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The supply-run to Toondor Lanpin took place in the middle of June, and was short and hectic. Very early on the morning they arrived, Hillyard and Joby went to the grocery suppliers in town and bribed them to deliver sacks of oats, flour, rice, yeast and sugar to the sloop as soon as they could. A trio of sweaty, paunchy men appeared within the hour, and Adam directed them down into the galley and the food-hold with the supplies. By the time they had finished the galley was knee-deep in sacks, with barely an inch to move.
“And here’s a little something for your trouble”, said Adam, handing a couple of notes to the last man up the wooden steps.
“Is there anything else you need doing?” the man leered, suggestively.
“No that’ll be all, thank you”, said Adam, backing up against the wall.
“You sure?” the man grinned, which was an awesome sight.
He flicked one of Adam’s nipple-rings, which was poking out of his shirt.
“Adam!” Lonts bellowed from the other side of the sea of sacks.
The man took one look at Lonts’s beefy frame and disappeared up the wooden steps like a monkey up a stick.
“Lo-Lo!” Adam gasped “Thank goodness you appeared”.
“Don’t give me that”, Lonts exclaimed “You were flirting with him, giving him encouragement”.
“I was not!” Adam shrieked “Anyway, that kind of man doesn’t need any encouragement, he’d roger anything that breathed!”
“And you’re provocatively dressed”, said Lonts, fiercely “When I think of the amount of times you used to punish me for not wearing enough clothes and then you flaunt around like that!”
“Like what?” said Adam, glancing down at himself “I normally dress like this”.
“You are a hypocrite”, said Lonts, and he turned on his heel and thumped away down the long corridor, his flip-flops slapping heavily against the wooden floor.
“Damnit Lo-Lo!” Adam shouted, but unable to get to him because of the marauding sacks.
“What’s the sweet little thing done now?” said Julian, climbing down the wooden steps. “He accused me of flirting with that stubbled Neanderthal who just left”, said Adam “Outrageous! Said I was provactively-dressed!”
“And so you are, you sassy old tart”, said Julian “If you cut your shorts much higher we’d be able to see your windpipe! You need a good slap!”
“And you can calm down as well!” said Adam, crossly “I thought everbody gets excited enough at the Castle, but several days on-board ship has the same effect. Anyway, we haven’t got any room for any hanky-panky in here. Make yourself useful, and help me move some of these sacks through into the hold next door”.
“We’re the old fogies, why are we doing the heavy work?” said Julian.
“You tell me why we put up with anything!” said Adam, waspishly.
Once the galley was cleared, Julian rounded everyone up and spirited them off to the bath-house. After that, they decanted to the barbers and completely packed the place out. Julian decreed that they should be attended to in order of age, and whilst he, Adam and Ransey were being trimmed, shaved, perfumed, and generally cosseted, the others all fought for space on the leather chairs at the back.
Bengo was feeling rough. On the journey up-river he had had a disturbing dream about Thierry (although they had sailed right past No-Name without stopping), and had gone into the hold the night before arriving at Toondor Lanpin and taken large swigs of gin to steady himself.
“If you’re going to be sick, go outside”, Julian barked, watching Bengo in the mirror.
“Come along, Bengo”, said Lonts, hauling the little clown out of the door by his armpits.
“If anyone feeds him any more alcohol clandestinely in future”, said Julian “They will incur my gravest wrath”.
“Why are you looking at me?” said Tamaz.
“I wonder!” said Julian.
When they looked vaguely human, they went to a nearby bar (the one renowned for being the only one in town with a pool table) and had a late breakfast. Lonts was still giving Adam a hard time, and after eating went to sit at the other end of the bar to smoke his pipe, and watch some of the others playing pool. When Joby and Kieran finished having a game they went back to the dining-table and found that Adam was in a state of inebriation.
“But I can’t be”, Adam wailed “I’ve only had a few beers”.
“Which goes right to your head”, said Joby “You had nearly 30 years on the wagon, Ad, it don’t take much to get you gone you know”.
“I can’t bear it when Lo-Lo cuts me out like that”, said Adam “He’s my world you see. Oh Patsy, I don’t mean to belittle you when I say that. I would have had nothing if it hadn’t been for you”.
“Oh God, he’ll start singing in a minute!” said Joby “Shut up, Adam. If Julian notices he won’t let you forget it for months”.
