The rains came on Good Friday afternoon, and Lonts stood in the middle of the little clearing, clad in only his filmy lilac-coloured shirt, and let the rain pour down all over him. Nearby, Bengo stood holding a black umbrella, and watched him as everything went dark all around them.
“Get under cover!” Ransey yelled from the veranda of the wooden hut nicknamed the Butlin’s Chalet “Can’t you see it’s an electric storm!”
The two younger men ran towards the stone cottage, where Adam was sitting at the table inside, painting flowers onto hardboiled eggs.
“It’s fantastic out there”, Lonts bounded over to him “You should see it, Adam”.
“I can”, said Adam, pausing to kiss him “Safely through the doorway. Bengo, dry yourself off, you should be more careful. You’re not completely well yet”.
“Oh yes I am”, Bengo sat astride Adam’s lap “I feel as good as new”.
Adam dabbed him on the end of his nose with his thin paintbrush, leaving a red spot behind.
“Bengo’s got a red nose!” Lonts cried.
“Highly appropriate for a clown”, said Adam.
Bardin came into the cottage and stood shaking himself like a dog, pulling the cap from his head and wringing it out like a dishcloth. Without saying a word he grabbed Bengo’s hand and led him to the wooden steps, which ran up to the narrow stuffy loft under the eaves, where they could make love amongst the fishing-nets heaped there.
Lonts, also sexed-up by the storm, perched on the edge of the table and smothered Adam’s face in kisses. Adam stood up and lunged at him, groping Lonts’s large magnificent body like a small child running joyously into a stack of over-sized well-stuffed pillows.
“I think it’s passing”, said Joby “Moving away”.
He was lying in the round mud and turf hut at the far end of the clearing, spread nakedly on the heap of blankets, discarded coats and old curtains within. Kieran was next to him, and the wind-up gramophone was to one side, the needle scratching on the end of the vinyl. Kieran sat up and put the stylus back to the beginning.
“Have you looked at yourself in the mirror lately?” he asked, with a smile.
“Usually every morning when I shave”, said Joby “Why?”
“You’re looking so young”.
“Isn’t everybody? Even Ransey does!”
Kieran ran his fingers over Joby’s face, like a blind person doing a feel of discovery.
“It must be easy to work miracles here”, said Joby, grabbing one of Kieran’s hands and kissing it “How could anyone not be young and happy here? It’s such a beautiful place, and look at the life we have. No one on the outside getting at us, no Angel or Codlik turning up (not so far anyway!), no having to go out to work or think about money. We just live for each other and do what we want. We’re in control”.
“Some people could still be difficult even in this environment”, Kieran pointed out.
“I find that hard to believe”, said Joby “Even the most miserable old curmudgeon would mellow after a few days here”.
“Ah, but it’s not all rosy in the Garden of Eden”, said Kieran, mischievously “I’ve got to punish you”.
“Why, what have I done?” Joby laughed.
“Well you might have noticed that our favourite floozie isn’t in here with us”, said Kieran “Instead he’s skulking over on the sloop, and all because of that hiding you gave him this morning before the storm started”.
“I didn’t give him a hiding”, said Joby “If he told you that then he’s exaggerating as usual. I gave him a couple of smacks, I didn’t even take his drawers down”.
“I know what your smacks can be like!” said Kieran.
“I’m not apologising for it”, said Joby, defiantly “He shouldn’t have gone anywhere near the House of Time. I’ve told him about that before. That part of the forest is out of bounds”.
“He had no intention of going near it”, said Kieran “Tamaz may be impetuous sometimes, but he’s not daft. He just likes to sit on the bank and look at it, I do that meself occasionally, but I’ve got no wish to go back inside it. There’s no harm in looking at it”.
“Spose not”, said Joby, grudgingly “But you can understand me overreacting. I couldn’t bear the thought of him or anyone getting sucked into another dimension”.
“I understand”, said Kieran “But I think I’ll still punish you all the same”.
“I hope it’s gonna be interesting”, said Joby “And not 300 Hail Mary’s or summat!”
Kieran groped under one of the old curtains and dug out the riding-crop which he had put under there earlier, when he had set up their love-nest-in-a-storm. He rolled Joby over, and, grabbing his hips, pulled his rear up into a begging position. Kneeling, Kieran gave him a few swishes across the backside and Joby, although he flinched at each stinging stroke, relished them all the same.
Tamaz came in whilst this little operation was in progress. He was clad in a camisole and his plainest pair of drawers, which nonetheless still had lace edging on them. His feet were muddy from where he had run across the clearing from the sloop.
“Rain’s stopped”, he said, closing the makeshift wooden slatted doorway behind him “It’ll all soon dry out there now the sun’s out again”.
“Ah, you’re still talking to us”, said Kieran, sitting back on his haunches and resting the riding-crop on his knees “Now you’ve seen Joby’s been punished, so you can say you’ve had your satisfaction”.
“He doesn’t need any satisfaction”, said Joby, crossly, still in his chastened position “He just goes blubbing to you ‘cos he likes the attention. He doesn’t mind what I do to him really”.
“Ssh!” said Tamaz, flirtatiously, and sat down next to him.
“Can I have another couple of strokes?” said Joby, peering up at Kieran.
“A glutton for punishment you are!” said Kieran “I’d better not give you anymore. I’d be afraid of breaking your skin”.
“Adam taught you well didn’t he!” said Joby.
“The sun’s boiling everything dry”, said Bardin “The storm’s over”.
He was standing at the little round window in the loft of the stone cottage. Bengo clambered to his feet and went to join him at the view. In the now sunlit clearing below, Ransey was removing the canvas awning, which was suspended over poles to keep the firewood from getting too wet during a storm. He then relit the fire and placed two large blackened kettles filled with water directly onto it.
In the far corner Joby and Mieps were taking down another canvas awning which was used to protect the vegetable plot from getting swamped during a mini-monsoon. If the earth were allowed to get too wet then the vegetables would rot quickly in the ground. Finia was sitting in his favourite perch on the banisters of the veranda, wearing a white sleeveless nightgown and swinging his slender legs. Adam was sitting on a wooden stool, sketching Ransey with charcoal. Lonts was sitting on the ground next to him, sucking his thumb and gazing thoughtfully at Snowy on his lap.
Bardin gazed back at Bengo, and thoughtfully traced his thumb over the smooth suntanned skin on Bengo’s face. Bengo smiled, lighting up his velvety brown eyes.
“Fancy a cup of tea?” Bardin asked, softly.
Bengo nodded. They picked up their shirts, but didn’t bother putting them on, and clattered roughly down the narrow wooden staircase to the kitchen. Then they linked hands and ran across the clearing towards the others.
“Hey! Joby’s got a stripey arse again!” Bardin whooped, looking with interest at Joby’s naked form.
“It makes a change it’s not me!” said Bengo.
“If he’ll come over here”, said Adam “I’ll rub some cream onto it”.
“Adam, our fantastic mother superior!” said Kieran.
“Watch out, or I’ll give you cause to need the cream too”, said Adam, putting down his sketch-pad and charcoal, and taking out the pot of cream from the canvas bag which he used to carry around his artist’s implements and any other essentials he might need.
“Get across my knees, Joby”, he ordered.
Lonts hooted with laughter as Joby slid himself face-down across Adam’s lap. To keep his precarious balance Joby held onto Lonts’s hair and shoulders, causing Lonts to squeal with laughter even more.
“Sit still or I’ll face headfirst into your lap”, said Joby “Ow! That stings!”
“Don’t be such a baby”, said Adam, rubbing in the cream “We have this everytime with you”.
“I don’t know what you lot are going to do when you run out of that stuff”, said Ransey.
“Suffer”, said Kieran, bluntly.
“Hm, you’ll have to”, said Ransey “It’s a long walk to the nearest chemists”.
“We’ve got lots of the stuff”, said Tamaz “Loads in the First Aid chest”.
“Yeah, but that’s meant to be for accidents”, said Ransey “Not recreational pursuits!”
“If you had your way you dreary old bag of bones”, said Julian, strolling over from the sloop with Hillyard “We wouldn’t be allowed to have ANY recreational pursuits, apart from the occasional rather sedate chess tournament perhaps!”
“He was quite a go-er during the storm!” Finia shouted from the verandah.
“Don’t give me the sordid details, my child”, said Julian, pulling the stub of a cigar out of the pocket in his pyjama bottoms, and kneeling down to ignite it from the fire “I’m feeling rather fragile after Hillyard’s exuberant attentions as it is”.
“If I’d known what a sight Joby was giving us out here”, said Hillyard “I’d have given you a respite sooner!”
“Which lucky swine got to give Joby a whipping?” said Julian.
“Patsy”, said Adam, smacking the back of Joby’s legs and then tipping him over onto Lonts, where the two of them sprawled onto the ground, giggling.
“Was that correct conduct for a Good Friday, Tinkerbell?” Julian asked Kieran “As a well brought-up Catholic boy, shouldn’t you be spending the day silently in devout prayer and contemplation?”
“I did that this morning”, said Kieran “I spent a couple of hours on me knees outside the back door of the cottage. I would’ve done a bit more but it started raining”.
