooms. Ignoring Adam’s protestations that their visitors were practically on top of them by now, Julian climbed up it too. Mieps was sitting on the edge of the trap-door. When Julian got near the end of the staircase he grabbed one of Mieps’s dangling feet and bit into his ankle. Mieps hissed but Julian stayed latched onto him and they rolled around on the bedroom floor.
“See this?” Mieps pulled a dusty bowler hat out of one of the cupboards in the stuffy dressing-room next door. He put it on but it was too big for him.
“An old hunting-hat”, Julian took it off him and tried it on. It fitted him better.
Both of them were naked,, apart from the various hats and scarves which they had found in the boxes around them and tried on. Mieps dug out a large ostrich-plumed fan and held it up against him like an old-style fan-dancer.
“You ever thought you might have heterosexual tendencies?” said Mieps, opening more boxes “You always go into me frontways”.
“Change is as good as a rest they say”, said Julian “And no, I don’t believe I do have heterosexual tendencies. Even the fieriest of women would be milk and water compared to you”.
“You would have had to marry back in your time”, said Mieps “If you’d been the eldest son”.
“No I wouldn’t”, said Julian “There were plenty of eldest sons who did stay single and not reproduce. All it meant was the estate would go to the nearest kin when he died. I doubt Piers ever married. No one in their right mind would have had him! The days were long gone when people were forced into marriages against their will, solely for the sake of continuing the line. Still, if I’d had to get married, I would have chosen someone just like you”.
“That wouldn’t have been easy to find!” said Mieps “Anyway, I’m a savage, they wouldn’t have accepted me”.
“You’re joking aren’t you!” said Julian, wryly “You’d have been perfect! You can give birth to whole litters at a time, and you love killing things. I can’t think of anyone more cut out to be duchess material! Monuments would have been erected to you all over the estate when you died!”
Hillyard sidled into the room and leaned gloomily against the door-frame.
“Don’t sulk, Hillyard”, said Julian “It makes you go all jowly, like a disgruntled bulldog”.
“Glynis asked me if my bridge was safe to walk on!” said Hillyard, in injured tones “What does she think we built it for? Bleedin’ decoration! She stood there on the other side of the river and shouted ‘is it safe?’ for everyone to hear!”
“Well with all the weight she’s carrying I don’t suppose she can take any chances!” said Julian “Well I thought it was funny anyway! You are allowed to laugh, Hillyard. Adam isn’t in here to nag us about being nice all the time”.
“He was having hysterics an’ all”, said Hillyard “Thinks you’ve abandoned him to do all the hosting”.
“Where’s Bardin then?” said Julian “I’m in retirement now. He’s Captain”.
“He’s around, but he seems a bit preoccupied”, said Hillyard “Must be because of that set-to he had with Bengo in the library”.
“Bengo is very spoilt”, said Mieps ”Like Tamaz”.
Adam had caught Tamaz trying to filch some food out of the pantry, obviously intending to lay in supplies for a long siege in the maze. He had got a firm grip on the hermaphrodite and proceeded to dress him in some clothes that had been in the laundry-basket in the corner. Tamaz had struggled and spat, but Adam was a skilled veteran at dressing obstreperous people, after 30 years of handling Lonts.
“Stop spitting at me”, said Adam “And if you go and hide again, I shall come and find you. Don’t forget, I know my way around that maze as well as you do”.
“Do I have to put shoes on?” said Tamaz, sulkily.
“I don’t think we need to go that far”, Adam sighed “Rome wasn’t built in a day!”
He now had to sort out the tea-tray, loading it down with coffee-pots and cups. He instructed Tamaz to fill some jugs with goat’s milk, which was stored in the cool of the pantry. Whilst they were busily occupied, Bardin drifted in. He had tried making small-talk with their massed ranks of visitors in the great hall, but his attention wouldn’t engage for long enough to sustain a conversation. Partly because he didn’t enjoy talking to Codlik, who at best spoke to him in a condescending, patronising way. Bardin felt Codlik acted like a royal personage paying an official visit backstage at a theatre, who decided to “honour” all of the clowns with a few questions. Things weren’t helped by Bengo standing morosely on the other side of the hall with his hands in his pockets, watching Bardin as though he was about to come over and punch him into the fireplace. Bardin also had an urge to keep rubbing his own backside, which was very sore.
“Adam, Adam, you’ve got to sort me out”, said Bardin, breathlessly.
“You’re in the way, move!” said Tamaz, shoving him away from the tea-trolley.
“I keep rubbing myself”, said Bardin “It’s embarrassing!”
“I thought you clowns didn’t ever get embarrassed”, said Adam.
“Adam, please!” said Bardin “There’s no way I can sit on a hard chair talking to that lot with my arse on fire!”
“That must’ve been quite some thrashing Bengo gave you”, said Adam.
“You’d better believe it”, said Bardin “He can be a vicious little sod when he gets going. How was I supposed to know he wanted sex this afternoon?”
“Bengo always wants sex!” said Adam.
He fetched a pot of cream from the windowsill. Bardin tore down his trousers as though they were infected with itching-powder, and flung himself across the kitchen table.
“Dearie me”, said Adam, peering at the reddened flesh.
Tamaz gave a malevolent tee-hee-hee giggle, and Bardin groaned in dismay, blowing his hair out of his eyes. He then gave a sigh of relief as the cold cream began to work its soothing charms. Bengo came in via the dining-room whilst this delicate operation was in progress.
“All the violence you’ve done to me over the years”, Bardin panted “I could’ve had you locked up for good!”
“It’s your own fault”, said Bengo, standing by the table looking down at him “Boring on about your damn canoe like that!”
“They’ll argue for hours”, Tamaz yawned “Shall we take the tea-trolley through now?”
Adam washed his hands, and then he and Tamaz steered the trolley out of the door. Bardin pulled up his trousers, and then clouted Bengo in the mouth with a handful of strawberry jam from an open jar on the table. Bengo wrestled him up against the sink and then kissed him, smearing the jam onto Bardin’s face in the process.
“We’re not arguing now are we?” said Bengo, pausing for breath.
Ransey had herded the guests into the library, as there was nowhere to sit down in the hall, apart from the windowseat, the stairs, and the chair by the front door, which usually acted as a depository for fishing-tackle. The library was also inadequate to accommodate everyone, what with 16 Indigo-ites, and countless guests, including Glynis’s new personal assistant, a thin woman called Nola, who wore a habitual “lemon-sucking” expression on her face. Baby Louise had been left on the yacht, in the care of Lilli, whom Glynis had recently promoted to nursemaid.
Kieran and Joby did endless relays across the hall, fetching chairs from the dining-room.
“Would you like a cushion?” said Kieran, as Nola went to sit on one of them “These can be a bit hard to sit on”.
“This will suffice”, said Nola, dusting it first with her handkerchief.
She was disconcerted by Kieran. As a church-goer she wanted to give him all the respect she felt he was owed as the Founder, but his casual, unorthodox manner rather disconcerted her, and she felt (regrettably) that she could understand why so many bishops didn’t really approve of him.
Toppy led Hoowie into the room, as though he was taking a gorilla for a walk. The air of dismay from the Big House residents on seeing him again was almost palpable. Hoowie spotted Mieps sitting beside the fireplace behind a wing chair, and guessed Julian had ordered him to sit there so that he would be out of Codlik’s line of vision.
“Are you gonna be a bad girl again, Mieps?” Hoowie called out, to the horror of just about everyone.
Mieps curled his lip in an angry hiss, that would have terrified anyone possessed of a brain. Hoowie was blissfully free of such encumbrances.
Kieran fielded Hoowie away from the chair nearest the sofa, where he would undoubtedly have harassed Drusica, one of Glynis’s maids, and ordered him to sit by the hall door.
“You shouldn’t have brought Hoowie in here”, Julian whispered to Toppy at the mantelpiece “I think you should’ve locked him in the linen-room perhaps”.
“I can’t treat him like a dog”, said Toppy, indignantly.
“Look at this way, Julian”, said Ransey, in a low voice “Our guests won’t hang around long with him here!”
Fortunately Glynis was at the other end of the room from Hoowie. She was talking to Lonts and Adam, who were sitting on the windowseat. Lonts, his coffee-cup balanced on the palm of his enormous hand, was solemnly telling her some of the things they had been doing at the Castle recently, the expurgated version anyway. Adam watched him proudly as he spoke, as though Lonts was a gifted child reciting a list of French verbs.
Joby was mooching about restlessly. There was nowhere to sit down, apart from the floor, and he was dreading at any moment the thought that Codlik might start one of his interminable lectures about how selfish they all were.
“I’m gonna go into the garden for a bit”, he said “It’s too hot in here”.
“Why don’t you show Glynis what you’re doing with the garden?” said Adam.
“Yeah, ok”, said Joby.
He took Glynis out through the side door which opened out from the long corridor which connected the kitchen to the library. “I think Adam was trying to come up with a tactful way of getting me out of the room”, said Glynis, as they ambled around the vegetable and herb garden “In case Hoowie started up again. He’s not right in the head is he?”
“Fits in well with us lot!” said Joby.
“No, seriously, Joby”, said Glynis “He’s not is he? He seems to have some pathological compulsion to cause mischief when he speaks”.
“I think it’s because if he didn’t no one would have ever taken any notice of him!” said Joby “It’s the only way he’s ever got noticed. He’s harmless really. Look, if he was cute like Lonts or Bengo, everybody’d go ‘oh ent he sweet!’ and he could say what he damn well liked. But ‘cos he’s an ugly bastard, they wanna gag him and put him in a straitjacket!”
“It’s not very fair when you look at it like that”, Glynis sighed “People shouldn’t be judged by how they look”.
“No, but they always will be”, said Joby “It seems to be human nature. I sometimes think Kieran wouldn’t have got away with half the things he has if he wasn’t so attractive. C’mon, I’ll chase you round the maze!”
“We shouldn’t”, said Glynis “Codlik might not like it”.
“Serve him right”, said Joby “I should think he’s given up all rights to getting jealous after some of his antics”.
“I really hope all that doesn’t start up again whilst we’re here”, said Glynis, despondently.
“Not if Julian’s got anything to do with it it won’t”, said Joby “He and Mieps came to blows about it recently. He socked Mieps in the face”.
“Really?” Glynis looked flabbergasted “I would never have thought Julian was the sort to hit a woman”.
“Mieps ent a woman”, Joby grunted.
“He’s halfway there”, said Glynis “It’s that damn half that causes all the trouble!”
“Well perhaps he punched him on the male side of his face!” said Joby.
“You daft idiot!” said Glynis.
They rounded the runner-bean frame and walked smack into Toppy, who looked about as furtive and sly as it was possible to get.
“What are you up to now, you little scrote?” said Joby.
“I’m going to bed”, said Toppy, haughtily.
“Not round here you’re not”, said Joby.
“I was making my way there”, said Toppy.
“Isn’t it a bit early for bed?” said Glynis.
“I’ve had enough of today”, said Toppy “Nothing’s gone right. I may get up again later though”.
“That sounds like a threat”, said Joby.
Toppy went towards the far end of the house and climbed up the external staircase to their bedroom.
“He’s a very attractive boy on the quiet isn’t he?” said Glynis, appreciatively “Unusual looks”.
Joby gave a non-committal grunt. Toppy’s looks wasn’t a subject that fascinated him greatly.
“When he’s preoccupied and disgruntled he sticks his jaw out in exactly the same way you do it”, said Glynis.
“A lot of people do that”, said Joby.
“Yes, but he seems to have copied it exactly from you”, said Glynis.
“What’s your point?” said Joby, prepared to get defensive.
“That you really are a family”, Glynis concluded.
To the indescribable relief of the Indigo-ites, their visitors decided to return to their yacht soon afterwards. Glynis felt this was not before time. She had heard Nola remarking to one of the maids about how big Lonts was, and what a worry this was “in a simple-minded boy like him, if he’s not capable of controlling himself”. Glynis was relieved that Adam hadn’t overheard this. Adam didn’t like even the mildest of negative comments about Lonts, so to hear him described as a potential sex offender would have undoubtedly ensured their permanent banishment from the house.
The Visitors invited themselves down for dinner the following evening, and said they would bring their own food, to ease the strain on the Indigo-ites’ stores, which seemed to imply that the Indigo-ites lived on the permanent brink of starvation. Glynis praised the marble staircase and fireplace in the hall on their way out, especially the gargoyles which decorated the fire-surround. She was on safe ground with this topic of conversation with Nola, as Nola liked anything to do with houses and their fixtures and fittings. It was what made her such a good assistant to Glynis in the management of the Big House. Nevertheless Nola couldn’t resist a dig at how much everything needed a good clean.
Leon was rattled to find he was going back to the yacht so soon. As Joby helped him onto his pony from the extravagant boot-scraper outside the front porch, Leon tried to persuade him to come back to the yacht with them for the evening.
“Nah, I don’t feel like it”, said Joby, casually.
Leon was a good-natured boy, but since his education had begun in earnest he had been made very aware of his important position in life. It had induced a sense of seriousness in him that hadn’t been there before. Inevitably all the emphasis on his self-importance had made him used to getting people to do as he wished. Joby’s casual refusal to fall in with his plans made him go into a moody sulk and he trotted his pony across the footbridge without a wave or a backward look. Joby spent his life surrounded by people who threw tantrums and who had spectacular sulks, particularly Tamaz, Bengo and Lonts, so he barely noticed Leon’s rather more dignified offering of ill-temper.
“Thank God for that”, he sighed, turning to Hillyard in the porch “Better go and clear the lunch-table now I spose!”
“You live here do you?”
“Some days. Most days I take the train back to Mother. This is what is fashionably called ‘rooms for professional gentlemen’. Discreet and quiet, thoroughly respectable neighbours, and convenient for the City”.
“It’s a bit quiet”, said Joby, nervously “They’re bound to notice I don’t fit in around here”.
“My dear fellow”, said Adam “Don’t let it worry you. We won’t stay here long. We’ll travel for a while. Go abroad. Italy”.
“You said you didn’t like it abroad”, said Joby “England for me, you said”.