“It’s not wearing off is it, Patsy?” said Adam, clawing at Kieran’s arm “The magic? Is my problem coming back, is it? I won’t blame you, I know there are many things you can’t control”.
“I wouldn’t do that to you”, said Kieran.
“Adam!” Lonts bounded over “Oh this is all my fault!”
“That’s torn it”, said Joby “Can it, Lonts. We don’t want Julian hearing”.
“I have done this to him”, Lonts cried “I am a fiend! I should be whipped!”
“Nice thought”, said Joby.
Hillyard had guessed something was amiss and came over, leaving Julian at the pool table with Ransey. Finia also swam into Adam’s line of vision.
“Finia”, said Adam “What a delicious little thing you are”.
“Hm, like a stick of liquorice”, said Finia “Hillyard, help me out before Julian catches on”.
“Come on”, Hillyard pulled Adam to his feet “Now behave yourself. Don’t say a word on our way out. Silence is essential”.
“You should start feeling a wee bit better now”, said Kieran, back on the sloop, dabbing Adam’s face with a wet flannel.
“You’re all so beautiful”, said Adam, looking appreciatively at Kieran, Lonts and Finia, who were all kneeling on the bed around him “Does Jules know yet?”
“We told Joby to tell him that the humidity got a bit much for you”, said Finia “You’re not used to it anymore”.
“Is Joby not here then?” said Adam, looking around the cabin, as though Joby was hiding in the wash-jug.
“We left him behind”, said Kieran “He’s no damn help at all at times like this. Just gets all lippy and cracks sadistic jokes”.
“Yes I know”, Adam sighed “He should be spanked more often”.
“I couldn’t agree more!” said Kieran “If it’d been me who’d got into this state there’d have been Irish jokes coming out of his ears!”
“What a lot we have to put up with from him and Julian”, said Adam.
“Have I got to stand here all day like this?” said Hillyard, who had come into the cabin a few minutes earlier, carrying a tray of black coffee “I feel like an unwanted butler!”
The cups were distributed amongst the five of them.
“This is rather jolly now isn’t it?” said Adam “At least the others haven’t come home yet to shatter our peace”.
“They’ve gone shopping I expect”, said Finia “Julian’s determined to get his orthopaedic bed before the day is out”.
“This is more like it”, said Julian, lying side-by-side with Ransey on a double bed in the only furniture warehouse in town “We can at last banish that instrument of torture back to the attic, where it belongs”.
The clowns, plus Tamaz, were going wild on another bed nearby, whilst Toppy was frantically trying to coax them off it. He was also aware that all the male shop assistants were staring at Tamaz, who was wearing trousers and a boned black bust-bodice, which seemed to push his small breasts up to somewhere around his ears.
“Would you like to put my jacket on, Tamaz?” Toppy bleated.
“What for?” said Tamaz, witheringly.
“Get off there!” Julian roared, reaching for the horse-whip which Bardin had left draped over one of the bed-posts.
The younger ones instantly fell off the bed and proceeded to explore the rest of the shop. Bengo found himself surrounded by a handful of posturing shop assistants, who all wanted to inspect his mane of tawny hair. They were the sort of men whom Bardin disparagingly thought of as “frustrated chorus-boys”, the sort who carried their own extensive nail-kit around with them, and shuddered at anyone who didn’t shave their armpits.
“Do you finger-dry it?” one of them asked, half-twirling Bengo around.
Bengo couldn’t have looked more blank if they’d asked him to explain the Theory of Relativity.
“What do you use on it?” said another “What do you wash it in?”
“R-rainwater”, said Bengo, nervously “And soap flakes”.
“Soap flakes?” the first exclaimed “What do you mean, soap flakes?”
“We have big blocks of soap that we use for all cleaning”, said Bengo “Adam grates off a few bits to use for shampoo. It seems to work”.
“Bengo!” Bardin shouted.
Bengo scuttled over to him.
“What were you doing with that bunch of poseurs?” said Bardin.
“I don’t know”, Bengo stammered “They sort of ambushed me I guess”.
Mieps was sidling round the outskirts of the shop, looking shifty. He gave Bengo a glance that could only be described as sinister.
“What’s he on your back about now?” said Bardin.