“Of course you would!” said Julian, facetiously.
Bardin woke up in the night, as he did at fairly frequent intervals, mainly to check on Bengo, whom he still worried over constantly. Being back at the Bay had improved Bengo’s health considerably, but he was still convalescing, a fact that frustrated him considerably. Like a small child, he refused to accept that he still had to take things easy from time to time, and physically pushed himself too far on occasions. It wasn’t unusual for him to get so worn out after a day in the open air that either Hillyard or Lonts would have to carry him aboard the sloop and help him into bed. Bardin often woke up in the night to check that he was comfortable.
This time when he did he heard the cry of a strange animal outside. It sounded like a large cat that was trying to be sick. He thought nothing more of it though. The nights were very quiet at the Bay, but they still heard the nocturnal exclamation of an unknown beast from time to time. As they took the horses, donkeys and goats onto the sloop at night, and the chickens were safely penned up these days in the clearing, they didn’t worry too much.
First thing the following morning, Hillyard and Mieps went as usual to open up the hold and lead the animals back out onto the land. They turned the horses and donkeys loose to gorge on the lush, moist grass of the forest floor, and then Hillyard ambled over to the stone cottage to select an unripe banana from the basket just inside the door. When he got to it though he found a claw-mark scraped across the wooden panelling of the shut door, as though a very large cat had tried to scuffle its way in.
This discovery became the hot news of the day. Everybody came out to look at it and offer an opinion.
“It hasn’t tried to get in the chicken run”, said Mieps “So perhaps it wasn’t after food”.
“More likely shelter”, said Julian, running his fingers over the clawed grooves on the door “Which suggests that it’s wounded. Bardin said the animal he heard sounded like it could have been sick”.
Bardin took the rifle, which was normally kept locked away in the gun-chest in the food-store, and organised a gang to spend the day walking through the forest, looking for traces of the animal. Practically everybody wanted to come on this little expedition, although in the end Adam, Julian, Ransey and Finia (the “old women” as Julian dubbed his group), stayed behind at the camp.
Bengo was dismayed and angered when Bardin ordered him to stay behind as well. He called Bardin a traitor, although quite the opposite was the case. Bengo might think he was now up to a full day’s hiking in the open air, but it would take more out of him than Bardin was prepared to risk. He had to stay behind.
Once the others had gone, Ransey tried tokeep him occupied by asking him to help him saw some logs. But Bengo was “less than useless”, and even started to cry.
“Oh he really is a pitiful sight”, said Adam, who was helping Finia to unravel some of the large fishing-nets they had brought down from the loft in the cottage.
“We just can’t get it through to him”, said Ransey, gesturing at Bengo, who was now sitting “snivelling” on the wooden steps leading up the Butlin’s Chalet.
“It must be awful for him”, said Adam “Like being kept at school during the holidays. He must feel awfully unwanted”.
“There are things he could do here!” Ransey thundered.
“Yes, but they are all rather unexciting compared to tracking down wild animals aren’t they!” said Adam, in exasperation.
“Perhaps we should give him some knitting”, Julian smirked.
“Oh you’re a great help you are!” said Adam.
“They are both useless when it comes to understanding human emotion, Adam”, said Finia, glaring at Ransey and Julian.
“He has to lump it and that’s that”, said Julian “If we gave into him and let him do as he damn well wanted, he’d end up driving himself into an early grave!”
There was nothing to say to this, because harsh though it was, it also happened to be true.
The hunting-party returned mid-afternoon, having spent six hours scouring the forest in the surrounding area. They had found no trace whatsoever of the mysterious animal, not even a paw-print. Mieps seemed to be taking this as a personal insult, as though his predatory skills had been called into question. The others were too busy swabbing themselves down with cold water and soaking their feet, to get too aggrieved about the day’s lack of a result.
The kettles were put on the fire, and plans were made for another extended tea-break.
“Bengo”, said Julian “Fetch my deck-chair for me”.
“Fetch it yourself, you old bastard!” Bengo shrieked, and ran up into the Butlin’s Chalet, slamming the door behind him. Julian pursued him.
“He’s been boiling up to this all afternoon”, said Adam to Bardin.
“He has to learn!” said Bardin.
“If you ever speak to me like that again”, Julian was now shouting at Bengo inside the chalet “I’ll hang you upside down from the nearest tree! Is that clearly understood?”
Bengo, who had been sobbing on the bed, picked up the pillow and lobbed it at Julian. He then scrambled across the bed as Julian jumped on it and pursued him round it, like a cat trying to grab the tail of a mouse. Bengo was no match for Julian’s renewed youth and vigour though. When Bardin strolled leisurely into the chalet, Julian had upended Bengo across his lap and was spanking him soundly. Bengo was crying and gulping that he was sorry. Julian finished his chastisement and dumped him roughly back onto the bed. He glared significantly at Bardin before leaving the hut.
“This always bloody happens doesn’t it?” said Bardin, sitting down on the bed “You throw a tizz and cause untold mayhem, but it’s me who gets the sodding blame! The look Julian gave me just now reminded me of when Ully used to say ‘it’s you I blame here really, Bardin’!”
“B-but it was m-me who got s-spanked”, Bengo blubbed.
“Good!” said Bardin “You deserved it, every bloody slap! You insist on behaving like a spoilt brat, you get treated like one! What possessed you to speak to Julian like that? If there’s one person you don’t backtalk it’s him!”
“I-I was upset”, said Bengo “I’ve been worried about you as well, all day”.
“I’ve been worried about you for the past 6 months!” said Bardin “Night and day, ever since Godle took you to the Bone-House. You seem to carry on as though you’re the only person in this family with any feelings!”
Bengo sat up and tugged at Bardin’s sleeve, sobbing all the while.
“Don’t look at me like that”, Bardin groaned.
“What can I do to make things better?” Bengo asked, plaintively.
“You can apologise to Julian for a start”, said Bardin.
“W-will you come with me?” said Bengo.
“No!” said Bardin, crossly “You’re the one who upset him, you go and sort it out!”
“Oh”, Bengo whimpered “Oh please Bardy, he’s gonna be real angry with me still. The only time I ever dared cheek him like that before he gave me a couple of licks of the strap”.
“You think I care!” Bardin squawked.
“I know you do really”, Bengo continued to tug at Bardin’s sleeve and Bardin twitched his arm away in annoyance.
“Alright, I’ll come with you”, he said “But I’m not defending you in any way whatsoever!”
They emerged from the hut hand-in-hand. Bengo kept his head low as they crossed the clearing. Julian was nowhere in sight, so Bardin asked Adam where he was to be found.
“On the sloop”, said Adam “But I’d give him a bit longer to cool down if I was you, old love. He looked absolutely furious when he walked past just now”.
Bengo whimpered again, but like a sadistic schoolteacher, Bardin frogmarched him onto the sloop, where Julian had poured himself a brandy, and was now emptying his fury at the younger generation into his logbook, which, even though Bardin was now Captain, he still kept.
Bardin ordered Bengo to wait outside the cabin door, and went in first to check that Julian was prepared to see him. Julian grunted his permission. Bardin came out to fetch Bengo in, and found him drying his face on the hem of his baggy t-shirt.
“Use this”, said Bardin, tersely, handing him his own handkerchief “And remember to say ‘I’m sorry’ first before you go gabbling anything else”.
“I’m sorry”, Bengo sobbed, standing in front of Julian a few seconds later.
“Bardin told you to say that did he?” said Julian, leaning back in his chair “Never mind, I won’t hold that against you. I know you need him to think for you!”
Bengo flung his arms round Julian’s neck and kissed his face. Bardin sighed and pulled up a stool and sat down.
“I didn’t think!” Bengo wailed.
“If I’d ben paid for everytime I’ve heard him say that”, said Bardin “I’d be almost as rich as Hillyard by now!”
“It’s just that I wanted to go with the others”, said Bengo, perching on Julian’s knee and gazing at a patch of sunlight on the carpet “Even Toppy went!”
“Toppy is not convalescing from a debilitating and mysterious illness”, said Julian, sternly “To put it bluntly, you might have been a liability out there today. And you will never recover if you don’t pace yourself”.
“I’m sorry”, Bengo said, again, sounding extremely wretched.
“Yeah alright, don’t overdo it”, said Bardin.
“All’s forgiven”, Julian kissed Bengo.
A knock came on the door.
“Enter”, said Julian, imperiously.
Lonts entered, looking very suspicious and holding Snowy and Yellowy.
“I’ve just come to see how Bengo is”, he announced.
“Nothing that a brain implant wouldn’t cure!” said Bardin.
“Alright, stop looking at me like that!” Julian snapped at Lonts “As you can see, Bengo’s still all in one piece. And if I get any pious lectures from you I might inflict a chastisement on you as wello, whether you’re now the size of a grizzly bear or not!”
“You wouldn’t dare!” Lonts boomed, fiercely “I would tell Adam”.
“Yes, and he’d give the death of a 1000 nags!” Julian sighed.
In his anxiety to please Bardin for the rest of the day, Bengo offered to wash his hair for him, taking advantage of the brimming water-butts.
“You’ve got lovely hair, Bardy”, he said, combing Bardin’s blonde locks in the clearing.