“My … my psychiatrist recommended I travel”, said Adam, with considerable embarrassment “And he was quite right. The English don’t understand human nature”.
“They don’t understand the likes of us that’s for sure!” said Joby.
He was following Adam up a narrow staircase. All around them doors were firmly shut, each bearing a number. They were in a block of flat, but a very select old-fashioned block of flats, populated entirely by men, like the bad old days of the 40th century all over again. Joby felt as though he was floundering underwater, trying desperately to grope his way up to the surface for air. Slowly he realised he was hallucinating again, or whatever you wish to call it. He wasn’t Joby, he was Alec. No I’m not, he shouted inside, I’m Joby, Alec never existed!
Adam was acting so different from his normal self. Smartly-dressed in a black overcoat, like any other respectable City gent of the pre-1914 era. This was a revelation in itself to Joby, who was used to seeing him in paint-stained shirts, or skimpy shorts and singlets. Where was the raffish, bohemian Adam? This Maurice character was a stuffy prig. What the hell did Alec see in him? His blonde locks, a shade darker than usual because Adam’s were usually bleached by the tropical sun, were neatly-trimmed. Another revelation. Adam’s hair had always been a mess, always, Julian had said so. He never got it cut as often as he should, and a lock of it was always falling over his eyes. I bet Maurice would never let his get in that state, thought Joby. Then again perhaps he would. Was Adam the sort of person Maurice really wanted to be?
“I’m going mad”, Joby panted “Stop this, I’m going mad!”
“Wake up!” said Adam, sternly.
Joby woke up. He was in the bedroom at Midnight Castle. Night-time. The others were all asleep, zonked out as usual by an overdose of fresh air and living with each other. Adam was next to him, looking concerned. With his tousled hair and his nipple-rings, he was definitely Adam, not Maurice.
“Bad dream?” said Adam.
“I’m not sure”, Joby ran his hand over his own face wearily “Bloody Maurice and Alec again. Why do I keep getting those two jerks? It was you who read the book and saw the film, not me. I’d never have heard of it if it wasn’t for you!”
“You can’t come to any harm”, said Adam, reassuringly “No one has yet with … with whatever all this is. And the characters certainly don’t come to any harm in the book”.
“Bugger the book, this goes beyond the book!” said Joby “This is after they’ve left the boathouse”.
“Really?” Adam exclaimed “How absolutely fascinating! I’d have loved a sequel to ‘Maurice’”.
“Well you fucking live it then!” said Joby, irritably.
“Is it really so bad dreaming about me?” Adam smiled.
“But where’s it gonna end, Ad?” said Joby “I’m dreaming about 1913, what if it keeps going and I end up reliving the trenches or summat. Bloody terrific that’ll be won’t it!”
“Oh don’t worry, I’ll be there to look after you”, said Adam.
“No you won’t, you’ll probably be some snotty officer, safely drinking tea miles behind the lines”, said Joby “A Colonel Melchett-clone!”
“That’ll be Julian actually”, said Adam, which at least made Joby laugh “I know this sounds a little harsh, Joby, but I’d rather you relived Maurice and Alec, than Lo-Lo go through his dream again. It really upset him”.
“I know”, said Joby “He did get the shitty end of the stick there. Shame he wasn’t Alec the gamekeeper, although I spose he’d be reindeer-keeper more like!”
“Go back to sleep”, said Adam “I don’t expect it’ll happen again tonight now. My Mother used to say if you talked about dreams, they wouldn’t come true”.
“My Gran used to say that as well”, said Joby.
The four clowns, who these days slept in the four-poster most of the time, suddenly erupted into loud arguments. Joby hadn’t been the only one to “trip out” that night. Bengo had done so as well. In his “event” he had been sitting in a cafe with the other three clowns, all with large glasses of milk in front of them. They had all been arguing about something, and Bardin had turned to him and swiped him across the nose, causing blood to spurt out of his nostrils. Bardin had been shouting something about a need for discipline and leadership, and yet in a strange use of words that sounded like half-gibberish. Rumble had tried to act as peacemaker, trying to talk sense into Bardin.
“How dare you hit me, Bardy?” Bengo squawked “I’m allowed my own opinion!”
“What are you talking about?” Bardin squinted at him blearily from his pillow “I haven’t hit you”.
“Yes you have, I’m bleeding”, said Bengo “Bleeding from my nostrils”.
“No you’re not”, said Bardin.
Bengo put his hand up to his nose, but it was clean.
“B-but you were calling me dim”, he said.
“That’s about the only bit so far that sounds real!” said Bardin, crossly.
“I’ve had one too!” Bengo cried, joyously “I’ve had a vision too!”
He jumped all over the bed, incurring grave annoyance from everyone else. Bardin managed to pull him back down.
“We’ll talk about it in the morning”, he said, firmly.
Toppy had also tripped out, and this wasn’t anywhere near the pleasant experience it had been the first time. He was Julien Sorel again, but this time firing with a gun at Madame de Renal during a service of mass. He was as badly shaken by this as Lonts had been by his experience. Both had portrayed murderers, or in Toppy’s case attempted murder, as Mme de Renal had survived.
After breakfast Adam sent Toppy and Bengo across the fields to the yacht, carrying a small churn of goat’s milk for the baby and anyone else who might want it, reasoning that exercise in the sunshine would do them both good. The recurrence of the “events” was a major talking-point for everyone though.
“What I want to know is”, said Joby, who was washing up the breakfast dishes at the sink “Why you were seeing a psychiatrist”.
“Because I was homosexual”, said Adam “In those days people often thought it was a form of mental illness, and so Maurice went to a therapist to see if he could be cured of it by hypnosis”.
“This stops right here”, said Julian, standing at the back door, clutching the handlebars of the bicycle, from where he had been for a quick cycle through the forest nearby “It’s getting out of hand. Reality and fantasy are getting increasingly blurred”.
“Yes, but it’s not going to stop just because you say so, Jules”, said Adam.
“I don’t see why not”, said Julian “Mind over matter that’s all”.
“You’re jealous ‘cos you’re not in on their fantasy”, said Hoowie.
“One day I’m going to throttle you with your own hair!” said Julian “You great overgrown troll! Now take this”, he handed him the bike “And go and park it in the porch round the front. Do you think you can manage that?”
Hoowie wheeled the bike away.
“I’ve just seen three of the clowns in the forest”, said Julian “Bardin seemed a bit agitated about something. Anything to do with Bengo’s trip last night?”
“More than likely”, said Adam, uneasily “I may have given him too much to chew on there”.
“Why, what have you been saying?” Julian barked.
“Oh Jules, don’t snap at me like that, it gets me all agitated”, said Adam.
“What have you been saying?” Julian snapped again, even more impatiently this time.
“Actually it’s more my fault”, said Joby “Bengo was telling us all about his trip, and I suddenly cottoned on which book it was out of”.
“Anthony Burgess’s ‘A Clockwork Orange’”, said Adam “With little Bengo as Dim”.
“Figures!” said Joby.
“And Bardin was Alex”, said Adam.
“Of course I had to go and tell ‘em all what happens in it didn’t I” said Joby “Gormless pillock that I am. All about Alex being brainwashed and that. Got Bardin uptight, he thinks he’s gonna imagine it happening to him now!”
“It’s really rather good when one thinks about it objectively”, said Adam “Alex and his droogs were very clownish”.
“Though I can’t see Bengo turning into a bent copper at the end”, said Joby “Bengo the policeman, can you imagine it!”
“Rather a sweet thought”, said Adam.
“A bloody scary one more like!” said Joby “Like Norman Wisdom in ‘On The Beat’!”
“Actually Dim was supposed to be very ugly”, said Adam “So it doesn’t quite all follow. Perhaps Hoowie should have had the trip”.
“I said this stops now!” Julian roared “I don’t want to hear another word on the subject. If you see Hillyard, Mieps or Ransey, tell them I fancy a poker tournament before lunch”.
He slammed through into the dining-room.
“Oh dear”, said Adam, pulling a face “Viddy cross, brothers!”
“You is getting too worked up about it, Bardy-boy”, said Farnol “You always did brood on things too much”.
Bardin walked through the forest, his hands on his snake-hips, looking rather anxious.
“Just relax and smell the grass and trees”, said Farnol, nearly walking into one in his enthusiasm.
“Look up at the blue sky”, said Rumble, peering out from under the bowler hat which he had borrowed from Mieps.
“Oh jack it in you two, you’re giving me a pain in the gut!” said Bardin, waspishly.
“I don’t know what you’re worried about”, said Rumble “These visions can’t harm us”.
“Oh no?” said Bardin, sceptically “Lonts got pretty cut up about his”.
“All love and respect to Lonts, man”, said Farnol “But he’s a special case isn’t he?”
“I suppose so”, said Bardin, grudgingly.
“If these things really did cause harm”, said Farnol “Then Bengo would have woken up with a bloody nose this morning, and he didn’t”.
“But where is all this coming from?” said Bardin “What’s causing it? Why are we hallucinating about things we’ve never read or even heard of?”
“Hey hey hey”, Rumble put his arm round Bardin’s shoulder, and tilted Bardin’s face so that he was staring up into his eyes “Everything will be revealed in the end, it always is. Do you believe me?”
“Yes”, said Bardin, sounding like he’d gone suddenly ga-ga “You look dead sexy in that hat, Rumble!”
“What’s taking them so long?” said Bengo, as he and Toppy waited alone in one of the silent carpeted corridors that ran below deck on Codlik’s yacht “It can’t take that long to decant a churn of milk. Perhaps they’ve forgotten we’re here!”
“I wish you’d calm down”, said Toppy “I don’t know what you’re so nervous about”.
“This place”, said Bengo “I don’t fit in here. It’s full of men like you. I wish I’d gone for a walk with Bardy and the others”.
“They obviously wanted to talk about last night”, said Toppy “Seriously and intelligently, and they couldn’t have done that with you along!”
Bengo shoved him in annoyance, Toppy shoved him back, and a see-saw fight broke out between them, which was only broken up by Ransey suddenly appearing out of the expensive gloom. He separated them like a couple of scrapping kittens, and dealt them both sharp slaps. Toppy adjusted his clothes indignantly, and said he would go and see where the churn had got to.
“What are you doing here?” said Bengo “We didn’t know you was here”.
“I said to Glynis and Nola yesterday that I would pop up for a couple of hours, to look over the household accounts”, said Ransey “They needed some help ironing out a discrepancy”.
“Adam didn’t say you were up here”, said Bengo.
“I don’t think Adam knows”, said Ransey “I only got round to telling Finia and Hillyard. I’m surprised the way you and Toppy keep fighting all the time, that you managed to get all the milk up here intact, and one of you didn’t up wearing it!”
“We don’t fight all the time”, Bengo mumbled.
“Just a great deal of it!” said Ransey.
“Now listen Ransey, we both had bad experiences last night”, Bengo protested.
“Really?” said Ransey, raising a cynical eyebrow “You were pretty excited about yours at 4 o’clock this morning!”
“That’s ‘cos it was the first time I’d had one”, said Bengo.
“Congratulations”, said Ransey.
“There was something in that milk”, said Bengo “That’s what made Bardy hit me”.
“He doesn’t normally need artificial stimulants to manage that!” said Ransey.
Toppy came back, clutching the empty milk-churn.
“I’ve got it, now we can go”, he whispered, as though they were stealing away with Glynis’s jewels.
“Good”, said Ransey “Before they rope me into doing something else”.
Toppy accidentally dropped the milk-churn, and the racket it made on that swish, silent vessel felt like a crate of beer bottles being dropped in an empty church.
“Careful, careful”, said Ransey “We might wake someone up from the dead!”
The Indigo-ites sat down to lunch at 11.30, and although it was only a simple meal of bread, cheese and fruit (plus wine) it went on until a quarter-to-two. They all sat draped languidly around the table. Adam was reading a book at one end, whilst Lonts smoked his pipe. At the other end, Julian, Ransey, Hillyard, Mieps, Kieran and Joby played a few rounds of poker. Finia was croupier, sitting bang in the middle of the table with his legs splayed out on either side of him, and constantly being exhorted to “give us a couple of decent cards this time”, as though it was entirely within his control what came up next in the pack.
At one point Ransey stood up to stretch himself and glanced out of the window behind Julian’s chair. He saw Codlik, Glynis and their party, all very smartly-dressed, walking across the fields towards them, carrying rugs, parasols, and a couple of large picnic hampers. Massed consternation broke out amongst the Indigo-ites, who all clean forgotten that their “guests” had invited themselves down for lunch.
“What do they want to go traipsing about in this heat for anyway?” said Ransey, irritably.
“Particularly all dressed up like that”, said Adam “Highly impractical”.
He leaned against the window, and his tight shorts rode up revealing a substantial part of his firm buttocks. This was such an awesome sight that Julian clean forgot he had had a couple of aces in his hand a moment ago. He only wanted to spirit Adam away upstairs, and leave The Guests to their own devices.
This he managed to do just as The Guests had crossed the bridge and neared their front porch. He tugged Adam up the hidden staircase to the bedroom above the trap-door.
“I never realised this staircase would come in so handy”, he said, once they were safely above “Perhaps that’s what it was used for in the old days. A quick escape-route from unwelcome visitors”.
“It was a bit mean of us to abandon the others like that, Jules”, said Adam.
“Now don’t start, you wonderful creature”, said Julian, kissing him on the lips “It’ll do Bardin good to act as host, make him realise it’s not all fun and games being Captain. Anyway, if you didn’t want to inflame me you shouldn’t have presented your arse to me in such an alluring fashion”.
“I didn’t know I had”, said Adam.
“Of course you did, you always know”, said Julian “That’s why you torment me in that outfit”.
“Nonsense”, said Adam.
“I shall have to give you a few spanks for lying”, said Julian “How can you possibly object to that?”
“I don’t”, said Adam “But I’m just a bit concerned in case any of them decide to come poking around up here. I’d better bolt the door, and the hatch”.
“Do so”, said Julian “And then I shall put you across my knee, you brazen old tart”.