“B-Bardy, I did something really stupid earlier”, Bengo confessed.
“What you?” Bardin gasped, in mock-disbelief “Surely not!”
“It was all Hoowie’s fault really”, said Bengo, pathetically “As we were leaving the sloop this morning, he cracked some stupid joke about God help us if Codlik turns up whilst we’re here, as that’ll make Mieps all rampant and uncontrollable. I should’ve kept my gormless mouth shut, but I had to go and join in didn’t I! I can’t even remember exactly what I said, but I know it’s reminded him of that set-to I had with him here in January”.
“Reminded him?” Bardin exclaimed “Knowing Mieps, I shouldn’t think he’s ever forgotten it! Mind you, he deserved that kick up the jacksey you gave him. Everytime he opens his legs it seems we have trouble!”
“Don’t leave me alone with him, Bardy, please”, Bengo implored “He scares the shit out of me when he looks at me like that”.
“Calm down”, said Bardin “I don’t know what’s more trouble sometimes, Mieps’s sex life, or Hoowie’s naff idea of a sense of humour!”
Hoowie’s “naff idea of a sense of humour” had done its usual trick of spreading irritation and unease amongst the other Indigo-ites. The prospect of a possible sudden shock visit by Codlik got everyone jumpy and stressed-out. Hillyard suggested leaving Toondor Lanpin immediately, without delay, but some of the supplies they had ordered (including the new bed) couldn’t be delivered until the following day, so they had to stay. Not only that but Toondor Lanpin’s intense summer humidity was getting everyone down, used as they were these days to the fresh heat of the Bay.
Adam tried to stay out of Julian’s way by going to do some sketching on the quayside, until the heat drove him back onto the sloop. When he walked into the cabin to store his drawing materials he found Mieps alone in there, sitting on the communal bunk, holding a handkerchief to one side of his face.
“Are you o.k, old love?” said Adam “You look as though you’ve got toothache”. He went to draw the hankie away, but Mieps spat like a wounded cat and hurtled out of the room, not before Adam had seen a livid bruise on his cheek that looked painfully sore.
“Jules”, said Adam, when Julian came into the room almost immediately afterwards “What on earth’s happened? Somebody’s clouted Mieps!”
“Yes I know, it was me”, said Julian.
“You?” said Adam, in astonishment “You punched him? I’ve never known you punch anybody in the face, not even me!”
“Well I didn’t intend it as a punch”, said Julian “More as a slap really, but it came out a lot harder than I’d expected. Must have been the force of my feelings!”
“But why?” said Adam.
“I was angry”, said Julian “Very very angry. He isn’t in the least bit repentant about what’s gone on between him and Codlik, and if Codlik was to suddenly turn up out of the blue, I could see us all having to go through the same sorry episode all over again. Mieps wouldn’t give me his word that he’d behave himself, so I lost control”.
“And flamin’ well thumped him one!” Hillyard roared, having just been hissed at by Mieps in the corridor “You great savage!”
“No, correction, HE is the great savage, not me”, said Julian “We’re continuously being told that Mieps is a Ghoomer, and so can’t control his primitive instincts, so I thought I’d give him a taste of mine! He can’t have it all his own way”.
“Oh but Jules”, Adam protested “He’s half-female!”
Julian looked at him in total disbelief.
“Yes, and what a pink, soft, fluffy little thing he is too!” he said “What a lot of dewy-eyed sentimental rubbish! Now listen to me, the pair of you, because I don’t want to have to go over all this AGAIN. Mieps and Codlik have the morals of a pair of randy stoats. Their behaviour has caused untold misery all around, particularly to Glynis. A less patient man than me would have knocked Mieps’s bloody block off ages ago!”
He turned to leave, but then came back.
“And another thing”, he said.
“You mean there’s more?” said Adam, in dismay.
“Don’t think I don’t know that you were drunk earlier!” said Julian “You must think I came down in the last shower if you thought I’d believe that ridiculous heat-stroke story!”
He slammed out of the room.
“Has he finally gone now do you think?” said Hillyard.
“I sincerely hope so, I could do with a rest!” said Adam “I’m going to go and find Lo-Lo, I always find his presence very soothing at times like this”.