“It’s nothing special”, Bardin growled, from his perch on the wooden stool that Adam normally used to sketch on “I don’t know why we don’t still dress you in little velvet suits and brush your glossy brown curls, seeing as you’re still a cute 6-year-old really!”
“What made you say that?” said Bengo.
“’All’s forgiven’”, Bardin imitated Julian, blowing a smacking kiss at him “You could get round anybody you could!”
“He was let off too easily”, said Mieps, nearby “If Tamaz had behaved as badly as that, I’d have beaten him very soundly”.
“I was beaten very soundly!” said Bengo.
“Anyway, all these beatings you’ve given Tamaz don’t seem to have had any effect”, said Bardin “He’s still the worst-behaved of the lot of us!”
“Have you finished with this water?” said Mieps, curtly, picking up the bucket.
“Yeah, but it’s all soapy so don’t go drinking out of it”, said Bardin.
“I’m going to have a wash actually”, said Mieps, carrying it across to the other side of the clearing.
“For a moment I thought he was gonna chuck it over me”, said Bengo “He’s had it in for me ever since I kicked his arse at Christmas!”
“Oh ignore him”, said Bardin “He’s just miffed because we didn’t come back with the corpse of a puma as a trophy! Let’s go for a little walk”.
They strolled hand-in-hand past Mieps, now topless and sponging his bare breasts in the late afternoon sunshine. They ambled into the woods and found Farnol and Hoowie finishing the job they all hated, emptying the latrine bucket in the bushes and burying its contents. They had a chemical lavatory on the sloop, but it wasn’t cut out for heavy-duty work, and was usually strictly relegated to emergency nocturnal use only. The rest of the time they made do with chamber pots and this makeshift outdoor effort. It would all get a lot easier when they finally moved down to the Castle, where there were two flush lavatories in-situ, but they were enjoying living on the sloop again after a winter inside a house, to rush down there immediately.
“Oh nice of you to turn up now we’ve finished!” said Farnol, as he and Hoowie cleaned their spades with handfuls of undergrowth.
“I can’t remember the last time he did this!” said Hoowie, pointing at Bengo.
“Two weeks ago actually”, said Bardin “Don’t start getting at Bengo, he does his share”.
“Yeah, but he could have done this whilst we were out hunting the big cat”, said Hoowie.
“Give it a rest”, said Bardin “Sometimes I think the only way to stop your gob up would be to wrap it up with sellotape!”
Tamaz pushed through them all and headed for the bushes.
“Have you done this?” he asked.
“Oh yes”, said Farnol “Just in time for you to fill it up again!”
“You don’t have to all stand and watch”, said Tamaz, getting ready for action in the bushes.
“We can’t see anything but your head”, said Bardin “Anyway, coprophilia is at least one fetish we haven’t got!”
“What’s coprophilia?” said Bengo.
“I’m not telling you, it’ll put you off your dinner”, said Bardin, and then yelled at Hoowie who seemed to be trying to see through the bushes “Hoowie! I might’ve known you’d try anything once!”
Joby laboriously cycled towards them on a heavy-framed black bicycle that Hillyard had bought just before leaving Toondor Lanpin. It was an old butcher’s boy bike, and had resilient non-inflatable tyres which, although hard-wearing, made the cyclist acutely aware of every bump in his path. It was one of Joby’s grievances that he didn’t get to use it enough, as the clowns normally commandeered it for rides through the forest. This evening he had escaped from Adam’s clutches to give it a rub-down with a damp cloth and then go off in pursuit of Tamaz.
“He’s only in there”, said Bengo, gesturing at the bushes where Tamaz was peering out like a pagan wood-spirit “We’re keeping an eye on him”.
“Nice evening isn’t it?” said Bardin, rather facetiously, implying that the highlight of a Saturday Night at the Bay was waiting for Tamaz to finish using the loo, not that any of them cared in the slightest!
“Bloody magic”, Joby smiled.
Lonts stormed through the trees, ordering Toppy to keep up with him.
“Another exciting Saturday Night at the Bay!” said Joby “Welcome to the hottest nightspot in town, the outside karsey!”
Bengo was staring sullenly at Toppy, his hands thrust into the pockets of his shorts. Although he had calmed down ffrom his tizz earlier, he still resented the fact that Toppy, of all people, was considered to be a more robust hunter than him! Toppy, to add insult to injury, was looking even more prissy and pure than ever, in a spotless white shirt and trousers.
“He hasn’t even got so much as a grass stain on him!” Farnol exclaimed “I don’t know how he does it!”
“Some people are just like that”, said Bardin “It must be a kind of mental disorder!”
“When are we going to start getting the castle into shape?” Toppy snapped at Bardin.
“Sometime over the next few days”, said Bardin.
“You keep saying that and we haven’t done anything yet”, Toppy complained.
“But we’ve got six months before the rough weather comes”, said Joby “What’s the rush?”
Lonts was shaking his head, as though in deep sorrow at Toppy’s abstract mentality.
“There’s a lot of work needs doing on the house”, said Toppy “If it’s going to be at all bearable to live in. So far all we’ve done is dump our furniture in the hall! A lot of the paintwork needs washing down, and some of the window-frames are filthy, and they need re-puttying”.
“Surely not?” said Joby, with mock astonishment “Well I’ll go to the foot of our stairs!”
Tamaz suddenly emerged from the bushes, re-buttoning his drawers as he did so.
“I hope you remembered to flush it!” said Bardin, facetiously.
“Oh real funny, you must be a clown!” said Tamaz, sitting astride the bike whilst Joby continued to hold onto the handlebars.
“There are flush loo’s down at the castle, Tamaz”, said Toppy, as though promising his beloved a palace of untold luxuries.
“Sheer mindless self-indulgence and hedonism!” said Bardin “You’ll be wanting soft loo-paper next!”
Adam grabbed Joby as soon as he returned to the clearing, and set him to work preparing onions and carrots for their supper. Joby sat on the step at the back of the cottage, and worked in a desultory fashion, whilst reading a fragment of a magazine that he had found screwed-up as part of the packaging in one of the tea-chests they had brought with them.
“What’s so absorbing?” said Adam, sitting down next to him with a colander of peas that needed shelling.
“It’s the Dear Justin problem page from the Toondor Lanpin rag”, said Joby, smoothing out the crumpled sheet “Listen to this, we’ve got a right one here! ‘Dear Justin, I’m scared I’m becoming obsessed with masturbation. I think about it all the time …’”
“It’s not from Hoowie is it?!” said Adam.
“Come off it, masturbation’s too long a word for him!” said Joby “Now get this, congregation. ‘How often do you recommend that I should masturbate on a daily basis? I’ve heard 4 or 5 times a day, but this doesn’t seem enough’. Duh?!”
“As and when required, I would’ve thought”, said Adam, dryly “What’s Dear Justin’s recommendation?”
“’I feel from what you’ve told me in the rest of your letter, that you are spending far too much time alone in your room. You need to get out more and mix with other people’”, Joby read.
“That would seem to account for an awful lot!” said Adam “Sounds remarkably sensible advice for Dear Justin”.
“Did you used to masturbate a lot when you were young?” said Joby.
“Before I got too old for it you mean?” said Adam, caustically.
“I didn’t mean that!” said Joby “But this poor idiot sounds about 15. Did you do it a lot at that age, and how did you do it?”
“Pretty much the same way you did it I should imagine!” said Adam “I’ve never discovered any other way to be honest!”
“What did you fantasise about at that age, that’s what I meant?” said Joby “Did you have pin-ups of body-builders on your wall or summat?”
“Good grief no, my father would have torn them all down”, said Adam “I used to hide photographs of Jules between the pages of my diary, all very soppy, and fantasise about him taking me away from it all”.
“On his white charger I suppose?” said Joby.
“Oh you can mock, you little swine”, said Adam “But I was a lonely, sensitive boy, I needed my dreams. They were all that kept me going at that age”.
Hillyard stealthily crept through the cottage and suddenly thrust a brace of dead rabbits over their shoulders. Adam gave an anguished start.
“Cor, you’re a bit jumpy aren’t you?” said Hillyard.
“Rubbish”, said Adam “I just don’t take too kindly to having dead rabbits thrust in my ear!”
“Mieps has just been checking his snares”, said Hillyard, proudly “So you can put rabbit with those veggies if you like”.
“Mieps is a heartless savage”, said Adam “Poor little bunnies. It’s enough to make me turn vegetarian like Patsy”.
“Oh you’re just going soft, you are”, said Hillyard “Meat is a valuable …”
“Source of protein, yes I know”, said Adam, irritably “I’ve heard that lecture time and again from Julian! Very well, we’ll have rabbit casserole, but you can prepare them, and go into the Butlin’s Chalet to do it, I don’t want to hear the hacking and tearing noises”.
Hillyard went away whistling, picking up the meat-cleaver as he went.
“It never ceases to amaze me how a nice, jovial man like Hillyard can get such a gleeful pleasure out of chopping up dead animals!” said Adam.
“’Cos he’s a farm-boy at heart that’s why”, said Joby “He’s at his happiest when he’s getting in the provisions”.