“I still haven’t got around to putting you over mine”, said Adam, carefully shooting the bolt on the door “I’ve been meaning to ever since Midsummer”.
“I don’t doubt for one minute that you’ll manage it at some point”, said Julian, bouncing up and down on the edge of the four-poster, which was the only item of furniture in the room, other than a very old chest of drawers “But you can’t deprive me of my pleasure today. I’m too revved up. Just a bloody nuisance I haven’t got the paddle with me. Come on, over here, before somebody comes and stops us!”
Adam flung himself theatrically across Julian’s lap and was soundly spanked. Julian couldn’t get enough of the feel of Adam’s cheeks beneath his hand, and could’ve gone on in this vein for some considerable time. But he also wanted to roger him badly, and he wanted to achieve that without being interrupted too. Adam undressed him, carefully removing his clothes, revelling in the supernatural youthfulness of both their bodies.
“God, wasn’t all that exciting?” said Julian, afterwards “Having Codlik and Nola in the house acted as an extra fillip I think. Like the first time we had sex at my parents’ house!”
“That was very scary, from what I remember”, Adam laughed, lying next to him on the mattress “I kept worrying in case Piers heard and told on us”.
“He wouldn’t have done that”, said Julian “He was too afraid of me. I’d have broken his fingers if he had”.
“You cruel old sadist”, Adam slapped Julian’s backside “I would have loved a brother like Piers”.
“If he was so bloody wonderful”, said Julian “Why did you always prefer me?”
“I’m not telling you”, said Adam “It’ll only feed your monstrous ego even more”.
Glynis and Nola’s voices were heard in the corridor outside. From what she was saying it was apparent Glynis wanted to show Nola the big sunken bath.
“I don’t think we’ve let the bathwater out from two days ago!” Adam hissed “Goodness knows what’s floating around in it”.
“Let’s go and surprise them”, said Julian “As we are”.
“Jules, we can’t!” said Adam.
“Yes we can”, said Julian, stubbornly “It’d serve them right, poking around in other people’s homes as though it was a bloody museum!”
They met Nola and Glynis coming back out of the bathroom. Glynis carrying her unfurled parasol on her shoulder like Dick Whittington’s worldly goods, wasn’t at all put out at seeing Adam and Julian in the nude. During their waterfront days there was very little of the Indigo-ites she hadn’t seen, nor they of her.
“I wondered where you two had disappeared”, she said “I might’ve known really!”
Nola was prowling around Adam as though she was a vet inspecting a racehorse. She gave a visible shudder at his nipple-rings, and then spent an acutely long time gazing at his reddened buttocks. By the time she had finished Adam’s face almost matched it.
“Well I guess we’d better go and wash the spunk away”, said Julian, heartily.
“Yes I guess you’d better”, said Glynis, giving him a whack across the backside with her parasol.
“Cheeky cow!” said Julian.
“That was so bloody embarrassing”, said Adam, standing in the bath a few minutes later and washing himself with a flannel “Did you see the way that Nola was looking me over? God knows what she thought of me!”
“She was absolutely fascinated by you”, said Julian “I’m surprised she didn’t stick her hand up your backside and start having a root around!”
“Oh it’s alright for you”, said Adam, crossly “Any excuse to get someone to gaze in wonderment at your big dick, you should’ve been a porn actor! I was the one with the red arse!”
“Shows what a game boy you are, my dear”, said Julian “You know if I was Codlik I’d do something about those two, it’s getting to be rather worrying, the way they’re always hanging off each other”.
“Don’t be silly”, said Adam “I’ve never seen any evidence whatsoever that Glynis has lezzo tendencies. If anything she’s always been too fond of men. She’s picked some right ones in her time”.
“And she married the biggest one of the lot!” said Julian “I should think being married to Codlik would put even us off men for good!” “You simply don’t understand women, Jules”, said Adam “They can have very close, intense friendships together without there being any hint of sex. They’re more refined than we are in that respect”.
“Crap”, said Julian “They’re human just like us”.
“What are you standing at the window for?” said Adam, stepping up out of the bath “Come away from there, everybody’ll see you”.
Julian had been looking down at the back garden, where the picnic had been set up.
“I can see Codlik”, said Julian “But I can’t see Mieps anywhere”.
“Then you’ve got nothing to worry about”, said Adam “As long as they both haven’t disappeared at the same time”.
“Even so, I want to know where Mieps is, in case Codlik gets any bright ideas about following him”, said Julian.
“You’re getting too possessive where Mieps is concerned”, said Adam.
“He’s my girl”, said Julian “I have to keep an eye on him”.
“I can’t imagine he appreciates those sentiments very much”, said Adam.
“He loves it”, said Julian “Just doesn’t like showing it that’s all”.
“You should take some clothes off”, said Hoowie, sitting on the grass next to Drusica “It’s too hot for all that gear. Loosen your tits”.
“I thought that might be where you were leading”, said Drusica, wryly.
“You can’t blame me, I live with a bunch of guys”, said Hoowie.
“You’ve got Mieps and Tamaz”, said Drusica.
“Yeah, but I see theirs everyday”, said Hoowie “I haven’t seen yours yet”.
“Go and lose yourself in the maze, Hoowie!” said Joby, sitting on the other side of him.
“I’m only thinking of her”, said Hoowie, unrepentantly “Her breasts’ll stick together in this heat!”
“Big-hearted Hoowie!” said Joby “Always so thoughtful”.
“Aagh!” Hoowie waved a dismissive hand at him and turned back to Drusica “The truth is you see they don’t understand me. I’m a genius, and geniuses are always misunderstood”.
“Now I’ve heard everything!” said Joby.
“What are you a genius at then?” said Drusica.
“He hasn’t figured that one out yet”, said Joby.
Drusica was getting very hot. She wanted to take off her tight-fitting jacket, but was concerned about how Hoowie would react at the sight of her flimsy blouse underneath. Fortunately Ransey was on hand. He could see the heat was getting her down, as were Hoowie’s attentions.
“Go and sit over there”, he ordered Hoowie to a spot on the lawn a few feet away “Go on!”
Hoowie picked his way over the picnic things, muttering that he only got all this trouble because he was an ugly guy.
“That’s the first intelligent thing he’s ever said!” said Joby.
Julian and Adam appeared soon after, and Julian demanded to know where all the clowns were.
“I saw them going into the forest a wee bit earlier”, said Kieran, fanning himself with his straw hat.
“That does it”, said Julian “Bardin doesn’t know the meaning of the word responsibility. I’m stripping him of his rank, and reverting the Captaincy to me”.
“You can’t do that!” said Joby “It’s not democratic. Anyway, you’ve had your turn. Years and years we had to put up with you”.
“And Bardin is very responsible, Jules”, said Adam “I’m sure that whatever he’s doing at the moment it must be something important”. “I wouldn’t bank on that”, said Kieran “They had Tamaz with them!”
What he didn’t add (in front of their guests anyway), was that they had stuffed Tamaz into the canvas laundry sack. They had hit upon the idea of abducting Tamaz and taking him into the forest. Rumble had carried him, and Tamaz felt like he was slowly boiling to death by the time he was set back on his feet.
“I thought you was never gonna get there”, he spat, shaking the canvas bag to the ground.
“We can’t allow you to speak”, said Bardin, fiercely “We’re ruthless, you’re afraid of us. We’re evil bastards”.
“You’re a bunch of jerks”, said Tamaz.
The clowns had come equipped. Farnol waved a pair of scissors, as though intending to snip the shoulder straps of Tamaz’s camisole.
“No wrecking of clothes!” said Tamaz “I wouldn’t have agreed to play this game if I’d known you were going to start hacking my underwear about!”
Bardin gave Bengo a shove of reminder, and Bengo pulled a length of thick ribbon which he had filched from Finia’s sewing-box, out of his shorts pockets. With this the plan had been to gag Tamaz.
“Like hell you will!” said Tamaz.
Bengo backed away, holding the ribbon helplessly.
“You’re not playing the game”, Bardin hissed at Tamaz.
“Some game, it’s been really boring so far”, said Tamaz “I have to stand here whilst you lot pillock about with scissors and things”.
The clowns were in fact all very sexually-charged, so much so that Bengo feared his perennial problem would raise its ugly head, and he’d ejaculate before he had even got anywhere. He begged the others to let him go first.
“But I’m leader”, said Bardin “I should get first admittance”.
“Oh please Bardy”, Bengo whimpered “You know what it’s like. I’ve always had this problem, ever since I can remember”.
“Alright!” said Bardin, impatiently “Let’s not go into all that now or we’ll be here all night! O.K if Bengo gets first go?”
Rumble and Farnol sighed, but agreed. Bengo made love to Tamaz on the forest floor. This sight got the others so inflamed they couldn’t hold out any longer. They tore off their clothes and fell on them like a nude rugby scrum. Tamaz crawled out from underneath them and kicked them all in the butts. Rumble grabbed him and, lying on his back, expertly speared him onto his erect penis, jiggling him about so much that Tamaz’s sweaty breasts flopped around and made sucking noises as they bounced against his torso.
Mieps watched it all from nearby behind a tree, and when Rumble came to orgasm he stode into their midst, bent Bardin over and rogered him brusquely from behind.
“I don’t know what you’re getting so worked up about”, said Bardin “It was a sex game that’s all”.
On their eventual return to the Castle they found their visitors had returned to the yacht, and Julian was furious. He had sent Mieps and Tamaz into the library to await his wrath in there, and had lined the four clowns up in the great hall as though conducting a military parade of inspection.
“A bloody irresponsible sex game!” Julian thundered.
“How?” said Bardin, his brown eyes flashing angrily “How was it irresponsible?”
“Because basically you’re now telling me you get your kicks from acting out gang-rape!” said Julian.
“No!” Bardin shouted “Tamaz was in control the whole time. We didn’t make him do anything he didn’t want to do”.
“You can’t make Tamaz do anything he doesn’t want to do!” said Rumble, laconically.
“You should know that by now, Julian”, said Farnol.
“Shut up! You two are like a bloody echo of each other sometimes”, said Julian “What the hell gave you this idea?”
“I don’t know”, Bardin shrugged “We were all talking to Tamaz in the kitchen. It was hot, we were all getting fruity, and it just came out”.
“As a joke at first”, said Farnol “Let’s take Tamaz into the cool of the forest for a good shagging”.
“You’re over-reacting, Julian”, said Bardin “I just don’t see what the problem is here”.
“It’s no more dodgy than what you get up to with Adam”, said Rumble.
“I would never seriously hurt Adam”, said Julian.
“We wouldn’t seriously hurt Tamaz!” Rumble, Farnol and Bardin chorused back, panto-fashion.
Bengo had burst into tears.
“What’s the matter with you?” said Julian “Stop snivelling”.
“He can’t”, said Bardin crossly, putting his arm round Bengo’s shoulders “You’ve just accused him of being a rapist!”
Julian’s anger subsided immediately. The whole idea of Bengo as a sex maniac was too absurd to give any time to whatsoever.
“O.K O.K”, Julian sighed “Go upstairs and have a bath, all of you. You could certainly do with it!”
He went into the library, where Mieps and Tamaz were sitting alone on the sofa. Tamaz actually looked scared when Julian came in.
“Why don’t you run along to the kitchen and see Joby?” Julian sighed.
Tamaz didn’t need telling twice. Relieved to not be beaten or shouted at, he ran out of the room into the back corridor which led to the kitchen. Julian poured himself a brandy from the decanter on the side-table.
“It’s pointless me demanding to know if you’ve got any shame”, he said “I know damn well you haven’t!”
“I thought you wanted me to stay out of Codlik’s way”, Mieps hissed.
“Sometimes I’ve a good mind to marry you”, Julian retorted “And build a bloody tower in the middle of the maze and lock you up in it! You need a damn good whipping!”
“So do you”, said Mieps, sulkily “And it wouldn’t make any difference to either of us, so don’t come it. If you’d been there you’d have probably done exactly the same as me”.
“Possibly”, said Julian, quietly “If it wasn’t for these hallucinations or whatever they are we’ve all been having, I wouldn’t have reacted so angrily. But it’s becoming a considerable worry that they might start influencing our behaviour. The book that Bengo imagined he and the other clowns were in is a violent one, which features brutal sex-attacks”.
“That wasn’t what I saw in the forest”, said Mieps “And believe me, I’ve seen some in my time! I know what I’m talking about here. What Tamaz and the clowns did was just a bit of fun. I’d have broken it up if it wasn’t. You’ve got to trust me on that one”.
Adam dolloped out portions of vegetable soup for supper, hindered by Bengo who hung around him like a tearful child, bleating bizarrely that he wasn’t a pervert, and Adam was to believe him, or he (Bengo that is) would surely die. Adam disentangled him from his pinny, and sent the clowns to eat outside.
By now the full moon was well risen and was a beige colour. The clowns scoffed their soup and a hunk of bread each, and then lay in the long undergrowth by the river, sprawling on each other.
“I wouldn’t mind so much”, Bardin was saying “But it was me who got molested really, and I don’t notice any great screams of anguish over that”.
“You should’ve seen your face when Mieps got you!” said Farnol, simulating Bardin’s shocked yelp and o-shaped mouth.
“Oh it isn’t fair, not fair at all”, Bengo got to his feet and stamped away towards the house.
“Bengo!” Bardin snapped.
“He’ll come to his sense in a minute”, said Rumble, drowsily.
“I wouldn’t bank on that”, said Bardin “He hasn’t got any!”
Bengo met Kieran in the porch, who had overheard everything.
“Go back to the others and stop chewing over it”, said Kieran, dealing Bengo a crack across the back of his legs with the hazel switch he had been carrying “You’re worse than Joby!”
“I’m sorry, Kieran”, Bengo gulped.
“Go back to the others”, said Kieran, switching him again “And don’t be too late coming in, it’s almost dark”.
Bengo risked another switch to kiss Kieran on the cheeks, and then walked back towards the river. His legs were smarting from his brief whipping, and he was so absorbed in that that he didn’t see Nola until he had walked into her.
“W-what are you doing here?” he gulped “It’s almost dark. You shouldn’t be out here alone. Bardy! Bardy!”