Hillyard coaxed Mieps out of the hold, where he had hidden himself, and into the galley. Mieps then sat on the table there whilst Finia attended to the bruise with antiseptic. Mieps was a fidgety patient, who flinched and spat at every turn. Hillyard didn’t like leaving him alone afterwards, but he had promised to take Joby and Tamaz to Natalie’s Den for a spin on the roulette table. Mieps couldn’t be persuaded to go with them.
They only stayed there an hour though, and got back to the sloop at dusk to find Julian and Ransey playing chess by candlelight on the poop-deck. Adam was reclining in a lounging-chair nearby. Hillyard was concerned to hear that Mieps had gone out by himself for a walk.
“Covered from head to foot in that black chiffon yashmak-style effort of his”, said Julian “Complete overkill if you ask me”.
“I hope he doesn’t decide to run off”, said Adam “It would make a terrible hole in the family”.
“He won’t run off”, said Julian “He knows which side his bread’s buttered”.
“And he couldn’t live without me”, said Tamaz.
“I don’t normally agree with violence in any shape or form”, said Ransey, still studying the chessboard.
“Of course you don’t dear!” said Julian, sarcastically “That’s why you went to work as a hitman!”
“But Mieps had it coming to him for a long time”, Ransey continued “If anything’s going to get it into him that his behaviour around Codlik’s been unacceptable, that might just do it”.
“Even so”, said Adam “I wish we knew where he’d gone”.
“I bet I know”, said Tamaz “Let me go after him. I’ll soon bring him home”.
“Let him”, said Ransey “He’s probably all that’s going to stop Mieps stopping out all night and sulking”.
Tamaz insisted on changing first, as his bust-bodice was digging into him. He stood on deck as Kieran vigorously unhooked him from it, and then Joby passed him his own shirt to wear instead.
“Transvestite Vanquisher!” said Kieran, trying on the bust-bodice.
“It looks like a flak-jacket on you”, said Joby.
Tamaz also donned his pink taffeta wrap, and then left the sloop on his mission.
He found Mieps sitting on the front steps of the Town House, huddled up in his thin black cloak. The Town House was shuttered and locked. Mieps huddled into his black garment even further when Tamaz approached, as though trying to hide his bruised cheek.
“Don’t be crazy”, said Tamaz, sitting on the step beside him “I’ve been beaten by Julian loads of times”.
“Not like this”, said Mieps “I’d never seen him like that before. He was almost purple with rage. There can’t be anything more humiliating than this”.
“Bullshit”, said Tamaz “If I’d been given that I’d go round showing it to everyone! I could hardly do that with marks from the riding-crop across my arse! That’s far worse! Were you going to run away tonight?”
“No”, said Mieps “No, I’d have sneaked back onto the sloop at some point. There’s no way I want to go back to the life I had before. It was alright when I didn’t know any better, but not now. You and everyone else would be in my thoughts so much it’d be unbearable”.
“So why are you crying?” said Tamaz.
“We are monsters, you and I, Tamaz”, said Mieps “We don’t belong in this world. We’re from a bygone time. We remind people of how terrible everything once was, and they can’t bear that”.
Tamaz tenderly took Mieps’s hand in his.
“We’re not like that to the others”, he said, softly “To them … we’re just Mieps and Tamaz”.
When he awoke at dawn Joby was a bit disorientated as to where he was. At first he thought they had simply decided to stay on the sloop for a few nights, then as the noises outside became slowly more marked and discernable he realised they were still in Toondor Lanpin, and he gave an inward groan. Like all the others, he wanted to be heading back to the Bay. It had been fun at first, buying the supplies and seeing them arriving in a very satisfactory fashion at the sloop, but the joy of it had worn off quickly, and now he was tired of the humidity in the town, plus the constant noise, and he had forgotten just how little privacy there was on the waterfront. It felt like a hundred pairs of eyes were on you everytime you went up on deck or out onto the jetty. It was inevitable that they would miss the Bay, but Joby was amazed to discover that he missed the kitchen at Midnight Castle most of all, particularly around late afternoon and early evening when the back door would be propped open, and the myriad scents of the garden would waft in. Midnight Castle now had them well and truly in its enchanted snare.
He was dismayed when he got to the galley, to help Adam prepare the breakfast, to hear that they wouldn’t be leaving the town until the afternoon.
“It can’t be helped”, said Adam, testily “Apparently they can’t deliver the bed until this afternoon”.