“Is it safe round here now?” said Kieran, peering round the side of the cottage.
“Yes, Sweeny Todd’s gone off to cut up another couple of victims”, said Adam.
“I was sitting in the clearing thinking what a beautiful evening it was”, said Kieran “And suddenly he comes marching across me line of vision holding up two dead rabbits!”
“Every evening’s beautiful here”, said Joby, contemplatively “Even when it rains. It’d be terrible if we ever had to leave”.
“We won’t have to leave”, said Kieran, kneeling on the grass “Whatever happens, we’ve always got Tamaz as the ultimate weapon”.
“He wouldn’t be any good against a tidal-wave”, said Joby, ominously.
“Why a tidal-wave for fock’s sake?” said Kieran, selecting a pea and popping it in his mouth.
“It’s the one calamity he hasn’t thought of yet!” said Adam.
“It could happen!” said Joby “I saw an old film once …”
“I might have known!” said Adam “Your parents should have been severely taken to task for letting you watch so much television when you were younger!”
“It was set on a beautiful island like this”, Joby continued.
“This isn’t an island”, Kieran pointed out.
“That doesn’t matter”, said Joby, impatiently.
“A minor technical difference, Patsy”, said Adam.
“We’ve still got water nearby!” said Joby “Anyway, as I was saying, everyone on the island had an idyllic, perfect existence”.
“Until the wrath of God descended upon them!” Adam thundered.
“Until they had a terrible storm”, said Joby, firmly “With hurricanes and tidal-waves and everything, and the whole island got destroyed, until there was nothing left but a tiny barren slither of land sticking out of the sea”.
“To show what once was”, said Kieran, dolefully.
“How horribly traumatic”, said Adam “I take it everyone got killed?”
“No, a few escaped”, said Joby, almost grudgingly “But they lost everything”.
“But this isn’t an island”, Kieran repeated, insistently “Even if the worst comes to the worst and all that did, we could head inland”.
“We might not have time”, said Joby.
“You are like some old soothsayer of doom”, said Adam “I’m surprised you don’t walk around wearing a sandwich board saying ‘the end of the world is nigh’!”
“Joby always seems to get most nervous when he’s most happy”, said Kieran “I’ve obviously got to work on him a bit more!”
Bengo was trying very hard not to cause another scene, but it wasn’t easy. Everywhere he turned Toppy seemed to be smirking at him triumphantly. If it had been anyone else suffering at Toppy’s hands he would have told them to simply ignore him, but it wasn’t so easy when the sound advice concerned himself.
He wasn’t the only one to be infuriated by Toppy’s sudden elevation to hero-hunter status. Mieps wasn’t too happy about it either. After nightfall, when everyone else was loading the animals into the hold, he burst into the cabin where Julian was putting the finishing touches to his logbook.
“What’s the meaning of all this?” Mieps slapped the surface of the desk “I demand to know!”
“Demand to know what, you bumptious little bitch?” said Julian.
“Why is Toppy sharing the first watch with Tamaz?” said Mieps.
“You’ll get your turn, don’t fret”, said Julian “Bardin’s devised a rota. Two people on two-hour shifts until 6 a.m. He’s letting Freaky and Toppy do the 10 til midnight slot”.
“Toppy?” Mieps shrieked “Toppy!”
“He’s a very responsible young man”, said Julian “He’s proved on a number of occasions in the past few years to be a man of action when it’s required, and he’s very adept at handling a gun. They’ll make a good team if this strange animal puts in another appearance”.
“Not as good a team as Tamaz and I would make”, Mieps spat.
“You and Freaky would probably spend your entire watch fucking like rattlesnakes”, said Julian “We want someone who’s going to pay attention out there!”
Ransey came into the cabin and nudged Mieps.
“You’re doing the midnight shift with me”, he said.
“There, that’ll keep you out of mischief!” said Julian.
Bardin made coffee for the first watchers, and carried it through the long corridor to the quarterdeck steps, with the rifle slung across his back. He found Bengo standing at the bottom of the steps, scowling, and still with his hands thrust deep into the pockets of his shorts.
“Tamaz, coffee!” Bardin called up the steps.
Tamaz reached down and collected the tray.
“What’s the matter with you now?” Bardin turned on his partner.
“Why aren’t I doing a shift?” said Bengo.
“Because two people over four shifts does not equal 16”, said Bardin “It makes only 8, so only half of us can do it. The other half get to have their beauty sleep! Tamaz and Toppy, 10 til midnight, Mieps and Ransey, midnight til 2 a.m, me and Hillyard, 2 a.m to 4. Kieran and Joby, 4 to 6”.
“Why can’t I do your shift with you?” said Bengo.
“Because the night air might be bad for your chest”, said Bardin “Now get to bed”.
“I don’t have to go to bed if I don’t want to, I’m not a little kid”, said Bengo.
“Yes you are!” Bardin retorted, and clambered up the steps.
Up on deck he handed the rifle to Toppy, who was leaning on the bulwark, wearing his velvet jacket which always managed to look like a posh footman’s livery on him. Tamaz was draped in his fur wrap.
“Now don’t get off the boat for any reason”, said Bardin “Not without coming to get us first”.
“Was Bengo playing up again?” Toppy smirked.
“You leave Bengo alone, and concentrate on the job in hand”, said Bardin, sternly.
“It doesn’t feel like anything’s gonna happen”, Tamaz shrugged.
“Well if it doesn’t, we’ll just be doing all this again tomorrow night won’t we!” said Bardin.
Julian got up at 6 o’clock and chucked a bucket of sea-water over Kieran and Joby, whom he found asleep in each other’s arms on the forward deck.
“Sleeping on sentry duty!” Julian roared “In the army you would have been court-martialled for that”.
“Yeah well we’re not in the friggin’ army!” said Joby, wiping his face on his singlet “So don’t go getting ideas”.
“And we were only asleep for 3 or 4 minutes”, said Kieran “Three or 4 minutes at the very most”.
“And it’s broad daylight”, said Joby “Whatever this creature is ent gonna appear in daylight, it’s a nocturnal animal”.
“How do you know?” Julian exclaimed “We haven’t got the faintest idea what it is, and we’re not likely to know either if you insist on sleeping through its visits! It’s a good job you were safely tucked up on here and not in the clearing, or it could have savaged you whilst you were blissfully in the land of Nod!”
“Julian’s absolutely right”, said Adam, slopping scrambled eggs onto their plates an hour later.
“Oh don’t you start”, said Joby, sleepily.
“I will start”, said Adam, stamping round them as they lounged by the camp fire “I’m disappointed in you both that you can’t even manage to stay awake for 2 hours!”
“We were awake for 1 hour and 55 minutes”, said Kieran “My hair itches, must be that damn sea-water that he chucked over us”.
“Yeah, the toffee-nosed maniac!” said Joby “We could’ve choked on that!”
“We are never going to get to the bottom of the mystery of this animal at this rate”, said Adam.
“Oh it’s probably dead by now”, said Joby, dismissively “Or legged it up-country. If it’s got any sense it would have scarpered when it got a look at us lot!”
“Hurry up and finish with those plates”, said Toppy “I want to wash up”.
“You’ll get ‘em when we’re ready”, said Joby “You’re getting too big for your boots you are”.
“What’s the rush anyway?” said Kieran.
“I want to watch Tamaz collect the coconuts”, said Toppy.
“Just run along, Toppy”, said Adam “The washing-up doesn’t have to be done now, you’re not in service anymore you know!”
“That’s not the attitude you take with me”, Joby grumbled.
“You were sold into slavery to me that’s why”, said Adam.
“Your hair needs washing, house-boy!” Joby shouted at Toppy, who was retreating across the clearing “It’s all greasy! There, that’ll upset him!”
“Send him into shock, knowing Toppy”, said Kieran.
It was an acknowledged fact that Tamaz was the best coconut-collector of them all. He shinned up trees, using only a small length of cord bound to his wrists in order to get a firm grip against the bark. Whenever he attempted this task he often acquired a small audience, who stood at the bottom of the tree, watching with abject fascination. Today it was comprised of Bardin, Toppy and Farnol. Bengo was also there, but he seemed to be more interested in glaring at Toppy.
“He’s like a human spider”, said Farnol, dodging as another coconut got lobbed down to them.
“You’d better not be trying to hit me with them, Freak-Face!” Bardin called up.
“What’s it worth?” Tamaz shouted back.
“You’d better be careful, Tamaz”, said Toppy “I don’t think Bengo can take the excitement. He’s all frail and weak, remember!”
“Right, that does it!”
Bengo lunged at Toppy. He gripped Toppy’s facial cheeks in his fingers and tweaked them violently, until tears came into Toppy’s eyes. Tamaz shinned back down the tree and pushed them both apart.
“You’re both being stupid!” he squawked “Let’s all go for a swim”.
“Good idea”, said Bardin, pulling Bengo’s hair “I told you to just ignore him, didn’t I!”
“It’s a bit hard to when it’s so obvious he fancies me!” said Bengo, sarcastically.
Toppy swung round to clout Bengo, but Farnol grabbed him in time.
“Aah, you can dish it out, but you can’t take it back!” said Bengo, triumphantly.