“Where did you spring from?” said Bardin, emerging from the undergrowth with Farnol and Rumble. He reasoned that Nola must have walked the long way down, through the forest from the clearing. If she had come across the fields they would have seen her before.
“You shouldn’t be walking around here along after dark”, said Rumble.
“That’s what I just said”, said Bengo, proudly.
“I can take care of myself”, said Nola “I often go for a walk by myself at this time of the evening”.
“Yeah, but this isn’t the Estate, Nola”, said Bardin “There are things around here after dark that even we don’t know about! You don’t catch any of us wandering about alone after the moon’s up. We’ll walk you back to the yacht”.
“That won’t be necessary”, said Nola, irritably.
“I insist”, said Bardin, firmly “If anything did happen to you we’d have to live with it on our conscience knowing we could have prevented it”.
“Hey! What’s the skinny broad doing here?” Hoowie shouted from the porch.
“Rack off Hoowie, you useless long streak of piss!” said Farnol, and then caught Nola looking at him askance “I’m sorry, but we have to use very basic language when talking to Hoowie, see?”
Hoowie invited himself along on the walk to the yacht. Bardin said he could only come provided he didn’t say a single word. Hoowie made gagging noises as though his throat had been cut.
“A vast improvement”, said Bardin, with approval.
They walked across the fields with Nola in the moonlit gloom. She had come out without a jacket and now kept her arms tightly folded across her flat chest for warmth. She didn’t say a word, and Bardin began to feel like they were a bunch of prison guards escorting a moody prisoner back to her cell. Codlik came tripping down the gangplank of the yacht when they returned, carrying a hurricane lamp.
“Nola!” he gasped “There you are! We were getting concerned”.
“Don’t fuss”, said Nola, abruptly. She and Codlik got back onto the yacht without so much as a backward glance at the clowns, let alone a word of anything.
“Oh please, don’t thank us or wish us goodnight!” said Bardin, when Codlik and Nola had returned below deck.
“After all, we’re only a bunch of clowns”, said Rumble.
“What’s the betting he’s got something going with her?” said Hoowie.
“I thought I warned you not to speak”, said Bardin.
“That was when the sad spinster was still with us”, said Hoowie “I can say what I like now we’re alone again”. “Oh that’ll make a real change, Hoowie!” said Farnol.
“Anyway, why would Codlik want to ball that neurotic old bone-bag when he’s got an attractive woman like Glynis?” said Bardin.
“’Cos he’s weird”, said Hoowie “That guy is so goddamn weird. Look at the way he goes all stupid around Mieps, and Mieps has got a dick and hair on his tits! He gets turned on by freaks! I’ve met guys like him before”.
“I’m sure”, said Bardin, dryly “They were probably nuts about you!”
The appetising aroma of cooked meat wafted out from the yacht, and the gentle, civilised tinkle of cutlery as the shipmates finally sat down to dinner.
“Let’s go before they remember we’re here”, said Bardin, tartly “And decide to chuck some scraps to us!”
They all linked arms and began the trudge back across the fields.
“This is good that this has happened really”, said Bengo, earnestly “It’s redeemed us. After all, Nola was alone with us out here and yet we all behaved completely”.
“Why would we NOT want to behave?” said Bardin “I can’t imagine doing anything with her! There’d be no point taking off all her clothes for a start, I doubt there’s anything worth seeing underneath!”
Adam had put a lit hurricane lamp in the porch to guide them back, which was useful as otherwise crossing the footbridge by moonlight would have been precarious. When they got back into the house they found Adam, Mieps, Hillyard and Lonts in the library, all clutching small glasses of beer. Everyone else had gone up to bed apparently.
“Now you’re back I can go to bed as well”, Lonts boomed, and he left the room. Rumble immediately sat down in the armchair he had vacated, stretching out his long legs wearily.
“I’ll be up in a moment, Lo-Lo”, Adam trilled, and then added to the others “He wanted to make sure you got back safely”.
“That Nola must have some balls”, said Hillyard, leaning against the mantelpiece “I can’t think of many who’d want to walk through the forest on their own in deep twilight”.
“Ah she’s a strange old bird”, said Farnol “She makes even our lady here look normal!”
Mieps didn’t take too kindly to being referred to as ‘lady’, and gave a hiss of annoyance.
“I do wish you’d stop hissing all the time,Mieps”, said Adam “You’ve doing it rather a lot today”.
“Then you should all stop referring to me as a woman”, Mieps spat “It’s really getting on my …”
“Tits?” said Farnol, helpfully.
“I’m as much male as any of you”, said Mieps.
“Actually, technically-speaking, you’re not, old love”, said Adam.
Mieps flounced out of the room. He would have liked to have slammed the door, but it was too big and heavy to do that with any great success.
“I dunno what’s eating him at the moment”, said Hillyard, and then added forlornly “Must be all due to Codlik’s presence I guess”.
“Only the strain of it”, said Adam “Julian’s got him so that he’s afraid to even speak or look up when Codlik’s around. I really don’t think it’s due to any secret yearning for Codlik”.
“How can you have a secret yearning for Codlik?” said Bardin, in astonishment.
“I bet you any money you like Nervy Nola’s carrying a torch for him”, said Hoowie.
“Oh Lor”, said Adam “I do hope they all go home soon!”
For Bengo, it was all happening again, but it wasn’t ‘A Clockwork Orange’ this time. It wasn’t out of any book, it was a dreamscape, and he and the other clowns were all caught up in it. Another steam-train, the four of them laden down with bags were all going on a trip. They had a booking somewhere, a spot in an evening cabaret show. They got a compartment to themselves, but then Bengo noticed Mieps watching them from the corridor. Mieps had never been into cross-dressing like Tamaz had, apart from the gauzy toga he had worn at Christmas. He had never even been known to wear jewellery, but here he was in a low-cut summer dress, and a straws hat wreathed in flowers. He didn’t look as ridiculous as Bengo had thought he would. Farnol went out to him and prodded Mieps’s right nipple, which was escaping from the bodice of the dress. Mieps pushed him back into the compartment and walked away.
Next they were at their venue. A large seaside hotel, and yet everything had that flat two-dimensional feel that Kieran had noticed about Hell on his visits there. Bengo didn’t like the look of the guests. They had a pale washed-out appearance, and mouths set in a grim line as though they hadn’t smiled or laughed in years.
“I don’t think this is gonna work, Bardy”, Bengo heard himself say “We’re gonna die on our feet here!”
“We’ll just do it and leave”, said Bardin.
“But why?” said Bengo “Why do it at all?”
No one listened to him. They were shown to their two rooms at the top of the building. Once alone they all tried to relax by fooling around together, and it worked, it helped to take their minds off their impending doom. Bardin for once wasn’t tense, and he had that sweet, gentle look that usually only occurred when he had been sexually satisfied in some way. Bengo swelled with love for him, and went to hug him, but Rumble got in the way. Rumble pulled down the front of his own shorts and his penis reared out, nearly smacking Bengo in the face as it reared to astonishing proportions.
A little while later, and they had learnt that they were to be doing their routine alongside their old childhood colleagues from the Cabaret of Horrors. Hal, Zooks et al. Bengo had hysterics at this. He would be re-living all their onstage bullying. He ran into the corner of their room and sank to his knees, screaming and blubbing into the wallpaper.
“Bengo’s having one of his tantrums”, said Farnol.
Bardin pulled Bengo to his feet and shook him by the shoulders, but Bengo refused to calm down.
“I’m not doing it, Bardy”, he cried.
“We have to”, said Bardin “It’s the only way they’ll let us out of here alive. What’s a few custard pies in the kisser if it gets us away from here?”
“No-o-o!” Bengo wept.
He had woken up sobbing, but told Bardin that he’d just had a bad dream that was all. He was pretty sure it wasn’t one of their ‘book things’.
At this time of year, dawn was by far the nicest part of the day. By late morning the heat was all too often unbearable. So the sun had barely risen before the Indigo-ites decided to load some supplies onto the hay-cart and go down to the beach for a picnic breakfast. They also felt that at that early hour they’d be pretty safe from The Guests.
Hillyard and Lonts harnessed two of their horses to the hay-cart, and Hillyard said that Mieps was going to have to sit up on the box with him, on the optimistic notion that this might cure Mieps of his bad temper. Kieran had noticed that Bengo was still looking shaken after his night terror and drew him aside near the stables to talk to him.
“I haven’t said this to Bardy yet”, said Bengo “I didn’t want to worry him. But I think from all the things you’ve said in the past, we were in Hell”.
“It sounds like it to me and all”, said Kieran “After all, it would be pretty Hell-ish for you, working with those other clowns again, and in front of a humourless, uptight audience to boot!”
“When performers say they die on stage, that’s what it can feel like”, said Bengo “There’s nothing worse for comics than people who don’t wanna be amused. But it was that other bit that really got to me. We knew we had to perform and perform well, or something terrible would happen to us. Those people weren’t human, I swear it”.
“Probably demons”, said Kieran “Not renowned for their sense of humour!”
“What if we get trapped there, Kieran?” Bengo began to cry again “Oh I’m such a dork, look at me carrying on like this!”
“You’re not a dork”, said Kieran.
“I am”, said Bengo “It’s my hallucination you see. The others would be relying on me to have the strength of mind to get them out of there, like you did when Angel took you and Tamaz down there. They’ll be lost if they have to rely on me! If it was Bardy or Rumble, we’d be alright. They’re intelligent”.
“It’s not intelligence that would matter in that situation”, said Kieran “But instinct, a primitive instinct to rescue yourself and your friends before it was too late, and I’m pretty certain you could manage that. You’ve already done a lot by confiding in me like this. It means I can be on the lookout for you”.
“Is it Angel behind all this after all?” said Bengo “Does he cause all the Book Things too?”
“I can’t believe that”, said Kieran “Angel’s never read a book in his entire existence, apart from the Bible, and that’s only so’s he can try and get at me! He’s probably doing a bit of mischief-making somewhere along the line, he can’t resist it, but no. There’s a superior intellect masterminding all this, and that description certainly doesn’t fit Angel!”
“Someone who’s read a lot of books?” said Bengo.
“Yeah”, Kieran smiled “And someone who’s managed to find out a helluva lot about us”.
“That must be Angel doing all that part”, said Bengo “Feeding all the information to this mysterious great intellect I mean. Angel spied on Joby and Adam at Christmas when they acted out the Maurice fantasy, so he would know about that. I don’t know where all the rest of it comes from though. Toppy shooting women in church, and clockwork turnips”.
“Orange!” Kieran laughed “Orange!”
All nightmares were pushed into the background on the early morning ride through the forest, and once at the beach they put the nosebags on the horses, and built a small fire to make tea. By now Kieran had informed Julian of Bengo’s dream, and Julian had told Bardin about it, who predictably was furious to be hearing about it third-hand.
“I didn’t wanna worry you, Bardy”, said Bengo, standing by a clump of rocks where Farnol and Rumble were sitting at the foot of them.
“That’s what I’m here for!” Bardin shrieked “To be worried. I’m your partner, we’re married. Married! And don’t start whimpering. You always do that when I’m telling you off. It’s a really shoddy trick to pull”.
Rumble suddenly grabbed Bardin’s ankles and deftly yanked him off his feet. Bardin landed on his back, and his head got swamped by the tide. Bengo knelt over him in concern, and Bardin lobbed a handful of wet sand at him.
“I could’ve broken my sodding back!” Bardin roared at Rumble.
“Never”, said Rumble, winking at him “I knew what I was doing. You’d better get those wet clothes off”.
They all breakfasted off tea, and cheese wrapped in doorsteps of bread. The plan was to stay at the beach until late morning when it would become too hot to remain out in the sun. After breakfast a cricket match was organised, and everyone played, except Adam and Lonts who swam out to the rocks further out in the Bay, and Julian who sat on an upturned packing-crate and caught up with his logbook.
After a while he got the distinct feeling they were all being watched, and he picked up the binoculars to see that some of The Guests had stirred, and were coming down the incline from the clearing, towards them. Julian was irritated beyond belief that they were to be encroached upon yet again.
“Freaky, put a shirt on”, he said to Tamaz, who was batting, wearing only his drawers.
“Hold on”, said Tamaz, who was busy anticipating Kieran’s next bowl. He handled it expertly, and Bardin, who was umpire, gave him a gentle nudge to tell him he had to make a run. Tamaz yodelled yoyfully and ran along the small ‘pitch’.
Julian clouted Mieps on the hip with his logbook and ordered him to do up his pyjama jacket. Mieps grudgingly did up two buttons, but refused to make any further concessions.
“I swear you’re helping Tamaz”, said Joby to Kieran “He’s on the other team! You’re supposed to be trying to bowl him out”.
“I can’t help it”, said Kieran “I love the way his bubbies move when he swings the bat. He can bat all morning if he wants to as far as I’m concerned!”
“And we’ll lose big time”, said Joby.
“Nah”, said Hillyard “You wait til I get into bat. Our score’ll go through the roof then”.
“What roof?” said Kieran.
“He’ll use his stomach to hit the ball with”, said Joby, disparagingly.
Hillyard thrust out his pot belly and actually managed to knock Joby over backwards with it.
Their visitors this morning were made up of Codlik, Nola and Leon. Glynis had stayed behind on the yacht to “see to the baby”. Leon went wild with joy on seeing his uncles again, his sourness of the evening before forgotten, and he begged to be allowed to join in the cricket. They played a few rounds until it got too hot, and then announced that they were going home. Leon begged to go back with them too, to see the other animals. No one wanted to be hard-hearted enough to refuse him.
Adam and Lonts eventually swam back from the rocks.
“I thought you were going to stay out there”, Julian grumbled, as Adam dried himself off “That must have been a riveting conversation you were having”.
“We weren’t speaking very much at all”, said Adam, shortly “Lo-Lo and I don’t have to fill up our time together with mindless chatter”.
“I know exactly what that means”, said Julian “You sat there adoringly whilst Lonts grunted the odd brusque word at you”.
“Oh shut up, you spiteful old cow”, said Adam, putting on a pair of Julian’s black silk pyjamas he had borrowed.