“Then why don’t we take the hay-cart and go and collect it ourselves?” said Joby.
“I don’t know why”, Adam snapped “Now stop whining”.
This was a forlorn hope. Joby wasn’t in any mood to be reasonable. In desperation Adam dragged him forcibly into the food-hold next door.
“You’re not locking me in here!” Joby yelled “You evil old fairy!”
Adam tugged his pants down to his knees and rogered him rather brusquely. Joby found it an eye-popping experience.
“I know why you did that”, he said, afterwards.
“Mm, it’s very simple really”, said Adam, reclining amongst the sacks “Because I fancy you”.
Joby knelt down beside him and stared at him impassively.
“And to get back at Julian”, he said “I heard him earlier, giving you an earful and saying you had to be on your best behaviour all day. You get frustrated sometimes with him keep bossing you around. Occasionally you have a deep inner yearning to show him you can be strong and masterful too”.
“How much do you charge for these psyho-analysis sessions?” said Adam “I’ll give you the first part of your fee now”.
He pulled Joby down across his knees and spanked his bare behind very thoroughly indeed. When he had finished he only had to firmly grasp Joby’s penis in one hand for Joby to ejaculate at full throttle.
“Now let’s have no more Codlik-style psychobabble”, said Adam, kissing his ear.
“You used me as a whipping-boy for Julian”, said Joby, breathlessly “But I don’t care”.
“Nonsense”, said Adam “I have every intention of giving Julian the spanking he so thoroughly deserves, but I want to dwell pleasurably on it in my thoughts for a while, and catch him when he least expects it. Being such a great lug of a thing he’s not so easy to just suddenly flip across my knee as you are”.
“You’ve managed it before”, said Joby.
“Not as often as I’d have liked”, said Adam.
“Oh God, Adam”, Joby groaned and squeezed Adam’s torso as though he couldn’t squeeze it enough.
“Now why don’t we rebel?” said Adam “Let those lazy bastards cook their own breakfast for once. Instead you and I shall take Lo-Lo and Tamaz out to breakfast at Persephone’s. We can use your winnings from last night”.
“No we can’t”, said Joby, despondently “Kieran’s been through my pockets and confiscated ‘em. You know how snotty he gets about me gambling sometimes. I dunno why. Perhaps his dad gambled a lot or summat. Not that he’d know if he did!”
“Then demand he hands them back”, said Adam “We’ve had to suffer enough at the hands of do-gooding religious maniacs over the years, without him taking away your hard-earned winnings as well! Go and stand up to him. Be masterful!”
“Oh very funny”, said Joby, getting wearily to his feet and pulling up his pants over his sore behind “I can give it a go I suppose”.
They didn’t have to look far to find Kieran. He was in the galley, helping himself to coffee from a pot Adam had recently made.
“What have you two been doing in there?” he said, cheekily.
“Never mind all that”, said Joby “I want my winnings back. You had no right to take ‘em away”.
“What do you want it for?” said Kieran.
“He doesn’t have to explain that to you”, said Adam “Really Patsy, you do get too big for your boots at times”.
“Oh I see”, said Kieran “You’re both ganging up on me. Well it wouldn’t be the first time! Now might be a good time to point out all the times Joby’s got too big for his boots with me. Confiscating me fags for example”.
“That was for the good of your health”, said Joby.
“Now who’s being a do-gooder!” said Kieran.
“You can be dead mean on the quiet you can”, said Joby “You can tell your mum ran a guest-house! You’ve inherited that tight-as-a-duck’s-arse mentality that goes with it!”
“Boys, there’s no need to get insulting about all this”, said Adam, who was rooting through the drawers.
“You can’t have it back anyway”, said Kieran “I’ve given it away. To the Tearfuls. They’re a bit short at the moment”.
“They’re always a bit bleedin’ short!” said Joby “Perhaps if they didn’t have so many fucking kids they might have more money! They breed like fucking rabbits, it’s disgusting! But I can’t expect you to agree with that, being a stupid, poncey Catholic!”
“You’re really mad at me aren’t yer?” said Kieran, with concern.
“I don’t blame him, Patsy”, said Adam, sternly “That was a very thoughtless thing to do, giving away Joby’s money behind his back like that”.