“You four go on ahead, I’m gonna find Rumble”, said Farnol.
He found him lying behind a tree, sucking one of Mieps’s breasts. Adam and Julian had been rather disturbed at first to hear about this new sexual kick that some of the younger ones had taken to indulging in, but from a sense of sadness as it spoke volumes about their unnatural start in life. It seemed that a lot of them weren’t just trying to make up for the childhood they had never had, but the babyhood as well! In the end Adam had said it wasn’t harming anyone, and Mieps was more than happy to oblige, so that matter was allowed to continue, and was treated as just another bit of harmless kinkiness, like Kieran’s love of absolution, and Julian’s enthusiasm for spanking everyone.
Farnol himself hadn’t tried the “tit-sucking”, but he had no problems with his partner’s enjoyment of it. He had joked with Rumble that he found that easier to deal with than Rumble keep ogling Bardin’s “tight, slinky little arse”. Mieps was built so completely different to him, that Farnol couldn’t simply be jealous of him, whereas with Bardin he was conscious that Bardin’s snaked-hipped trimness contrasted with his own burly frame.
He watched unobtrusively as Rumble finished sucking on Mieps’s large brown nipple and licking the crinkly surround to it. He lay sprawled out on the ground beside Mieps, and in spite of his long, lanky body he didn’t look at all unnatural in this position.
Eventually he finished, and murmured something to Mieps, who nodded in return and stretched languidly. Rumble got up and came over to Farnol, and the two of them walked down to the beach, where the other four were standing by a rock pool having an intense discussion.
They both undressed completely and swam a short distance in the sparkling blue water to a group of rocks at the base o the steps leading up to the old lighthouse. They climbed up onto the rocks and flopped back against the warm surface.
“Watch out”, said Farnol, as Bardin dived intothe surf and swam towards them “Here comes old sassy arse. He’s so bloody trim I could stick a pole up his arse and use him as a feather duster!”
“You wouldn’t be you if you weren’t beefy”, said Rumble, opening one eye and squinting at him.
Bardin reached them, and then looked back at the beach, where Bengo was slowly undressing, whilst scowling at Toppy, who was helping Tamaz to make sandcastles, using the bucket and spade that Tamaz kept with his own fishing-net by the rock-pool.
“Bengo, hurry up!” Bardin shouted.
Bengo got his feet caught in his shorts and fell over backwards onto the sand.
“Jesus, I can’t turn my back on him for five minutes”, Bardin groaned, climbing up onto the rock.
“I don’t know about Tamaz being our ultimate weapon”, said Rumble “We’d do alright with Bengo!”
Bengo swam out to them slowly, and climbed up into the small space left on the rock.
“For the last bloody time, just ignore Toppy”, said Bardin.
“Bad boy, Bengo”, said Farnol, slapping Bengo’s backside.
Bardin and Rumble joined in enthusiastically.
“Ah, four clowns on a rock!” said Rumble, looking ecstatically up at the sky.
“Four aged clowns on a rock if Bengo keeps his antics up”, said Bardin “He’ll have us all grey and wrinkled in no time”.
“We can’t have that”, said Farnol “The oldies are starting to look younger than us as it is!”
“Particularly Joby”, said Rumble “He looks about 19 these days!”
“We’d better be careful”, said Farnol “Or before we know it people’ll be flocking here from all over the world, thinking we’ve discovered the elixir of eternal youth or summat!”
The whine of an air-buggy could be heard in the distance. They all sat up in alarm.
“You and your big mouth!” said Rumble.
Everyone else had gone into the round hut, to catch up on their sleep, as no one had had an undisturbed night. Even the ones who hadn’t done watch-duty had still been restless in case anything had happened. All were now dozing, apart from Finia and Kieran, who were reclining in the doorway. Finia was painting his toe-nails, and Kieran was reading. Their light was suddenly blocked by Bengo and Tamaz appearing.
“Didn’t you hear the air-buggy?” Tamaz squeaked “There’s been a parcel-drop from Glynis!”
“You just can’t get any sleep in this place”, said Joby “It’s like a fucking holiday-camp. No sooner do you doze off then some jerk wakes you up, wanting you to do summat!”
Lonts got up and clambered over everyone like a Ray Harryhausen monster that had suddenly come to life. The others lazily followed him out of the hut and back into the blinding sunlight.
“I really think tonight is going to have to be bath-night”, said Adam, twirling a naked Bengo round and inspecting his long hair matted and tangled from the sea “Look at the state of you!”
“He looks like a little troll don’t he?” said Joby.
Farnol and Rumble staggered up the track from the beach, lugging between them the canvas sack that had been dropped from the air-buggy. Apart from Tamaz, who could never fail to become orgasmic over presents, the others were curiously unexcited about this unexpected largesse. For the simple reason that it came from The Outside World, and none of them wanted reminding that such a place existed.
“A letter here addressed to you, Adam”, said Farnol, handing over a small waterproof pouch that was tucked in the top of the canvas bundle.
“Why’s she writing to you?” said Joby, suspiciously.
“Perhaps she thinks I’m the only one who can read!” said Adam, opening the pouch and reading the contents “She had a little girl on Valentine’s Day. Oh how sweet. They’re calling her Louise. Well that’s quite a charming name”.
“’Cept she’ll go through life being called Lou”, said Joby.
“Not necessarily”, Adam retorted “Codlik sends his regards”.
“As long as that’s all he sends”, said Julian, darkly “And no firm promises that he’s going to come visiting us at some point!”
“Apparently Leon wants to”, said Adam “But they don’t want to interrupt his schooling”.
“Quite right too”, said Julian “We were bloody miserable at school so why shouldn’t he be!”
“They have a new head steward at the Big House”, Adam continued to read the letter “But he’s not very good, and all the standards are dropping drastically as a result. She says ‘we could really do with Toppy here. I know it’s a forlorn hope but is there any way this could be arranged?’” “Yeah, we’ll send him to her with brass knobs on”, said Bengo.
All at once a full-scale fight broke out between him and Toppy, with fists and feet flying everywhere. Bardin managed to separate them, even though he nearly got clouted himself for his pains. In no uncertain terms he ordered Bengo into the Chalet, and Toppy into the round hut, and told both of them that they weren’t to come out until he said so. Once they had complied with his wishes, he stormed into the stone cottage, and sat at the table in there with his head in his hands.
“What am I gonna do?” he said to Adam, who had followed him in “They’re gonna be the death of me, the pair of ‘em! Have you even known such a couple of little wankers like them!”
“Of course I have”, said Adam “Patsy and Joby were far worse when they were younger”.
“They couldn’t possibly have been!” said Bardin.
“Oh they were”, said Adam “At least Bengo and Toppy have a respite occasionally. Pats and Joby only gave up when they were asleep!”
“What finally made them get on better?” said Bardin.
“They became lovers”, said Adam, simply.
Bardin pondered this possibility for a moment and then discarded it.
“No that wouldn’t work”, he said “Toppy wouldn’t be robust enough for Bengo”.
“You’re probably right”, Adam sighed.
“We have come up with a solution”, said Julian, coming into the cottage, followed by Ransey, who was carrying the rifle.
“You’re gonna shoot them?” said Bardin “You can’t do that, Bengo’s my missus!”
“Those two need to thrash it out between them”, said Ransey “So I’ve suggested they both stay on watch for the beast all night, in the wooden chalet”.
“Bengo and Toppy alone together with a loaded gun?” said Bardin, dubiously.
“Even they’re not daft enough to actually shoot each other!” said Ransey “It’ll put them alone together for several hours, and give them both an equal sense of responsibility”.
“No I object”, said Adam “You can’t leave those two children alone out here all night, when we don’t know what this creature is”.
Julian gave Ransey a longsuffering look, as if to say “you see what we’re up against?”
“I know you two have all the tenderness and sensitivity of a pair of sadistic school-prefects on a midnight dorm-raid!” said Adam “But I don’t see as to how this can do any good at all. Think of little Bengo’s chest!”
“For crying out loud, Adam, you get worse!” said Julian, in exasperation “If it’ll make you feel any better, Bengo can borrow one of my vests, but I refuse to mollycoddle the vile little hound any further. Bardin, do you agree with us on this one?”
“Yes I do”, said Bardin, much to Adam’s surprise “They’ll have the gun, and they’ll be in the Chalet. It’s not as if they’ll be exposed, sleeping out in the open. And I’m desperate enough to try anything!”
Adam, ignoring Julian’s jeers that he was a “bloody old woman”, decided that he was definitely going to bath Bengo and Toppy before their night-vigil took place. Bardin allowed this only on condition that neither was to be allowed out of their respective prisons at the same time. They weren’t to come face-to-face again until they were due to start their shift. Adam scrubbed Bengo first and washed his long hair, whilst the others all passed around Glynis’s letter, and put away the contents of the canvas parcel.
This hadn’t caused the same excitement as the hamper had done at Christmas. They all acknowledged it was generous and thoughtful of Glynis to send them these goodies, but they were also a bit disgruntled, getting the distinct impression that she wasn’t taking their monastic style retreat seriously enough.
“What does she man by ‘have we got tired of the novelty yet?’” said Ransey, holding out the letter “We’ve only been here five minutes!”