“Don’t get those messed up”, said Julian “Or I’ll have to punish you again”.
“Go and boil your head!” said Adam.
Nola was watching them with something like appalled fascination.
“He loves it when I talk to him like that!” Julian explained.
Room on the hay-cart was now at a premium. Hillyard said it would be best if Nola sat with him up on the box (she felt she’d had never been jolted about so much in her life before as she was on this short journey). Codlik announced that he would walk to the Castle, as “exercise was very important to physical health”. Bardin decided that whoever was last to get on the hay-cart should walk with Codlik. This turned out to be Kieran, who had gone to fetch the cricket stumps. Kieran wasn’t at all happy at the thought of a walk in the forest with Codlik, and chucked the cricket stumps at everyone on the cart.
As it turned out Kieran was able to get some dark satisfaction from this walk. Codlik bored him to death with pious utterances about the need for a nice, balanced lifestyle, and then Kieran had to keep standing and waiting for him to catch up!
“Seems like you’re getting a bit of a gut on you too”, said Kieran, prodding Codlik’s middle-aged spread.
“We can’t all be … “ Codlik began, and then stopped abruptly when he realised what he was about to say.
“Emaciated stick insects, you were going to say!” said Kieran, triumphantly “Hah! You’d have sounded just like Hillyard if you had!”
By the time they got back to the Castle everyone had unpacked the cart and unharnessed the horses. Leon was cantering around the back garden pretending he was a horse, and Nola was nowhere in sight. Kieran went into the kitchen where Adam and Joby were unpacking the picnic supplies.
“You reek like a polecat, Patsy”, said Adam, looking disapprovingly at the faded blue nightshirt Kieran was wearing.
“What do you expect!” said Kieran “Having to go on an enforced route march in this heat, the man’s raving mad!”
“Where is he now?” said Joby.
“Gone round the front way”, said Kieran “He can fend for himself round there. Jaysus, my armpits are so damp, you could water your plants just by wringing out me nightshirt!”
“Ugh!” said Joby.
“Well go upstairs and have an all-over wash”, said Adam.
“What for?” said Kieran “It’s not me birthday!”
“Nola wants to talk to you alone, it sounded mysterious”, said Adam “We’ve put her in the library, she’s waiting for you there. She had a look about her as though she wanted to do a confession”.
“God knows what she’s got to confess!” said Joby.
“Well whatever it is, I hope it doesn’t take too long”, said Kieran “I could do with some sleep”.
He disappeared up the hidden staircase by the stove.
“I feel rather sticky too”, said Adam.
“Take your p.j’s off then. Here”, Joby fished a pair of Adam’s undershorts from a pile of clean laundry on the dresser “You can put these on instead”.
“No I daren’t”, said Adam “Julian’s in a funny, frisky mood. I don’t trust him when he’s like that. When I wear them he treats my butt as though it’s a free-for-all and he can do what he damn well likes with it!”
“Gawd, it ent half stressful being you sometimes innit!” said Joby “If you don’t like him getting out of control you shouldn’t encourage him”.
“I can’t help it”, said Adam, sitting down at the table “He knows me better than I know myself. He knows I love it when he gets like that with me. It’s pointless trying to deny it. I must’ve always been a wimp”.
“You’re not a wimp”, Joby stood behind him, put his arms round Adam’s neck and kissed the top of his head “Don’t be daft. You’re a good, strong bloke. Anyway, you’ve sorted him out loads of times. You’re always standing up to him. In fact, many’s the time the rest of us have relied on you putting him in his place, and you haven’t let us down. In fact, you’ve been threatening to have a good go at him for the past couple of weeks, but you haven’t got round to it yet”.
“Oh I will”, said Adam “Have no fear of that”.
“Have no fear of what?” said Julian, coming in via the back door so suddenly that Joby jumped.
“Never you mind”, said Adam.
“I’ll find out”, said Julian “I always do”.
“I’ll find out, I always do”, Adam parroted in the voice of a petulant child.
Julian gave him a suspicious look but went through into the dining-room.
“The trouble is”, said Adam “It all needs careful preparation. I think it’ll have to wait until our visitors have really gone. Gone completely I mean, back home”.
“Oh come off it!” said Joby “Last time they were here for a month!”
“Yes, but that was earlier in the summer”, said Adam “They had no idea just how hot it gets here at this time of year. They’re mountain people now, they’re not used to such tropical temperatures. I doubt they’ll want to stay long here in this”.
Kieran eventually joined Nola in the cool of the library. She was sitting pensively by the empty fire-grate, sipping from a glass of water.
“Would you like something a wee bit more exciting than that?” said Kieran “Our homemade wine is second to none you know, and we don’t charge for it!”
Nola declined and said she was content with the water. She looked very serious, and Kieran had a feeling he’d better get down to brass tacks immediately. He spotted Toppy sweeping the bit of garden path outside the window though, and had to shoo him away first, knowing full well that Toppy was only doing it to eavesdrop. Once he was gone, Kieran checked the shrubbery directly underneath the window, to make sure Tamaz wasn’t hiding in it, and then pulled the wicker shutters together.
“We won’t be interrupted now”, he said, taking the chair opposite Nola “Feel free to say what you like. It won’t go any further than me if you don’t want it to”.
“Firstly, I’d just like to say how impressed I am by you all”, said Nola.
Kieran couldn’t have looked more shocked if Nola had confessed to being a serial axe-murderer! He had previously thought that she would be more likely to start lecturing them like Codlik, about how utterly selfish and irresponsible their lifestyle was.
“T-thank you”, he stammered.
“I’ve read a lot of books on psychology”, she said “It’s a bit of an interest of mine. Psychologists like to say that when a group of men get together they invariably drift into crime”.
“Pah! That’s a bit of a sweeping generalisation”, said Kieran “Not all gangs of men are soccer hooligans”.
“Also that men inevitably fight for supremacy when together”, said Nola “Like stags locking antlers”.
“That’s rubbish if you don’t mind me saying so”, said Kieran “Like all things, it depends on individual personalities. We have a lot of fights, but not like that. Psychologists get me down! Joby read one of those books once. Became convinced I was a psychopath, all because some trick cyclist had said that such things are caused by your parents splitting up in the first four years of your life, as mine did. The stress and trauma of it and all that. Gives us much slower heart-rates or something. So for ages after that I kept waking up to find his head on me chest as he listened to me heartbeat! I don’t vet his reading matter nearly as much as I should!”
Nola suddenly flung herself on her knees, and buried her head in Kieran’s lap.
“Ah now”, said Kieran, gently stroking her hair “Whatever it is it can’t be that bad. There is always a solution to be found if we look for it, however difficult it may seem”.
“You don’t understand”, Nola sobbed “I’m begging you, please. Please let me stay here!”
Kieran spent the next few minutes trying to get her up off her knees and back into the armchair, which wasn’t easy as she was nearly a foot taller than him. Eventually he managed it, and got her to drink some more of the water.
“There now”, he said, pulling up his chair so that they sat knees touching “Suppose we rewind a bit. This is obviously something you feel very strongly about. Suppose you tell me why you want to come here so badly. I thought you had a good life working for Glynis. She certainly can’t stop singing your praises enough”.
“Don’t give me these banal platitudes!” she slammed the glass down on the hearth “I expected better of you”.
Nola stood up to leave.
“Please stay”, Kieran implored “You haven’t told me anything yet, Nola. I want to know and understand, but I can’t do that if you won’t talk to me. Please stay”.
“I am leaving”, Nola screamed “Don’t follow me or I warn you I’ll make you sorry!”
Kieran hung around the empty fireplace in the library for some time after Nola had gone. He blamed himself, as he inevitably did in situations like this, going over and over their conversationin his head to try and understand exactly when and where and how it had suddenly gone haywire.
The room had gone very dark, and the heat was intense, as though the air itself had become solid. There were faint rumbles of thunder in the far distance. A long skein of dust hung down from the high ceiling of the library, looking like ectoplasm in this light. Kieran drifted along to the kitchen, where Joby was mixing up butter, sugar and flour in a bowl. Lonts was searching for something in the drawers of the dresser.
“We’re doing rhubarb crumble for later”, said Joby “To see if we can poison you all! How did you get on with Nola, or aren’t you allowed to tell me? Secrets of the confessional and all that”.
“It was a disaster”, said Kieran, sitting at the table with his head in his hands “I really focked it up”.
“Hang on a minute”, said Joby “Lonts! Can’t you clear off a minute, I wanna talk to Kieran”.
“I’m looking for Snowy”, said Lonts “I can’t think where he is”.
“Dead I expect”, said Joby “Killed himself. Couldn’t hack it anymore being carried around by his foot all day! Try looking in the dining-room”.
Lonts gave Joby an obligatory scowl and thumped through into the dining-room.
“I should’ve at least offered to let Nola stay here for a couple of days”, said Kieran, when he had filled Joby in on what had happened in the library “She would have seen for herself then that it would never have worked”.
“We don’t need her here to know that”, said Joby “She’d only end up telling us what to do all the time, like Codlik does. Could you honestly see her washing with us, and bunking down with us at night? I spose here she could have her own room, but she’d have to sleep with us on the sloop, either that or have a camp-bed in the hold, which wouldn’t be very comfortable. And her attitude’s all wrong. She’s so uptight all the time, and the other day she was insinuating that Lonts was a potential rapist! She’d cause no end of trouble if she was here. But what I really wanna know is, why/ I would’ve thought that to her, the idea of living with us’d make her shudder! Mind you, perhaps she’s had enough of Codlik!”
“I think I’ll have to go across to the yacht and see if she’ll talk to me again”, said Kieran.
“Not this afternoon you’re not”, said Joby “That storm’ll be a stinker when it breaks overhead. You won’t wanna get caught out in the open in that I can tell yer!”
“It’s getting so damn dark”, said Kieran, and he lit the hurricane lamp on the table.
“We should be alright in the house”, said Joby “There are lightning conductors on the roof”.
“I think I’ll go upstairs and watch it approach”, said Kieran.
“O.K, but no sneaking out the front without telling me!” said Joby.
Adam was at this moment hacking down umbrellas of rhubarb from in front of the wall at the end of the garden. Occasionally he cast an anxious look up at the sky, and expected at any moment that large shillings of rain would start falling. He screamed when Julian goosed him and he fell forward into the rhubarb patch.
“If you’re so jumpy you shouldn’t be out here”, said Julian, helping him back up “I’ve come out to fetch you in”.
“Idiot!” Adam rasped, dusting himself down “I saw a strange animal on the edge of the forest earlier, looked a bit like a fox. Same size and colour”.
“It might well have been a fox”, said Julian “We’d better check the hen-coop’s secure”.
The hens had all gone into their makeshift house. Julian closed all the little doors, and then bolted the pen-gate.
“Damn vermin”, said Julian “A fox would massacre that lot”.
“Maybe”, said Adam “But I was quite enchanted to see it amongst the trees like that. They are such beautiful animals”.
“Vermin”, said Julian, emphatically.
“Well I’m jolly glad I saw it”, said Adam, stubbornly “So stick that up your jumper! I’m relieved Lo-Lo isn’t such a boring old realist as you”.
“Huh, he likes bears”, said Julian “And they’ll decimate anything in sight. Glynis was saying only yesterday that they’ve had problems up on the Estate with bears coming down from the mountains and killing their cattle”.
“Don’t tell Lo-Lo”, said Adam “He’ll want to go up there and hold a vigil for them!”
They went into the kitchen. Joby had deserted his post, leaving the mixing-bowl on the table, and had gone into the dining-room for a game of ping-pong with Lonts.
“He must have got spooked”, said Adam, dumping the rhubarb on the table “Joby doesn’t always like being in here on his own, particularly with a storm coming. Look at the state of me, I’ve soil all down me. It would’ve served you right if I hadn’t changed out of your poxy pyjamas!”
He sponged down the front of his singlet. Julian shut the back door against the encroaching storm.
“Why don’t you change into these?” he said, picking up Adam’s white drawers which Joby had left draped over the back of a chair.
“Certainly not”, said Adam “You had your fun in that department yesterday”.
“I didn’t know we were on a ration”, Julian got him in a robust embrace “Oh come on now, Ada darling. Little Julian wants to play”.
“Little Julian can boil his head”, said Adam.
“You don’t really want to cut up rhubarb”, said Julian, cajolingly “You want to put your white knickers on and be walloped across my knee”.
There was a perfunctory knock at the back door.
“Oh who the hell is that?” Julian cried, in despair “Go away!”
“There’s someone at the back door”, said Lonts, coming through from the dining-room with Joby.
“Thanks Yogi, well-spotted”, said Julian “It’s probably one of the dim-witted yacht crowd wanting shelter from the storm”.
Joby opened the door and found Codlik standing there.
“We never buy anything at the door!” said Joby, sarcastically.
“You’d better come in, Codlik”, Adam sighed, despondently.
Barely inside the kitchen, and Codlik started on a lengthy tirade about Kieran, accusing him of everything short of hurling Nola on the floor and assaulting her, and he even seemed to come close to accusing him of that too. The other four, who couldn’t bear any criticism of Kieran from an outsider, immediately set on him back, and an unseemly slanging-match broke out, which culminated in Lonts bursting into noisy tears and asking Codlik how he could ever accuse Kieran of anything so awful.
“What’s going on in here?” said Hillyard, standing in the dining-room doorway “Have you lot any idea what you sound like!”
“It’s Codlik, Hillyard”, said Lonts “He said Kieran raped Nola!”
“That isn’t what I said”, said Codlik.
“It was as good as!” said Joby.
“You’d better come in here, Codlik”, said Hillyard “I’ll get to the bottom of this. You four had better have some brandy. I think you need it!”
Hillyard lit the silver candlesticks which Joby had put on the mantelpiece in the dining-room, and moved them back to the table. Lightning flashed across the fields outside the window, and the rain had started, bouncing violently off the river.
“I don’t what possessed you to come out in this”, he said “You should know better than to risk being caught out in a storm in the open”.
“I had to get to the bottom of what had happened with Nola”, said Codlik.