“It was for a good cause”, said Kieran “The Tearfuls said you was a real gent”.
“What I’d like to do to ‘em at the moment don’t fee very gentlemanly”, said Joby “I was gonna treat Adam, Lonts and Tamaz to breakfast, now it seems that a bunch of scroungers are gonna get it instead!”
“I’ll pay for breakfast”, said Kieran “I’ll just pop along to the bank and draw some out”.
“Leave it out! We’ll be lucky to be eating it at dinnertime!” said Joby “It’ll take ‘em that long to blow all the cobwebs off your account!”
“There’s no need”, said Adam, rescuing a battered leather purse from the back of one of the drawers “Here’s some old housekeeping money. This should cover it”.
Kieran tagged along with the four of them to Persephone’s, although Joby made it clear he was merely tolerating him, and not doing too good a job of that! Persephone’s bar was cool and pretty, with baskets of geraniums everywhere, and all the windows and doors flung open in the morning sunshine. Adam, Lonts and Tamaz sat by the main window overlooking the quayside, whilst Kieran and Joby waited at the bar for Persephone to finish changing a beer-barrel.
“Honest to God, I didn’t think”, Kieran was saying “I mean, we share everything, you and me”.
“No we don’t actually!” said Joby “Just you carry on as though we do!”
“Everything I have is yours”, said Kieran.
“You haven’t got anything worth having!” said Joby “Except a flamin’ set of rosary beads and a crucifix, and there’d be no point giving them away, ‘cos nobody’d want ‘em!”
Kieran looked wretched and gazed at Joby imploringly.
“I’ll do anything you want”, he said “Beat me if it’ll make you feel better”.
“Make you feel better you mean!” Joby grunted “Oh stop looking at me all doggy-eyed. You look like Bengo after Bardin’s just told him off!”
“Well I know how he feels”, said Kieran “It’s not easy being a right eejit!” “Just pack it in”, said Joby “You’re only trying to make me feel guilty now. I know all your tricks”.
“Are you boys back for long?” said Persephone, reappearing from the cellar, and proceeding to fill five pint-glasses for them.
“No, we’re off again this afternoon”, said Joby.
“Shame, we miss you around here”, said Persephone “It’s not the same without you all up at the Town House. It used to be quite entertaining seeing you lot all set off together down the street, like a big school crocodile”.
“Frightening I would’ve thought”, said Joby.
“You can come with us if you like”, said Kieran “You’ve still got a few hours to pack. You don’t mind bunking down with all 16 of us do you?”
“We’ll promise to try and keep Hoowie away from you”, said Joby.
“If I didn’t have this place to consider I’d be tempted”, said Persephone.
They collected the drinks and went over to the table, where Persephone’s new house-boy was setting out the breakfast dishes. This boy was a rather eerily-polite young man who was dressed in white shorts, shirt, deck shoes and kid gloves. He whispered something at Adam, who replied to him rather snottily.
“No, that’ll be quite all, thank you”, he said.
“Your fatal charm working it’s magic again?” said Joby, once the boy had gone.
“I think he’s a little sinister”, said Adam, uneasily “Like a psychopathic rent-boy. He’s probably under some sad delusion I’m the one with all the money! Good job we didn’t bring Hillyard with us”.
“It’s the white gloves that makes him look sinister”, said Lonts “I used to think Toppy looked sinister whenhe wore his when he worked for Pendor”.
“Toppy is sinister”, said Joby “He’s the sort you could live with for 20 years, and then one day he poisons you because he doesn’t like the way you cut your toe-nails!”
“What utter rubbish!” said Adam, nearly choking on his beer “The only way we’re likely to get poisoned is if we let Hillyard do the cooking!”
They ate hungrily in silence for a few minutes. Adam was lost in a reverie. He had been staring out at the busy quayside, but had actually been picturing the outside staircase at Midnight Castle in his mind, and thinking what a good sketch it would make with the moon shining on the thick ivy that hung from it at the side like a curtain. He then got to contemplating the magnificent circular stone staircase in the great hall, the one that Adam felt wouldn’t look out of place in a baroque Venetian hotel. Structurally, it was still very safe, but it badly needed a thorough cleaning. Perhaps the clowns could be got onto that in the autumn, when the hurricane and monsoon season would drive everyone indoors for most of the time. Although little Bengo, with his innate clumsiness, should be strictly confined to working on the lower steps. Slowly, Adam became conscious that Ransey was walking towards them outside. He stopped and spoke to them through the window.