“We’ve been here for two months actually”, said Adam, wringing out Bengo’s hair like a dishcloth.
“Have we?” Ransey blinked uncomprehendingly from behind his specs “Hm, I suppose we have”.
“Time flies when you’re having fun”, said Joby, stamping past with a bucket of potatoes which he had been peeling and slicing into chips.
“Adam, I think this is the best thing in the parcel”, said Lonts, holding up a rich homemade chocolate Easter egg, which had been decorated to look as though it was made of marble.
“Yes, it looks like an ornament doesn’t it?” said Adam “Far too good to eat”.
“Wanna bet!” said Joby.
“Your hair really needs trimming, Bengo”, said Adam “We’ll have to get Finia onto it”.
“Not today”, said Bengo “There’s enough excitement today as it is!”
Adam helped him out of the bath, and Bengo was astonished when Ransey absently tickled his chin as he walked past. Ransey was prone to very sudden and brief outbursts of physical affection like this, but it was an unwritten rule amongst the group that it must never be referred to, as mention of it seemed to cause him deep and painful embarrassment.
Bengo was the first to be taken into the Butlin’s Chalet after dinner (Julian joked that it was beginning to feel like an old-fashioned bedding ceremony, with Toppy as the blushing bride!), which had been fitted out with blankets from the round hut, and the gun, which lay in state on the small ramshackle table, safely immobilised for the time being.
“We’re going to keep an ear out for you, don’t worry”, said Bardin.
“We’ll be alright”, Bengo snapped.
He got on the bed and waited for the bane of his life to appear. Toppy came in by himself, his dark hair shiny and newly-washed. He looked crisp and sophisticated in his white shirt, which annoyed Bengo, although he didn’t comment on it.
For several minutes they were both too occupied in watching the others return to the sloop with all the animals to talk to each other. It wasn’t long before they were finally alone though, and then they realised how dark and quiet it got after sundown, when the gulls and tropical birds had ceased their noise. It also began to go chilly quick, and Bengo shivered. Toppy tucked one of the blankets round him.
“Why can’t you be kind all the time?” Bengo grumbled “Instead of opening your trap and upsetting people like you do”.
“I only mean it as a bit of fun”, said Toppy, sitting down opposite him at the end of the bed.
“No you don’t!” said Bengo “You haven’t got a sense of humour so how can you mean it as a bit of fun!”
“You haven’t got the first idea what it’s like to be alone”, said Toppy “Truly alone”.
“What’s that got to do with it?” said Bengo, puzzled.
“I was alone for years, when I worked for Pendor”, said Toppy, reflectively “In all the five years I was with him I don’t think I ever had a really serious conversation, not like this one I mean. He taught me things, but when I left I didn’t know him any better than when I got sent to him from the camp. And they didn’t care either, that lot. They could have been sending me to someone like Tomce, and they wouldn’t have cared! I spent God knows how many evenings all by myself, just watching time passing. When you lot arrived on the scene it was like a volcano erupting. I hadn’t known anyone like any of you before. I was scared stiff, you may remember that, but I was even more scared of you going away again and leaving me behind”.
“O.K, I understand that”, said Bengo “But that doesn’t account for why you’ve been such a shit to me since I got poorly”.
“That’s what I’m trying to explain to you”, said Toppy “I don’t mean any harm when I say those things, I never have. They come out of me without thinking. I do it … I do it I guess because I like to get a reaction, it gives me a thrill, it doesn’t matter what the reaction is. I like to feel someone’s taking notice of what I’ve said, that I’m part of the group”.
“But of course you are, no one’s ever said you weren’t!” said Bengo.
“I know, but I’ve never been able to take it for granted like you do”, said Toppy “That’s what I meant when I said you don’t know what it’s like to be alone. I know you had it tough as a child too, but it was a different kind of toughness. And you always had Bardin around you. Alright, I know he was too bossy with you sometimes when you were little and he made you cry, but I used to dream of having a special friend, someone who only looked out for me. Someone who always responded when I spoke, even if it was only to get narked at me!”
“Why were you always bawling then when Lonts picked on you?” said Bengo “He certainly gave you plenty of attention when you first joined us!”
“He frightened me that’s all”, said Toppy “I wasn’t used to someone so wild and unpredictable, I never knew what he was going to do next. But stangely he’s probably understood me better than anyone. Back at the first Toondor Lanpin Festival, Adam and Julian thought I needed to meet more people and said that it might be an idea to send me to work in the City. Lonts stopped them, because he knew it’d be the death of me, or the death of my soul at any rate”.
“There’s probably nothing you can tell a Kiskevian about souls!” said Bengo.
“He’s the only one of us who was part of a selective breeding programme”, said Toppy “He at least knows what he’s got in his genes. The rest of us could be anything”.
“Perhaps he’s paid a high price for that though”, said Bengo “He might be in-bred, you know like Dolores’s brother, Simeon”.
“I hadn’t thought of that”, said Toppy “It makes more sense than Joby’s theory that Lonts was dropped on his head from a fast-moving sleigh when he was a baby!”
They both munched lustily on some small under-ripe bananas that had been put in the hut for them by Kieran.
“You won’t tell the other clowns all what I’ve just told you will you?” said Toppy, munching with his mouth full.
Bengo gave a non-committal answer. He had no intention of imparting all their conversation straight off. Doubtless there would be many occasions in the future when Toppy would be perfectly insufferable (he had a natural propensity for it when all’s said and done), and then Bengo could remind him of all his weaknesses. Toppy needed to be kept in check occasionally somehow.
It was now very late, and Bengo felt fatigued, with all the perils of the mind that come with great tiredness. He lay down and gave a despondent sigh when he realised he was lying in the spot where Julian had spanked him. Not that that was exactly an unusual occurrence, as it often formed part of their fun and games, but Bengo hated to feel that he’d let himself down by incurring Julian’s anger. He was also missing Bardin, and in his tiredness resented the fact that Bardin was so obviously getting to sleep without him on the boat.
“We need to rest”, he said, wearily “Get into bed”.
He lay and watched as Toppy removed his trousers with fastidious care, draping them over the gun on the table. Toppy then climbed under the blanket next to him. Both of them fell asleep with no trouble at all.
Toppy was woken some time later by an incomprehensible noise outside. He scampered out of bed and reached for the gun. Bengo followed him to the door and they both yanked it open together. A violent beating of wings greeted them as four birds flew up into the air in unison.
“Ducks”, Bengo gasped in relief “Wild ducks!”
“Good job I kept the safety-catch on”, Toppy calmed his fluttering heart.
The looked at the inky sky which was steadily becoming light.
“It’s nearly dawn”, said Bengo, as though such an event was extremely unusual “The miserable bastards really have left us here all night!”
“And we slept through most of it too!” said Toppy, incredulously.
“I meant to go over as soon as it got light”, said Bardin, irritably “And then I went and bloody overslept! Bengo’ll think I don’t care”.
“You were awake most of the night, give yourself a break”, said Rumble, loping along beside him “You fell asleep at dawn ‘cos you were exhausted”.
They walked pas the remains of the previous day’s fire in the clearing, and then ran up into the Butlin’s Chalet, where Bengo and Toppy were both sleeping peacefully side-by-side.
“They seem to have survived alright”, said Rumble “No signs of trauma there”.
Bardin pushed back past him in annoyance. Once the initial relief that Bengo was alright had worn off, he felt a bit indignant that Bengo should have survived so well without a thought to how he, Bardin, had been worrying about him on the sloop.
The clearing gradually came alive, with Mieps and Hillyard bringing the animals out, and the others slowly congregating for breakfast. Woken by the noise, Bengo and Toppy emerged onto the verandah, both squinting in the bright sunlight as though they’d been incarcerated underground for 10 years.
“Did you get things all resolved between you?” said Bardin, following Bengo back into the Chalet, so that he could get dressed.
“I don’t know really”, Bengo shrugged.
“So how did you spend the night?” said Bardin, sharply.
“Asleep for most of it”, said Bengo “We were both a bit tired what with one thing and another. We had a bit of a chat, so I think things are sorted, until the next time he’s a pain in the butt anyway”.
“Next time I’m obviously gonna have to sit in and take notes!” said Bardin.
“I think I managed to resolve everything”, Toppy was saying to Julian on the jetty “You’d think being a clown he’d understand when I’m only joking anyway! I’ll just have to make sure I’m a bit firmer with him in future”.
“Well don’t push it too far”, said Julian “Bengo may not be intellectually very bright, but he does have a fair amount of primitive cunning. I’m sure he could think of ways to get his revenge if you overstep the mark with him”.
Adam had overheard this conversation and was annoyed by it. Sometimes when Julian and Toppy were together they could seem like the Sorcerer and his Apprentice, both plotting to rule the roost by means of snobbery and etiquette. Julian had meant no harm with his use of the words “primitive cunning” to describe Bengo, in fact he often admired Bengo’s earthy intuition, but Adam wasn’t prepared to give Julian the benefit of the doubt at the moment. Once again, Julian and Ransey had sidelined him in the pecking-order, effectively banishing him to the kitchen. His opinion over the Bengo and Toppy crisis had been regarded as of little or no account. Julian would now be even more insufferable because the night had passed without incident, and Bengo and Toppy seemed to have come through it without so much as even raising their voices at each other.