“So you thought you’d come down here and accuse Kieran of rape”, said Hillyard.
“That is an ugly word”, said Codlik.
“It’s an ugly act”, said Hillyard “And an ugly accusation if it’s false. You should know damn well that Kieran’s not capable of anything like that. It’s absurd. I’d laugh at it, if you hadn’t just maligned one of my oldest and closest friends. Did Nola tell you she came down here, begging Kieran for a place in his household?”
Codlik went pale.
“No”, he said “She told me she had wanted to make a confession to Kieran, she’s a very devout woman you know. She said that he got excitable and started pushing her back into the chair”.
“You seem to know about one-tenth of all the facts”, said Hillyard “And on that basis you come down here and make dangerous accusations. You must know what some of those unscrupulous bastards in Kieran’s Church would do with such a claim. They’ve been waiting for years for a chance to rubbish him big-time, and it’d only take a couple of neurotic twits like you and Nola to bring it about. Your trouble is, Codlik, you spend your life looking down a tunnel. You pick up a few petty things and make big issues out of ‘em. You can’t see the big picture at all, you can’t see how everything slots together”.
“I won’t be lectured by a man like you”, said Codlik, in a painfully pinched voice.
“Why not?” said Hillyard, looking at him steadily “We’re not that much different, you and me”.
“If this is a reference to Mieps”, said Codlik “Whom I notice is being kept on a very short leash by Julian these days”.
“Only whilst you’re here”, said Hillyard “Julian loves Mieps, as we all do. You cause too much damage when you get your dick out, Codlik. You can’t seem to help yourself. So you see, I understand you pretty well. The only difference between us is I’m not an unscrupulous bastard like you are. I’ve used people in my life, but I’ve never done it on purpose, and I never thought I had a right to use them because I was better than them or something. You think you’re sitting at the top of the heap directing everybody else below you don’t you? Something’s obviously gone wrong between you and Nola, to have her running down here, begging Kieran for sanctuary. She’s one helluva mixed-up lady at the moment. Just what have you been doing to her?”
“How did you know?” Codlik whispered, in a deathly voice.
“Glynis told me”, said Hillyard “When I was showing her the horses yesterday”.
“Glynis knows?” said Codlik.
“Knowing your track record she probably expected it!” said Hillyard “So when did it start then, before she had the baby or after?”
“Damn you!” Codlik exclaimed “She had no right to tell you! What exactly did she say?”
“Her exact words were ‘I think Codlik’s having his end away with Nola, but I can’t be entirely sure’”, said Hillyard.
“She can’t talk about me in that way!” said Codlik “Where’s the respect I’m entitled to?”
“She can talk to you how she likes”, Hillyard stood up as though the conversation was at an end “Your marriage is over, Codlik”.
“And what the hell’s it got to do with you?” said Codlik “Are you going to take her in, and the children? That’ll be a turn-up for the books!”
“They can come and live down here if they want”, said Hillyard “It’s entirely up to her what she wants to do. Or she can live here part of the time, and the other part up at the Big House, for the sake of the kids’ schooling. You see, it’s not a case of taking them in. The Big House is their home, because I say it is, I own it. You’re the one who’ll have to leave, not them!”
It was very difficult to know what to do with Codlik after this conversation. He couldn’t be sent out in the storm, which was getting more violent by the minute, and it was hard to find a room in the house where he could be trusted to stay and not cause any trouble. The only room that had no one in at the moment was the gun-room, and it didn’t seem very wise to put him in there!
In the end they stuffed him in a little room on the first floor, which was reached by a short staircase which led up from the back corridor. This room had been nicknamed ‘Kieran’s Vestry’ by the others, as he intended to use it as a private sitting-room for when the weather was too rough for him to do his customary solitary roaming about the countryside. At the moment all it had in it was a camp-bed, a chair and a stack of books.
Codlik turned these over by the light of a hurricane lamp. There were some heavy books on theology and philosophy, but also some lightweight detective novels. Codlik was curious to find that Kieran had a penchant for these, and it only reinforced the fact of how little he knew him really.
“Thought you might like some tea”, said Joby, lugubriously, carrying in a cup and saucer “This storm could go on for another couple of hours. There’s no point being uncomfortable”.
“I didn’t know Kieran read whodunits”, said Codlik.
“Sometimes, yeah”, said Joby “I find ‘em a bit staid and old-fashioned meself, but I think he likes looking at the maps and diagrams they always seem to have in them. So, what are you gonna do now then? It’s all a bit of a mess isn’t it?”
“I need time to think”, said Codlik, shortly “And I don’t want any further input from Hillyard! He’s done quite enough in the past!”
Joby shrugged, put the tea down, and went out through the panelled door which opend out into the main upstairs corridor. Kieran and Adam were in the room over the hall, which contained the other four-poster bed. A flickering candle was stuck in a saucer on the chest of drawers.
“I’ve just taken our prisoner some tea”, said Joby, sitting down next to Kieran on the bed “Not a single word of bloody thanks mind, just started on some violent tirade about Hillyard instead!”
“I find it rather sweet that Glynis confided in Hillyard”, said Adam “Don’t you?”
“Makes a change for ‘em to actually have a conversation in the stables I guess!” said Joby “And not a bit of hows-yer-father instead!”
“It’s terrible that it’s all gone so wrong in that marriage”, said Kieran.
“Only to be expected”, said Joby “It’s been cursed from day one. I could never understand how how they got together in the first place”.
“They were both lonely”, said Adam “And they both wanted a family”.
“Yeah, and thanks to Hillyard they got one!” Joby guffawed.
“You seem to be taking rather a morbid amount of pleasure from all this”, said Adam.
“After Codlik’s behaviour earlier I feel like it”, said Joby “And I happen to think Glynis’ll have a happier life without him around, keep whining and nagging all the time. Instead he and Nola can go off and be uptight and neurotic together somewhere”.
“Hang about, we still don’t know everything”, said Kieran “We don’t know how Glynis feels about it all, and we still don’t know why Nola wanted to run away to us”.
“Oh God, I feel like I’m being forced to watch a bleedin’ soap!” said Joby “It’s like some nightmare version, where we can’t switch the telly off!”
“Didn’t I say that he was having it away with her, didn’t I?” said Hoowie, triumphantly, swanning around the main bedroom “That guy loves freaks! Probably find that Nola’s got three nipples or something!” Bardin pointedly ignored him by turning over another page in his book. He was lying on the 4-poster with the other three clowns. Rumble was also reading. Farnol was asleep, and Bengo was looking agitated. He was the only one paying Hoowie any attention.
“You guys just won’t accept a superior intellect when you see one”, said Hoowie, leaving the room “I’m gonna go and find Toppy”.
“Isn’t it awful when Hoowie’s proved right about something?” said Bengo.
“Don’t worry”, said Bardin “It doesn’t happy very often”.
Farnol broke wind in his sleep.
“Hellfire!” said Rumble, waving his book over Farnol’s arse “I swear he was a boxer-dog in a former life!”
“Stay still, Bengo”, Bardin ordered “You keep fidgeting all the time. Try and get some sleep”.
“No I daren’t”, Bengo gasped.
“Why not?” said Bardin, sharply.
“Because I’m terrified of that awful dream coming back”, said Bengo.
“So what are you going to do?” said Bardin “Stay awake for the rest of your life?! Don’t be stupid”.
“But what if we get stuck there?” said Bengo.
“It’s a dream, you can’t get stuck there”, said Bardin “Sooner or later you have to wake up”.
“I think I’ll go to the loo”, Bengo mumbled, sliding off the bed.
Bardin gave an exasperated sigh.
“The walk’ll do him good”, said Rumble.
Bengo walked nervously down the corridor, which was lit at regular intervals by flashes of lightning. He passed the room where the original three were still talking by the light of the candle, and went into the upstairs loo, which was a large room with the facility itself stuck in pride of place right by the full-length window, which afforded the user a panoramic view of the river and the fields.
After using it, he went back out into the corridor. The door to Kieran’s Vestry was standing slightly ajar, and Bengo approached it tentatively, peering round it as though he was trying to catch a glimpse of the ‘mad earl’ in a hidden room. Codlik noticed him though, and pulled the door shut rather brusquely.
“Caught you spying, Cuddlesome”, said Hoowie, suddenly seizing Bengo round the waist and swinging him in the air.
“Oh dear oh dear”, said Toppy, also appearing craftily out of the gloom “What shall we do with the nosy little twassock? Especially now he’s not got the other clowns here to protect him”.
“Oh yeah?” said Bengo, fiercely “You try anything on me, plank, and I’ll tell Bardy. He said only recently that if you start winding me up again, he’ll use the cane on you!”
“That a fact?” said Toppy, pensively chewing a strand of his hair “You’d better put him down, Hoowie”.
Hoowie reluctantly set Bengo on his feet. Bengo instantly started pummelling Toppy, who pummelled him back.
“Up into the attic!” Ransey roared.
“Me as well?” said Hoowie, hopefully.
“Bengo and Toppy”, said Ransey.
“Have we got to spend another night alone together?” said Bengo, in dismay.
“As far as I’m concerned, you can spend the rest of the summer alone up there together!” said Ransey.
Codlik decided to go for a prowl. He didn’t see why he had to be confined in this room alone as though it was a madman’s cell. He picked up the hurricane lamp and made his way carefully down the narrow stairs. In the corridor at the bottom he paused for a moment to get his bearings and decide where to go next. At the eastern end of the corridor the library door was open and he could see Finia sitting on the windowseat, fanning himself with a silk fan. Codlik didn’t think there could possibly be any problem in his sitting with Finia, so he went into the library.
As soon as he entered Mieps, wearing one of Hillyard’s dressing-gowns, shot up off the sofa and stole out of the room, via the door opposite.
“I didn’t realise she was in here”, said Codlik.
Finia gave a wry smile at hearing Mieps referred to as ‘she’.
“That’s the linen-room through there isn’t it?” said Codlik “She doesn’t have to hide in there because of me”.
“He won’t”, said Finia “He can get out into the hall via the gun-room”.
Codlik dodged the hanging cobweb and sat in one of the armchairs.
“This house can seem rather mysterious and gloomy”, he said.
“I like it”, said Finia “It’s peaceful and remote. Reminds me of Julian’s old house in the jungle beyond Husgalonghi”.
Codlik kept glancing expectantly at all the doors, as though expecting Mieps to reappear at any moment.
“Leave him alone, Codlik”, said Finia “He’ll devour you if you don’t. He can’t help himself”.
Mieps was finding the pressure intolerable. He didn’t like Codlik, but yet Codlik had put himself into his hands as though he was begging to be destroyed, and Mieps, bred from a long line of hunters, had an urge to oblige. He wanted Codlik gone, out of sight out of mind, on the other side of the world, never to be seen again.
He stood in the porch watching the storm. Suddenly he slipped the dressing-gown off his shoulders and made to dive out into the chaos of Nature. Tamaz grabbed him and held him back, imploring him to stay. A fork of lightning shot down and incinerated a bush on the other side of the river, igniting it into flames. This event at least stalled Mieps in his tracks.
“Did you see that just now?” said Julian, who had watched the lightning strike from the dining-room window “Quite Biblical”.
“Julian, help me”, said Tamaz, who was trying to get Mieps back into his dressing-gown “He’s threatening to run out into that”.
Julian gripped the other side of Mieps and managed to get him back into the hall. Codlik unwisely chose that moment to appear at the library door, and he saw Mieps being manhandled like a violent lunatic by two hospital orderlies. His dressing-gown was undone and flapped open over his astonishing body. Mieps saw Codlik and gave a deep growl like a large cat. He wrenched an arm free of Tamaz and gave a gesture as though he wanted to claw off Codlik’s face.
“Get out of sight you bloody, bloody fool!” Julian yelled angrily at Codlik “Haven’t you done enough?!”
I knew this was going to happen, thought Bengo in despair, the moment I fell asleep we would be back here. Nobody would listen to me, but I was right.
He and the other three clowns were backstage at a theatre in Hell. The wingswere a riot of props and performers. The rival clowns, Hal, Zooks, Mutton Broth, and all the rest of the unsightly crew were watching them from the other side of the area, like schoolbullies gleefully waiting at the gates to get their hands on a victim.
Bengo and Bardin were wearing their best clown outfits, which they had got married in. Farnol and Rumble were more casually dressed in baggy pyjamas and hard hats. They were all apparently going to do a seedy nightclub sketch, which Bengo remembered with dismay from their Cabaret of Horrors days. It was what Bardin called “bog-standard slapstick”, a messy riot in which anything went, and usually did. To make it work though, it required a great deal of skill in dexterity, timing and a general very high-standard of fitness from everyone involved. It reached the very zenith (or plumbed the very depths, if that’s how you want to look at it) of vulgarity. It also contained some very unpolitically-correct jokes concerning drug abuse and homosexuality. Bengo hoped Codlik hadn’t strayed into this hallucination, as he wouldn’t enjoy it one bit. Bengo’s only consolation was that his three friends also seemed to be aware that they were dreaming, but they weren’t as obviously disturbed by it as he was. Farnol and Rumble were practising their roles as the nightclub musicians by both playing a battered upright piano with a dumb keyboard, their chairs tilted backwards at a dangerous angle.
“It’s a full house”, said Bardin, coming back from peeking out of the curtains “Let’s hope someone out there likes us”.
“How can you think about the audience at a time like this?” Bengo squawked “And don’t start lecturing me about being professional, Bardy, you pig!”
“Pig?” Bardin exclaimed “Listen here, you whiney little brat, if we don’t entertain that lot good, they’ll kill us. That’s the rules of this establishment. Unless you can find a way to wake up before the end of the sketch, we’re gonna have to give it everything we’ve got out there or that’s the end of us. Understand?”
“Are you lot sure you’re proper clowns?” said the Stage Manager, who was dashing about with a clipboard.
“Of course we’re proper clowns!” said Bardin “You name it, we can do it”.
“Including acrobatics?” said the SM.
“Don’t insult me!” said Bardin “We were tumbling and jumping and somersaulting when we were tots. We do all our own stunts”.