“Watch out, it’s the thinking man’s Bart Simpson!” said Joby, which made the other two time-crossers laugh at least.
“Are you going to be much longer here?” said Ransey “Julian wants to know”.
“And you’re running his errands for him now are you?” Adam said in honeyed tones “How sweet! Julian’s pet poodle!”
“Any more cracks like that and I shall come in there and clock you one”, said Ransey.
“I thought you weren’t a violent man?” said Adam “We shall come when we’re ready and not a moment before. I have no intention of hurrying just for you and Julian. You’re nothing but a pair of vicious old Toby Juggs. It was terrible last night to hear you both pontificating about how a good slapping did Mieps the world of good! It was like listening to a couple of chauvinistic lager louts!”
“But it has done him good”, Tamaz protested “We won’t get any trouble out of him in future, not where old Cod-features is concerned anyway”.
“Shut up, Freaky”, said Adam, irritably.
Tamaz shrugged and stuffed a wodge of fried mushrooms in his mouth.
“We had to cook our own breakfast”, said Ransey.
Adam drew an exaggerated intake of breath.
“We could take off and leave you here, you know”, Ransey continued.
“That’s alright”, said Joby “It’d be quite nice, just the five of us at the Town House. Nowhere near as much bleedin’ cooking and washing-up to do for a start!”
“We could live off Kieran’s money”, said Tamaz.
“Mm, I’d miss Bengo though”, said Lonts, contemplatively.
“Are you coming home or what?” said Ransey, impatiently, glaring at Adam through the potted geraniums.
“Not just yet”, said Adam, serenely “I want to go and see what’s on at the Gallery first. But you can give Julian a message from me. This is a propitious time to remind him that Bardin is in charge these days, not him, and if I was him I wouldn’t be in such a hurry for me to come home!”
The Gallery had had some money invested in it in recent times and was now a two-roomed tin-shed, not a one-roomed tin-shed. Adam was astonished to find two of his own pictures hanging there, one of Mieps and Tamaz in the nude, (which he had donated a couple of years ago to the Gallery and completely forgotten about), and a very old one of Kieran that he had sketched up at Wolf Castle. It was the infamous one of Kieran lying in the nude, and looking completely emaciated, the same one that had caused a serious family rift when Adam allowed it to be exhibited in the City, for the simple reason that Adam had wanted to shock Kieran into realising just how bad his anorexia had got. Now it was hanging in a corner of the Gallery, with a spotlight trained on it like a sacred flame. According to the brochure, it was on loan from the Museum of Krindei.
Bengo and Bardin appeared, hand-in-hand, whilst they were looking at it, all except Kieran and Tamaz that is, who had gone off to look at something else nearby. Bengo had never seen the picture before and looked at it in horror.
“Yeah I know”, said Joby “Fatso really did get that thin!”
“How much did he weigh in those days?” said Bengo, shocked.
“I would be surprised if it was much over 4 stones”, said Adam.
“Shit!” Bengo gasped “That’s awful”.
“Hey, that’s my body you’re talking about!” Kieran shouted, crossly.
“Some body”, said Joby “You looked more like a carcass that had been picked clean by vultures”.
“Julian hasn’t sent you to get us now has he?” said Adam, deciding it was wiser to change the subject.
“He’s not best pleased with us”, said Bardin “Because I stuck up for you. I said you and Joby deserved to have breakfast out for a change. I think that annoyed him”.
“Good for you”, said Adam.
“He said he didn’t expect anything else from showbiz people”, said Bengo “He said theatrical types had always had a reputation for being … what was it he called us, Bardy?”
“Left-wing woolly liberals”, said Bardin.
“Yes, that does sound like Jules”, Adam sighed.
“At least you don’t have to worry about us leaving without you now”, said Bardin “I’m Captain, they can’t go without me on-board”.
“And if they do, why should any of us care!” said Adam, which made everyone laugh.
“That’s what I’d like to do again”, said Bardin, pointing at a picture of two people in a rowing-boat on a river “Take the skiff or my canoe and go exploring up the river beyond the Castle”.