“Hello dear one”, said Julian, looking at him with an obvious air of superiority “Shouldn’t you be in your pinny by now?”
Adam didn’t reply. Instead he pushed Julian into the water and then pushed Toppy in after him. Julian scrambled around for ages and finally managed to claw his way back up onto the jetty. He pulled Toppy up after him and jokingly called him a shrimp.
Julian peeled off his wet pyjama bottoms and then went to the stone cottage in search of Adam. He found Joby in there with Kieran, scouring a frying-pan with a clump of undergrowth.
“I sometimes think if our frying-pans were nicked”, Joby was saying “We’d starve!”
“Are you looking for Adam?” said Kieran, squinting at Julian and speaking with the Irishman’s gleeful love of A Scene in the offing.
“He’s upstairs in the nets”, said Joby, with a longsuffering groan “You two are worse than a couple of kids”.
Julian thumped up the wooden stairs, oblivious to Joby’s shout that Adam had said he wasn’t to be disturbed, a fact made all too obvious when Julian found the door barricaded against him.
“Adam!” he shouted “Let me in. You can’t hide in there at this time of the day, you’ll boil!”
Adam grudgingly removed the boxes from his side of the door and Julian stooped low to enter the room, which they could both only use if they crouched.
“We are not going to have this scene again are we?” Julian barked.
“Sod off!” Adam shouted.
“Have the decency to admit you’re only getting annoyed because I was proved to be right”, said Julian, flopping down onto the nets.
“Maybe”, said Adam “But I have the right to show my displeasure when I don’t like your attitude”.
“Alright”, said Julian, impatiently brushing a lock of wet hair out of his eyes “You showed it. Satisfied now? Are we going to get some breakfast now?”
Julian had always had the knack of making Adam feel absurd when it was necessary, and this was certainly the case now.
“Very well”, said Adam, gravely.
“Good”, said Julian “I’m out of breath as it is!”
Adam helped him to his feet and they trundled back downstairs.
“I think we’re gonna have to start up a daily league table around here”, said Joby “Who’s gonna be the toughest in the infants today. Yesterday it was between Bengo and Toppy, today it’s the old favourites, Adam and Julian”.
“Tomorrow it’ll be those perennial evergreens, Kieran and Joby I suspect”, said Adam, tartly.
“Tomorrow we’re going to start moving down to the Castle in fact”, said Bardin, appearing in the doorway.
“That’ll please Toppy”, said Joby, gruffly “And it’ll be extra work for us, moving all the kitchen stuff down there”.
“Well it has to be done sometime I suppose”, Adam sighed.
“Have you a plan for today?” said Julian, drying himself down with a face-towel.
“I’m gonna take a party to look at the bit of forest and coastline up beyond the old lighthouse”, said Bardin “It’s the only part where we haven’t looked for the beast yet. If we can’t find any trace of it there, then we’ll have to assume it’s gone down to the river and the forest by the Castle”.
“In which case it could be anywhere”, said Joby.
Bengo was thrilled to hear that he was actually going to be included in this expedition, which was fairly straightforward as the area they were going through wasn’t very big. The rest of the party was to be comprised of all the younger ones, i.e all the clowns, Tamaz, Toppy and Hoowie. Tamaz got dressed up in a pair of silk and lace drawers, and a matching silk vest.
“You’re not seriously coming like that?” said Bardin.
“What’s the matter?” said Joby “Are you frightened the neighbours’ll see or summat?!”
“It’s hardly practical”, said Bardin “Go and change”.
“No I won’t”, said Tamaz “This is comfortable. I got too hot in a shirt and trousers the other day”.
“I could refuse to let you come now”, said Bardin.
“You need my tracking skills”, said Tamaz, haughtily.
“We could take Mieps instead”, said Bardin.
“What for, elevenses?” said Tamaz, squeezing his left breast suggestively.
“You’d … you’d better behave that’s all I can say”, said Bardin.
Joby gave an incredulous snort of laughter.
“First time for everything I spose”, he said.
Bardin went into the stone cottage where Adam was putting the final touches to their day-packs.
“Are our rations nearly ready?” said Bardin.
“Yes”, said Adam, fastening the two rucksacks “I would have finished them a lot sooner if I’d had SOME ASSISTANCE!”
He shouted the words out of the door at Joby.
“He’s talking to Tamaz”, said Bardin.
“He’s always gossiping to somebody”, said Adam “I’m amazed I ever manage to get any work out of him at all!”
Bardin picked up the rucksacks and kissed Adam lightly on both cheeks as a thank you. Adam followed him outside to see them off. “Come along”, he said, taking Joby’s arm a few minutes later “We need to start packing things up on the galley”.
They passed Julian on their way to the sloop, who gave Adam a very formidable look.
“I think he’s gonna come getting his revenge for his dunking later”, said Joby, climbing up over the bulwark of the sloop.
“Thank you, but I don’t want to think about that”, said Adam, shortly.
“Leave it out, I thought, knowing you, you’d be getting all excited at the thought of it”, said Joby “We all know how much you enjoy his masterful behaviour”.
“Well perhaps just this once I don’t want to be the cowed, tamed one”, said Adam, following him down the wooden steps which led directly into the galley.
“It’s not worth getting worked up about Julian and Ransey”, said Joby “Both of ‘em like to act the Big I Am. Just ignore ‘em”.
“I can’t”, said Adam, pulling out drawers at random and setting them on the table “I get fed up with them treating me like the simple-minded little woman, Mumsey! I’m tried of it. Joby … what’s the matter, old love?”
Joby was crying silently.
“We like you like that”, he gulped, eventually “I don’t know how me and Kieran would have survived if you hadn’t been. And look at the baby. How would we have turned out if you hadn’t been all ‘Mumsey’ with him?”
“I don’t like to speculate on that”, said Adam, quietly “Don’t cry, my melancholy boy. I’m not about to go all hard and mean on you. I just get fed up occasionally of Julian thinking he can dismiss me all the time”.
“He was saying to me only yesterday how much you’ve always liked his strong behaviour”, said Joby “And the next minute you’re complaining about it!”
“Perhaps I am more female-minded than I care to admit then”, said Adam, ruefully.
“Must be”, Joby sniffed “Look, let’s leave all this for a minute and go to the cabin. You and me”.
“Love in the morning”, Adam smiled “Very well then”.
The expedition party were enthralled by the area of coast to the north of the old lighthouse. They found what appeared to be the ruins of a small chapel in a sheltered hollow next to the sea, and right next to it an enormous tree with huge branches hanging out over the water which would be quite big enough to camp on comfortably. Farnol, Rumble and Hoowie went up into the tree immediately.
Down on the ground Bardin ordered Toppy to build a small fire and make some coffee. It was becoming increasingly obvious to Toppy that Bardin was jealously getting at him for his night of peace and tranquillity with Bengo.
“Come on, come on, get on with it”, said Bardin, impatiently circling the fire like a vulture waiting to land.
Toppy, understandably, felt rather harassed. He glanced over at Bengo and Tamaz, who were sitting on the mossy bank overlooking the chapel ruins. Bengo had been playfully trying to pull the ribbon out of Tamaz’s drawers, only to have Tamaz keep slapping his hand. Bengo then coaxed Tamaz into sitting on his knee and they were now cuddling and kissing each other like a Victorian courting couple.
“Never mind staring at them”, Bardin snapped.
“What is the matter with you?” said Toppy, looking at his most sly and crafty “Do you think we haven’t told you everything that happened last night?”
Bardin grabbed the back of Toppy’s shirt and yanked him roughly to his feet. They stood glaring at each other with the tips of their noses practically touching.
“You’re the one who’s being difficult not me”, Toppy bleated.
“I’m Captain, I’m allowed to be difficult!” said Bardin “And if you give me anymore of your crafty looks I’ll exert my Captain’s rights and shag you by force!”
“Me?” said Toppy, in astonishment.
“Yes, you”, said Bardin “You’re quite presentable when you’re not scowling and plotting some vile remark”.
“I’ll tell Bengo you said that”, Toppy chirped.
“You’ll have to wait for him to come up for air first!” said Bardin.
He gave a piercing whistle on his fingers, and Bengo and Tamaz turned to look at them. Bengo looked nervously apologetic. Tamaz, with his reptilian eyes, merely looked disdainful.
“Get up in the tree”, said Bardin “We’re about to have lunch”.
“Hoowie, be careful man”, said Farnol, as the seven of them lay draped amongst the branches overhanging the sea “You nod off here and you’ll end up in the drink. We’ll have to tie you on with a rope at this rate”.
“There was a guy once at the Cabaret used to have an act like that”, said Bengo, sleepily “Do you remember, Bardy? He used to hang his braces from a light-fitting and swing on them”.
“Yeah, until one day they snapped”, said Bardin, with his cap pulled over his eyes “And he fell arse over tit into the band-pit! Smashed up a big bass drum from what I recall. Ully wasn’t too happy with him about that”.
“I’ve got a piece of raw carrot in my sandwich”, said Tamaz, inspecting it.