“There isn’t any sight-gag we haven’t done”, said Rumble “A sight-gag a second we are”.
“Pure class we is, pure class”, said Farnol, falling backwards off his chair.
“He seems in a state”, said the SM, pointing at Bengo.
“It’s nerves, just nerves”, said Bardin, firmly “He’ll be alright”.
“Particularly when we’ve kicked some sense into him”, said Rumble “You don’t have to worry about us, we’re clown princes”.
“I wish I’d never been a clown”, said Bengo, despairingly “Why couldn’t I have been a model? I had the looks”.
“You couldn’t have done modelling when you were six!” said Bardin.
“Later on I could have”, said Bengo.
“Bullshit”, said Bardin “It would have been a terrible waste. You are a natural comedian, a clown to your very marrow. Now go and visit the bathroom before we go on. You’re in such a state you’re liable to piss your pants at any moment!”
Bengo trailed away, miserably. “He’s gonna be a liability!” shouted Zooks, maliciously.
“You’re the fucking liability”, said Bardin “When Bengo gets out on that stage, no one’s gonna look at you and you know it. You’ll just be a dead weight we’re carrying!”
Bengo was surprised to find the bath-tub full when he walked into one of the screened-off areas backstage which was used for washing. He tested the soapy water and found it was still warm, as though someone had just left it. Suddenly the door slammed shut behind him, shaking the wooden partitions.
“Oh God”, Bengo gulped, nervously “Hello?”
A hole was punchd in the wall next to the bath, and a bare arm shot through it clutching a flick-knife, which the person clicked open. The hole was widened and Mieps emerged from it, completely naked, and with the most horrible, menacing look in his eyes. He was obviously in a trance-like state.
“M-M-Mieps”, Bengo backed up against the wall “Oh no! Mieps, wake up, please!”
Mieps slipped in the bath-tub and went sprawling forward over the edge of the bath. The knife fell out of his hand and landed with a clatter on the bare wooden floorboards. Mieps looked up. The trance had gone, and instead he looked confused and indignant at his ungainly posture. Bengo ran to help him out of the tub. Mieps fell against him, pressing his wet body up against his. Bengo responded by kissing him full on the mouth, which was the most inspired thing he could have done in the circumstances.
“What are you doing here?” said Bardin, standing in the doorway, staring in amazement at Mieps “Tamaz would have been better as a slapstick sweetheart than you!”
“Find me some clothes”, Mieps ordered him “I woke up here like this”.
Bardin came back soon with a pair of baggy cotton trousers and a rather ragged shirt.
“It’s got holes in it”, said Mieps, sounding not unlike Tamaz at that moment!
“It’s the best I could do under the circumstances”, Bardin retorted “We weren’t expecting you!”
Mieps donned the disreputable garments and pushed past him.
“Shame”, said Bardin “We couldn’t half do with Tamaz. He’d be a great asset to the sketch”.
“He’d hate it, Bardy”, said Bengo “He’d never forgive us”.
“Mm”, said Bardin, absently “Still, the way things are going, there’s no knowing who’s gonna suddenly turn up!”
Everything and everybody was in place, the act was starting. Rumble and Farnol were at the dumb piano (the real music being supplied by the men in the bandpit), and Rumble did one of his trademark winks at the audience before starting. Bengo came on behind Bardin, having removed their jackets first for ease of movement, greeted at the door by a girl with enormous thighs in a skimpy satin costume. Bengo had to be his usual clumsy self on their way to their table, involving accidentally tipping Hal’s drink over him at the front, which was of course the cue for all the mayhem to start. They had ten minutes in which to hope the audience would like them enough to spare them their lives.
“I can’t tell anything”, said Rumble, who happened to bump into Bardin underneath one of the tables at one point “I can only see a blur ‘cos of the glare of the footlights. But put it this way they haven’t shouted at us yet or thrown anything”.
“The laughing hasn’t been too riotous either though”, said Bardin “We need to jazz it up a bit. Tell you what, we’ll get Bengo to lose his trousers. If that doesn’t excite them, then they must all be a bunch of Nola’s!”
Somebody cracked a chair across Rumble’s back.
“Ah you cunt!” Rumble cried, and scrambled out from under the mass of tablecloth.
Bardin dived out the other side and made a grab for Bengo’s pants, pulling them down roughly.
“I’ve just seen Toppy in the wings”, Bengo hissed, kicking away his trousers.
“Toppy?” Bardin exclaimed “Grab the little wazzuck if you can. It’s not safe to wander about round here alone”.
Unfortunately Toppy, who was even more confused by his sudden arrival in Hell than anyone else, thought the clowns were trying to rope him into the sketch, and reacted with complete terror. Bengo, his shirt-tails flapping around his bare legs, reached out for him, and Toppy slammed a custard pie from a nearby table into his face. Temporarily blinded, Bengo lashed out at him and pushed him back against a wine-barrel, which promptly shattered under him like matchwood and drenched him in cheap red plonk.
“We’ve gotta get out of here”, said Rumble, hoisting Toppy up by the back of his shirt like a drenched cat “There’s a rumour going round that they wanna stage a group execution next, with us all in full clowns regalia!”
“At the moment they don’t know we suspect anything”, Bardin whispered to his friends backstage “We’ll break out of here by force if we have to, with any luck the shock’ll wake Bengo up”.
“I’m trying, I really am”, said Bengo, struggling into his trousers “But I keep forgetting I’m really asleep! I keep thinking this is all real”, he wiped some more chocolate sauce from his face “Anyway, it feels bloody real!”
“He was trying to warn you to be careful, you pillock”, said Farnol, shoving Toppy, before going over with Rumble and Farnol to talk to Mieps.
“I’m sorry”, said Toppy, awkwardly.
“Forget it”, Bengo snapped “It was just the chance you’ve been waiting for!”
“If it’s any comfort I thought you handled it really well”, said Toppy, sincerely.
“There’s no skill to being clobbered with a custard pie”, said Bengo “You just have to try and remember to keep your eyes and mouth shut, which is a bit hard to do when some jerk takes you by surprise!”
“You were a real pro”, said Toppy.
“I should be by now”, said Bengo, thawing “It’s happened to me enough times!”
“This has got to stop, all these trips, they must”, said Toppy, enfolding Bengo in his arms “Oh I’m real sorry about your face. I’d die if that had happened to me. You’re so brave”.
“Am I?” said Bengo, in genuine astonishment.
“The other clowns have disappeared”, Bardin hissed, coming back over to them “I don’t know why, perhaps the dream’s breaking up. But we’ll run out of the main doors. Come on”.
They met no obstacle on their way out of the building, nobody stopped them. Out in the two-dimensional street they bumped into Tamaz, who announced in a very determined voice that he was going to lead them out of Hell. He knew how because Kieran had once shown him. He led them out onto a pier nearby, which jutted out into a placid grey sea. The pier was completely empty. Tamaz ran along it, ordering the others to follow him. When they got to the end Tamaz climbed up on the rail as though he was going to jump. Bardin grabbed him.
“Are you crazy?” he cried.
“No, are you?” said Tamaz, pointing behind them to where a large contingent from the audience had gathered at the front of the pier and were advancing on them, their demonic bad teeth glinting in the metallic half-light “Trust me. It’s our way out if we jump off this pier. Kieran did this with me once and it worked”.
The seven of them all climbed up onto the railings and jumped off.
“The storm’s passing at last”, said Toppy, standing at the attic window “Not before time”.
Bengo, lying on the bed, had emerged from the dream, but was now trapped in an hallucination of seeing Bardin, in full clown’s costume, being led, his hands bound behind his back, up the wooden steps of a scaffold. They were all going to be guillotined. Bengo screamed and cried, and begged to be released from this terrible sequence of illusions.
“It’s over, it’s over”, said Toppy, kneeling by the bed and chaffing Bengo’s hands “It’s over”.
Bengo opened his eyes and put his hand to his face, expecting to feel his tears stuck in the mess left by the remains of the custard pie. But his face was clean, and instead of his baggy shirt and tight trousers, he was in his usual garb of t-shirt and shorts.
“I never want to go there again”, he whispered.
“We’ll go and find the others”, said Toppy.
He took Bengo down to the library and left him in one of the armchairs whilst he went to the kitchen to see if anybody was about. Tamaz was sponging down a drowsy Mieps on the bed in the room behind the pantry, and weeping over him, watched anxiously by Lonts.
“You stay here and help Lonts to look after Freaky”, Julian said to Toppy “I’ll go and sort out Bengo”.
Julian fetched a large bottle of champagne from the cold shelf in the pantry and took it, with two enamel mugs, along to the library. Bengo was sitting silently with his hands folded in his lap. Codlik was also in the room, but Bengo was taking about as much notice of him as if he’d been the fire-irons.
“Is that the booze Glynis left us yesterday?” said Bengo, brightening up “I thought we were gonna save that for a celebration?”
“In the old days champagne was often usd like a medicine or a tonic”, said Julian, unwinding the wire round the cork “As a pick-me-up for people who were rundown. I’ve often thought if works even better that way than as a celebratory drink”.
He poured it into the two mugs, ignoring Codlik who was lurking lugubriously by the bookshelves. Bengo gulped his down as though it was lukewarm coffee. He perked up immediately.
“I don’t know what’s keeping Bardy though”, he said “I hope he’s not still asleep”.
“I doubt it”, said Julian “I’ll go and ring the hand-bell in a minute. Round everyone up. It won’t be a bad idea to do a roll-call, just in case anyone is still trapped out there in limbo”.
The other clowns had been woken by Kieran and Finia in the main bedroom.
“You sent Tamaz down there to get us out?” said Bardin, as they all stood in a circle talking “I’m not sure whether I approve or not. Why didn’t you come yourself?”
“I was already there”, said Kieran “I was sitting on the beams up in the flies, where the curtain operators sit. I couldn’t come down any nearer than that. Everytime I tired to I got an image in my head of a pit of fire where the stage was. I tried to get it out of my head, but it was too strong. So I had to think of something else. Tamaz was what I thought of”.
“Food’s what’s required now I think”, said Hillyard, coming into the room. He stopped dead and stared at the window which overlooked the back garden.
“Holy Mary Mother of God”, Kieran gasped “I didn’t know he could get out here”.
Angel, looking repellent, was crouched on the outside window-ledge, staring in.
“Something must have got damaged during the dream”, said Kieran “A tear in the fabric. It’s enabled him to slip through into this place”.
Hillyard threw open the window, and Angel crawled up the stonework out of his reach, pacing up above him on all fours like a lizard. Suddenly he urinated, and Hillyard only ducked back inside just in time.
“Filthy little bastard”, he said, slamming the window shut again”I’ll get one of the rifles and shoot some holes in the little bastard’s backside, you see if I don’t!”
“It’d be a waste of cartridges”, said Kieran “That’s probably the worst he can do at the moment. Don’t be surprised if he doesn’t also try souring our milk and making the hens go off their lay”.
Angel screamed with laughter and ran over the roof directly overhead.
“I expect the shite-bag’s gonna do that tonight as well”, said Hillyard “When we’re bloody trying to sleep!”
They went down the marble staircase in a despondent mood, and found Joby standing in the middle of the great hall, ringing the hand-bell vigorously.
“Food!” he said “You lot don’t normally need all this summoning!”
Kieran ran outside into the summer rain and jumped up and down on the grass trying to get a clear view of the roof, but he could see no sign of Angel. He was pretty certain now that Angel had disappeared, because Kieran reasoned that if Angel had still been up there he would have tried clouting him with a loose tile, just for the heck of it.
Bengo had fallen asleep in the library, curled up in the armchair, wafted into a short peaceful oblivion by the mug of champagne.
“Poor little chap”, said Julian, kneeling by the chair and stroking the young man’s face. Codlik was still in the room, but Julian was talking more to himself than to him.
“He must be alright if you’ve been pouring champagne down him”, said Bardin, coming into the room and picking up the half-full bottle, took a hearty swig from it.
Bengo woke up, blinking in the gloom.
“Don’t start nagging”, Julian rebuked Bardin “Sometimes you can be even more of a shrew than Adam!”
“Bossy Bardy”, Bengo laughed and placed his feet on either side of Bardin’s snake-hips.
“The little fellow needs a drink after what he’s been through”, said Julian “Being hit with custard pies and having his trousers torn off him!”
“Oh that always happens to me”, said Bengo “If anybody ever had to lose his trousers it was me”.
“Except in the Wardrobe Sketch”, said Bardin, taking another swig from the bottle “I don’t think we’ve ever shown you that one, Julian”.
“You’d love it, it was very funny”, said Bengo “ALL the clowns have to lose their trousers by the end of the sketch”.
“Unmissable evidently”, said Julian.
“We could perform it one evening, Bardy”, said Bengo “We could move the big oak cupboard out of the linen-room and into the hall”.
“Yeah, we’d have to move it through there”, said Bardin “We need plenty of space to move all around it. With Rumble’s long legs it’d work very well”.
Joby walked in, ringing the hand-bell as he did so.
“I’m not doing this for the good of my health you know!” he said.
Codlik followed them sheepishly through to the dining-room, where the others had all gathered round the long table, which was set up for supper. Nobody had actually asked him to leave, even though the worst of the storm had moved away by now, so he continued to hang around, sliding in as conspicuously as he could onto a chair near the door.
Mieps appeared in his dressing-gown and resolutely took his seat at the other end of the table.
“Are you sure you wouldn’t rather eat in bed, old love?” said Adam “You look rather peaky”.
“I am staying here!” said Mieps, fiercely.
“As you wish, sweet thing”, said Adam.
Lonts was laughing at the four clowns, who were passing the champagne bottle around amongst themselves.
“Is it true Toppy hit you with a pie, Bengo?” said Lonts “And you pushed him into a wine-barrel?”
“For years I’ve said we should include him as our straight-man”, said Bengo “But that wasn’t quite what I had in mind! I was already severely traumatised from Mieps coming through the wall at me with a flick-knife!”
“I can’t remember that part at all”, said Mieps, stiffly “The first bit I remember is falling out of the bath-tub”.
“You fell OUT of the bath-tub?” said Joby “How much had you had to drink?! That’s like falling up the stairs, not down ‘em”.