“Well don’t shout or everyone’ll want one”, said Bardin.
Tamaz swapped sandwiches with Toppy, who was only too happy to perform this service.
“It feels like we’re marooned in the middle of the ocean”, said Hoowie, staring out across the sea “Just us lot in the whole wide world, which is covered in water, apart from this tree sticking out of the sea”.
“Strewth, these sandwiches aren’t going to do us for very long then!” said Bardin “We’ll have to get fishing”.
“And pray for rain so that we get some drinking water”, said Bengo.
“And if we get sick of fish, we’ll just have to eat each other”, said Farnol.
“We’ll run out of conversation too”, said Tamaz.
“With Farnol around?” said Rumble “You must be kidding!”
“Yeah, you can bank on him and Hoowie to keep us supplied with plenty of mindless drivel!” said Bardin.
“We’ve got the gun so we could shoot the odd bird”, said Hoowie, looking up at the sky.
“Great, we’ve got six cartridges on us”, said Bardin “So don’t go getting a taste for raw seagull ‘cos it wouldn’t happen very often!”
“That’s a point, it’d be tricky lighting a fire up here to cook on”, said Rumble “Unless we use one of the branches lower down, and then we could put it out with sea-water if it got out of control”.
“We’d have to hold each other close at night to keep warm”, said Farnol, lasciviously.
“And stop each other falling off”, said Tamaz.
“What would we do if we had a storm like we had on Friday?” said Bengo “And the tree got struck by lightning?”
“Have a helluva lot of swimming ahead of us”, said Bardin.
“Ssh”, said Toppy, suddenly “I thought I could hear something down below”.
Bardin gripped the rifle in his hands and slid awkwardly across to the branch on which Toppy was sitting. They both looked down at the mossy ground below, but could see nothing out of place.
“Perhaps it could have been the wind rustling through the undergrowth”, said Toppy.
“There isn’t any breeze at all though”, said Bardin.
“Well perhaps it was just a small animal then”, said Toppy “Although the way it was moving sounded more like a person”.
“We’ll wait here another few minutes and see if it comes back”, said Bardin.
They waited half-an-hour but heard nothing more. At the end of the half-hour they got down from the tree and prepared to set off back home. Tamaz found a set of large footprints nearby, which seemed to move in a semi-circle round the base of the tree, not starting or finishing anywhere. They hadn’t been there when they had arrived. The prints were human, or at least certainly belonged to a biped who wore substantial footwear.
“These are the prints of someone who’s certainly man-size”, said Bardin “But I can’t believe there’s anyway they could have walked under the tree whilst we were up it, not without us seeing ‘em”.
Tamaz wanted to go off scouring the area even more, looking for this mysterious person. Bardin knew they wouldn’t have time to do that and get home before dark and so he refused, insisting they set off on the return trek at once. Tamaz, his hunter’s blood fired up, caused a scene and had words with Bardin, who told him off in no uncertain terms. Tamaz was upset by this, and on the way home trailed along at the back with Bengo and Toppy, very nearly tearful. “Bengo doesn’t like to see you upset”, said Bengo, reverting to third-person clown mode in order to try and cajole him out of his mood.
“He’s nearly made Tamaz cry”, Toppy hissed.
“Bardy can sound fierce sometimes that’s all”, said Bengo “I should know, he’s made me cry enough times!”
“How dare he talk tome as though I was nothing but a stupid girl!” said Tamaz.
Bardin had overheard this last bit, and stamped back to them with the rifle slung across his back.
“You asked for it”, he screeched “Coming out today dressed like a floozie in a cathouse! How can you hope to be taken seriously?!”
“Calm down, man”, said Farnol, grabbing his arm “There’s no need to keep getting at the kid like that”.
“You wouldn’t all be this soft if he wasn’t wearing frilly drawers!” said Bardin, indignantly “Because of that it’s me who gets the hard time and he who gets all the fucking sympathy!”
“Perhaps you should wear frilly knickers as well, then we’d be all soft on you too”, said Rumble, causing the others to laugh boisterously.
“You’d be such a hot babe, that it’d give you somewhere to hang your hat”, said Hoowie, plucking off Bardin’s cap and holding it over his own groin suggestively.
Bardin snatched the hat back.
“Keep walking!” he squawked at them.
“Sexual frustration”, Tamaz muttered, sotto voce “That’s what it is”.
“Bengo was saying he thinks it might be a spirit of the forest who made those footprints”, said Lonts, in the cabin a few hours later.
“Sounds like the sort of daft thing he’d come out with”, said Joby, yawning.
“It’s a nice romantic idea, Lo-Lo”, said Adam, who was stroking Lonts’s shoulders in an appreciative manner “But the footprints sound a bit hefty and substantial to be a gentle wood-spirit!”
“A lot of pagan rubbish if you ask me”, said Kieran, the only other person in the room, who was washing himself out of the enamel bowl and jug.
“No one did”, Joby grunted, taking off his underpants and slipping into bed.
“There are more things in Heaven and Earth, and all that jazz, Patsy”, said Adam.
“Wood spirits!” said Kieran, contemptuously “River spirits, mountain spirits! There is only one Maker, one Lord of Creation!”
“Gawd, I’ll be glad when Easter’s finally over”, said Joby, rolling onto his side.
“You of all people, Patsy, should understand about how mysterious life can be”, said Adam “Particularly after some of the things we’ve seen in this world”.
“Yeah, most of which have been caused by Angel or his cronies”, said Kieran “And that is precisely my point. Tales of wood spirits are grist to the mill of the Devil. Gets people believing he exists”.
“He does exist”, said Joby, sleepily “We should know, we’ve seen the bastard enough times!”
“But it’s not good for him or anyone to go giving him too much attention”, said Kieran “He’s best ignored as much as possible”.
“Sometimes Patsy, you can be a typical Irishman”, said Adam “Warm and witty most of the time, until you start talking about religion, and then you become utterly impossible”.
“Do I?” said Kieran, sounding very concerned.
“Well perhaps not always”, Adam conceded “Actually most of the time you’re very tolerant and open-minded, but just occasionally a little bit of hardcore fanatical Catholicism comes through and unsettles us”.
“Unsettles me too”, said Kieran, sitting down on the communal bunk and drying himself with a towel “Must be me upbringing. It was nowhere near as strict as it was in me Grandmother’s day, but you still got traces of it now and again”.
“All those shrines by the side of the road”, said Joby “Like something out of a Hammer film!”
“Old ways don’t die out as quick as people like to think”, said Kieran “I mean, you weren’t supposed to kiss the hands of priests and nuns anymore, but I still saw people doing it occasionally, and me Mam always used to genuflect when we passed a church”.
“Limerick bus station”, said Joby, rolling onto his back.
“What about it?” said Adam, in astonishment.
“We we’re at Limerick bus station once, me and him”, said Joby, pointing at Kieran “And suddenly this old man started sobbing all over a priest who’d just walked in, kissing his hands and looking at him all dewy-eyed. I can’t imagine that happened to the Archbishop of Canterbury too often!”
“Particularly not at Limerick bus station I would’ve thought!” said Adam.
“I could argue that’s where Catholicism can be a beautiful religion”, said Kieran “If it’s all done in the right spirit, and not as a power-thing”.
“With that attitude you would never have made a priest, Patsy!” said Adam.
“No, I’d have been defrocked almost immediately”, said Kieran “They would never have tolerated me partnership with an English heathen like Joby for a start!”
“Let alone a camp old aristo like Adam!” said Joby.
“Did you know the French used to have a special service in their church?” said Adam “Which was aimed primarily at bringing England back to the true path of Catholicism? I don’t know when they stopped doing it, but it went on for centuries”.
“Really?” said Joby “Didn’t work did it!”
“Well I think the wood spirit sounds a nice thought”, said Lonts.
“Good grief”, said Joby “Trust him to still be at first base!”
Adam slapped Joby’s rump severely. Lonts though wasn’t offended, because the idea of the wood spirit was filling his thoughts completely. He lay back on the bunk and sucked his thumb as he contemplated the idea.
Bardin came into the cabin, holding his palm outstretched, on which lay the final pieces of the Easter egg broken into four small bits.
“Is this all we get?” said Joby “It’s like being poor again!”
“That’s what we get trying to divide one Easter egg up between the 16 of us!” said Bardin.
“It’s rather scrumptious”, said Adam “The layers of milk and white chocolate compliment each other wonderfully”.
Tamaz slipped under the quilt next to Joby.
“About time you appeared”, said Joby “I wondered where you’d got to”.
“Our last night on the sloop”, said Hillyard, taking off his clothes “Bit sad really ent it?”
“Don’t be silly”, said Adam “I’m sure we’ll be sleeping on here quite often. Anyone’d think, the way you’re carrying on, that we were going to set fire to it tomorrow, like the old Indigo!”
He gulped anxiously as soon as he’d said his words, and everyone looked warily at Lonts, who normally became very upset and melancholic at the memory of the old Indigo’s sudden demise. But instead this time Lonts was asleep, soothed into unconsciousness by thoughts of the wood spirit, the idea of which appealed to his intense Kiskevian soul.
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