“I’ve done that a few times”, said Kieran, who found all the chairs taken, due to Codlik’s presence “There’s nowhere here for the great invincible Vanquisher of Evil to sit”.
“Some great invincible Vanquisher of Evil”, said Joby, sarcastically “You can’t even get past a mirage of a burning pit of fire!”
“To a good Catholic boy that was very frightening”, said Kieran.
“Lo-Lo, fetch the little stool out of the kitchen for Patsy”, said Adam.
Lonts did so, and Kieran sat down between Adam and Joby at a low level, with his plate on his knees. Then Hoowie started chuckling ominously. Bardin darted a warning glance at him across the table, but Hoowie was unstoppable.
“I bet Codlik’s real excited at the thought of Mieps punching his way through the wall”, he chortled “All butt-naked like he was. That’ll make a good wank job for you later, Codlik!”
Codlik got up without a word and left the house. Bardin rested his head on the table in deepest misery.
“What’s the problem?” said Hoowie “It got rid of him didn’t it!”
“You can live wherever you like, I don’t care”, said Glynis, sorting out the baby’s linen on the yacht the following morning “The house should be more than big enough for the two of us to live in without bothering each other very much. And I’m certainly not leaving it, it’s where my children live. After all, they’re entitled to live there, it’s their father’s house!”
“You are made of steel”, Codlik exclaimed, barely suppressing his anger.
He turned and stormed off the yacht. Kieran ducked behind an air-vent on the main deck so that he wouldn’t be seen by him, and then scootled below. Glynis took him to her cabin, and then said that if he had come there to lecture her about the sanctity of marriage, she would kick his “bony little arse” out the door.
“Jaysus, you sound just like Joby!” said Kieran “That’s how he talks to me. Actually I came up here to see how you were”.
“And to get all the juicy gossip”, said Glynis.
“That too”, said Kieran.
Glynis poured them out two whiskies from the decanter on her dressing-table.
“Have you been at the hard liquor much?” said Kieran.
“Mind your own business!” said Glynis “Joby’s always saying you keep poking your nose into things that don’t concern you”.
“Everything concerns me”, said Kieran.
“Rubbish”, said Glynis “If Codlik and I want to tear ourselves apart we will do so”.
“It’d be nicer if you didn’t”, said Kieran, sipping the whisky “Divorce is a hard enough thing to do, but it helps a bit if you can try and cut down on the acrimony”.
“How would you know?” said Glynis “You solved the problems of your marriage by disappearing 2000 years into the future! That option isn’t open to everyone!”
“I didn’t exactly do that out of choice”, said Kieran “You remind me of Amy a lot at times, and I don’t just mean the lovely blonde hair”.
“I find it very hard to accept Codlik’s philandering”, said Glynis, quietly “I know I have no right to criticise anyone else in that department. I could forgive him his little wanderings if he at least chose attractive women like Drusica or Lilli to go with, but it’s such a terrible sexual humiliation when he goes lusting after dour-looking string beans like Nola, or that … that creature, Mieps. Why do I sexually repel men?”
“You don’t”, said Kieran “You certainly don’t repel Hillyard!”
“Nobody repels Hillyard”, said Glynis.
“Look, it was hard for men before you ladies came back on the scene”, said Kieran “I remember what it was like. Codlik hadn’t met any women until he was well into adulthood. The closest he must have ever come to it was eunuchs, or transvestites. I think sometimes real women scare him still, and you’re certainly a real woman, Glynis. You bloom out all over the place, like a fertility goddess”.
“But Hillyard grew up in that world too”, Glynis protested.
“Yeah, but as you practically said yourself, Hillyard’s Hillyard”, said Kieran “He’d have probably been exactly the same in my time too! What I’m saying is you have to try and make allowances for the Codliks of this world. They’re tragic cases really. He reached sexual maturity about 20 years after everyone else! It’d had to be put on ice until then. In many ways he’s still going through adolescence, and most of the time he doesn’t know where he’s at. Perhaps Mieps helps sort out the confusion, two sexes in one body. Codlik doesn’t have to dither and decide which he prefers then”.
“It was hard for all men back then”, said Glynis “But you and the others coped”.
“Not all the time”, said Kieran “Anyway, we were luckier than most. Men need a feminine influence in life, it’s what keeps us human. And we had that in Adam. The Philippino’s, a people back in our time, used to have a word for men like him, ‘fafallies’, or something like that. I can’t remember now. They’re not just homosexual, they actually seem to be women in men’s bodies. I don’t think we’d have coped so well without him around. Where’s the wee fella?”
“Leon?” said Glynis “Some of the staff have taken him down to the beach for a swim. And the baby’s with Lilli. I didn’t want Codlik and me arguing over her cot, it’s not right. Children detect more than we realise at times”.
“Well come down to the Castle with me”, said Kieran “It’s nearly lunchtime”.
The Castle seemed to be dozing in the noonday sun when they got down there. No one was about, and both the dining-room and the kitchen were empty. Then they heard voices in the bedroom behind the pantry.
“You’re not reading it properly, Joby”, said Lonts, sternly “And you’re skipping pages, I can tell”.
“That’s ‘cos this chapter seems to be going on forever, Lonts”, said Joby, who was lying on the bed with him “Oh thank God. Glynis, you can read to him. You must have plenty of practice at it by now”.
“Joby keeps putting on silly voices”, said Lonts.
“It’s too hot for all this”, said Joby “I keep wanting to say the Happy Bears all die of sunstroke or summat!”
Glynis read to Lonts, whilst Kieran fetched the second bottle of champagne, and then the four of them got stuck into that. When Adam came in they were sprawled on the bed, contentedly passing the bottle around.
“Lo-Lo, I thought you were having a little nap”, he said.
“Don’t start”, said Joby “Sometimes you sound more like his big sister than his lover!”
“I have to be both”, said Adam.
“Adam, come here and take all your clothes off”, said Lonts, tugging Adam onto the bed.
He sat on him to stop him moving, and both Kieran and Glynis smacked Adam’s bottom.
“Stop that!” said Adam.
The wicker shutter was opened from the outside, and a beaming Hillyard was standing there, accompanied by a less-than-beaming Codlik, whom he had met in the forest. Adam struggled off the bed, pushed Hillyard away and slammed the shutter back into place.
Julian had been out cycyling, and he came home a few minutes later. He found Mieps sitting on the footbridge, dangling his feet in the river, and Hillyard, Codlik and Ransey all talking rather seriously about money in the dining-room.
“What’s going on?” said Julian “Why isn’t there any food on the table? It’s now lunchtime”.
“I dunno”, said Hillyard “Try asking in the kitchen”.
Julian could hear the sounds of laughter and struggling coming from the bedroom, but was more annoyed that there had been absolutely no progress made on starting the lunch. He went into the back garden where the clowns, Toppy and Tamaz were lying heaped on a large hammock slung between the trees. They were a tangled mass of bare arms and legs. Hoowie was lying in the long grass below them.
“You were supposed to be in charge”, said Julian, deftly hoisting Bardin off the hammock by his ear “I made you Captain because I foolishly thought you could keep order and discipline, that is evidently not the case”.
He was hauling Bardin back towards the house. Bengo and Tamaz chased after them, trying to wrench a wincing Bardin out of Julian’s iron grasp.
“What’s your problem?” Bardin gasped.
“It’s lunchtime, that’s the problem!” said Julian “When I was Captain, even during the darkest days, I still insisted on mealtimes being strictly adhered to”.
“For goodness sake, Jules”, said Adam, now in the kitchen, along with the others “Put the poor boy down. It’s too hot for all that. We’re not all demented like you, and insist on going outside at this time of day, doing your mad dogs and Englishmen bit”.
“Because I have been physically rejuvenated”, said Julian, releasing Bardin “As such, I think it’s high time I resumed the reins of power”.
“Not on your nelly!” said Joby “We like having Bardin in charge”.
Bardin, who was rubbing his ear, hovered around near an anxious Bengo, looking gratified by this.
“Discipline is important”, said Julian.
“His favourite saying”, Joby groaned.
“You’re just looking for an excuse to spank somebody that’s all!” said Adam, putting on his canvas apron “Now for goodness sake get out of our way. Go and find a room to sit in for a few minutes, preferably one that hasn’t got anyone in it, so you can’t upset them!” “I would rather sit here”, said Julian, sitting at the table and dipping his finger in the butter dish, which Adam promptly removed from him “Things only seem to get done when I’m around”.
“Ignore him, everybody”, said Adam.
“I made a rare mistake”, Julian continued “Bardin is too young to be Father Superior. I shall have to strip him of his authority”.
“I bet that’s not all you want to strip him of!” said Kieran.
“Look, you’ve retired”, Joby said to Julian, very firmly “And you’re gonna stay retired!”
“I always said this would happen”, said Adam “He would never be content to give up the reins of power. It would only be a matter of time before he started wanting everything his own way again”.
“Our stewards use a couple of pair of old boxing gloves to work out sometimes”, said Glynis “I’ll ask them if they’d like to give them to you. They could do with new ones”.
“I don’t think that’d be a very good idea, Glynis”, said Joby.
“B-boxing gloves?” said Bengo, nervously “I don’t think so. Whoever I sparred with I’d be bound to come off the worst. I always do”.
“Wimp”, said Joby.
“I’m no good at boxing”, said Lonts “I prefer wrestling. I’ve got you on the floor a few times haven’t I Joby?”
“Yeah, and the worst bit is when you sit on me!” said Joby.
Finia drifted into the kitchen, looking strange about the eyes, as though he hadn’t slept for several days. He had in fact just been asleep in the library. In the dream he’d had he had been in a hospital, one where disembodied parts of the patients got carried around in plastic bags, and where the double swing doors would open to reveal an orderly dragging a dead patient through by her ankles. Finia found a sign which read “THIS WAY TO THE TOWN CENTRE”. Reasoning that that seemed a good way of getting out of this terrible place, Finia ran up the stairs, following the direction of the arrows. He found himself outside an operating theatre. “Come into the viewing gallery”, said a woman “It’s always good entertainment”.
“What is?” said Finia.
“The women giving birth”, said the stranger.
Curious, Finia went into the viewing gallery. He was appalled at what he saw. Massive, fat, outsized babies were being weighed on scales. On the table a birth was in progress, but the mother was locked inside a narrow metal box with a clear top, her face contorted in agony as she pressed against it. Suddenly the door to the operating room swung open, and an orderly came in, leading a man-sized baby in a nappy. It couldn’t be mistaken for Lonts, as it really was a baby, all soft and fleshy and dimpled, only about six feet tall.
Much shaken, when he emerged out of his dream, Finia had gone into the kitchen, where he simply told the others he had been disturbed by a nightmare.
“Were you in Hell, Finia?” said Bengo.
“I’m not sure”, said Finia “Not having been there before. But if Hell has a hospital, I wouldn’t be surprised if that was it!”
Glynis faffed about the presence of Mieps at the lunch-table, although Adam retorted that they were more concerned with keeping her and Codlik apart at opposite ends of the table! It was an uncomfortable atmosphere in the dining-room. There was none of the mellow and leisurely afternoon feel that the Indigo-ites were used to. It felt more like a board meeting that was getting increasingly tense.
“I can’t sit here”, Mieps suddenly stood up “I can’t take anymore of having him around”.
By ‘him’ it was clear he meant Codlik. Mieps barged his way out of the room, and out of the house. Hillyard followed him outside, where he found that Mieps had shinned up a tree on the edge of the forest, and was sitting on the first sturdy branch.
“I know it’s a bad atmosphere”, said Hillyard “But they’ll go home sooner or later”. “Yes, and then you’ll miss your little humping sessions with Glynis in the stables!” Mieps spat.
“We haven’t been doing anything like that”, said Hillyard, peering up through the foliage at him “Anyway, you can talk! A lot of all this trouble would have been avoided if you’d just behaved yourself around Codlik!”
“Don’t you get moralistic on me!” said Mieps, shrilly “You can’t be trusted with anyone, anywhere!”
“I see this has got stuck at a stalemate”, said Julian, sauntering towards them, accompanied by Ransey “If you two are going to trade insults about lack of sexual morals, we’ll be here all day and half the night!”.
“Aren’t you a bit old to be jumping up trees?” said Ransey, squinting up at Mieps “I’ll go and get one of the ladders from the outhouse”.
“Fetch a fishing-net too”, said Julian “Just in case he won’t come down willingly, then we can chuck it over him and at least get him immobilised that way”.
“How dare you!” said Mieps, as Ransey trudged back to the outhouse with grim determination “What makes you think you can snare me?!”
“Well we all know about your uncontrollable Ghoomer instincts”, said Julian “So we’re simply erring on the side of caution”.
Lonts trod a stately measure over to him, accompanied by Tamaz.
“Tamaz, go back to the house”, said Mieps, in annoyance “Or I shall beat you”.
“From up there?” said Julian “That would be interesting to see!”
“Shan’t anyway”, said Tamaz.
Mieps jumped down from the tree, landing with the agility of a cat. Hillyard helped him up and shook him gently by the elbow when Mieps hissed at him. Ransey dropped the ladder and the fishing-net when he saw that Mieps was on the ground.
“Can we go back and have our lunch now?” he snapped.
Bardin and Kieran were both standing by the kitchen door when they returned to the house.
“I’d have come out and helped you”, said Kieran “But Joby said I’d caused enough trouble for one day”.
“Sometimes I think Angel and his cronies don’t have to cause any serious mischief”, said Ransey, pushing past him “We do a pretty good job of it by ourselves!”
Bardin waited outside until Julian walked past, and then gave him a swift kick in the butt.
“Alright, no need for that!” said Julian “Some people just can’t take a joke!”
They found that Codlik and Glynis had gone when they all returned to the dining-room.
“They thought it was for the best”, said Adam “It’s not often middle-class civility comes of benefit to us, but it did on this occasion. I hope they’re actually going to try and talk to each other whilst they walk back across the fields. Meantime, we can all have lunch alone together”.
Everyone jumped to their feet and shouted “HURRAY!”
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