“Like when you did your little canoe trip to the south of here?” said Adam.
“Mm”, said Bardin “Although I hope we don’t see anymore tall figures this time”.
“Your biggest danger’d probably be from crocs”, said Joby.
“Yes, you’ll have to take one of the guns with you just in case”, said Adam “What shall we do now in order to keep Julian waiting a little longer? Is there anything good on at the Little Theatre, Bardin?”
“I shouldn’t think so for one minute!” said Bardin.
“Trouble is”, said Bengo, twirling a long strand of hair round his finger “The longer we stay out the longer we delay leaving and getting home”.
“Did you have to pick now to suddenly become sensible and clever?” said Joby.
On the way out Adam bought Lonts some more postcards of bears left over from the wildlife exhibition a few years before. They didn’t feel any inclination to hang around the town any longer. They had lived there for many years, first at the waterfront and then at the Town House, they had an enormous amount of memories tied up in Toondor Lanpin, but now they felt merely like visitors. It wasn’t their place anymore.
The quayside was bedlam. A couple of fishing boats were unloading and the smell of dead fish, piled in baskets everywhere, was overpowering. Women in sack aprons were already getting to work with their knives, gutting and filleting them. In the midst of all this the bed had been delivered to the sloop, and they were now free to leave.
Adam put Lonts down for his afternoon nap with the noise of the engines humming as they chugged up the river out of Toondor Lanpin. Whilst he was whispering endearments to him, Mieps surfaced from a heap of bed-clothes at the other end of the bunk, like a supernatural creature emerging from a sarcophagus.
Staying completely naked, Mieps climbed up onto the forward deck. They had left the town behind by now, and flat dusty marshland was spread out all around them. Julian and Bardin were sitting on the lounging chairs underneath a makeshift washing-line which was attached to the mast. Bardin was glueing up the sole of a canvas shoe. Julian was doing nothing. Mieps walked up to them and pulled a pair of white linen pantaloon-style trousers from the line and put them on, all the while glaring intently down at Julian.
“Is it me?” said Julian, when Mieps had gone over to the bulwark “Or is that bruise on his face getting bigger? It wouldn’t surprise me if he’s been raiding Finia’s make-up box!”
Bardin peered across at Mieps from under the brim of his cap.
“He’s done a good job of it then”, he said “Not bad for a first effort”.
“I’m going to the heads”, said Julian, crawling off the chair.
After paying the heads a visit he went along to the galley. The door was closed (unusual), and a sheet of paper had been pinned to it with a message scrawled in pencil “KITCHEN CLOSED. KEEP OUT IF YOU KNOW WHAT’S GOOD FOR YOU!!”
Julian went inside and found Adam and Joby, both stripped down to their underwear, playing pontoon at the table.
“Strange, Jules”, said Adam “I always thought you could read!”
“What’s the meaning of this?” said Julian, tearing the sheet of paper off the door.
“It’s too hot to work”, said Joby “So we’re having a break”.
“Having a break?” Julian exclaimed “You haven’t done anything yet!”
“We’re following your excellent example, old love”, said Adam.
“Have you been drinking again?” Julian looked at the jug and glasses on the table “What’s this?”
“It’s barley-water”, said Joby “Try some if you don’t believe us”.
“Fetch me a glass”, said Julian, sitting down on the remaining chair.
“Certainly your lordship”, said Joby, facetiously “Three bags full your lordship”.
“You’re not Captain anymore, Jules”, said Adam “I’m getting a little tired of your domineering attitude”.
“Hah, a likely story!” said Julian, taking a solid swig of the barley-water Joby had just poured out for him.
“Happy now?” said Joby.
“Try and have a little consideration for me at the moment”, said Julian “I’ve got Mieps laying it on with a trowel”.
“Think yourself lucky”, said Joby “If it’d been Tamaz you’d clouted like that, you’d have had to practically buy up the jewellers back in town to keep him quiet!”
“I could cope with that!” Julian snapped “What I can’t cope with is Mieps pretending he’s Lady MacBeth! I keep expecting him to launch into a rendition of ‘out vile spot!’ or some such nonsense”.
“Whilst rubbing at his bruise presumably”, said Adam.
“No he won’t do that in front of me”, said Julian “It might come off! I swear he’s been touching it up. It didn’t look that lurid yesterday!”
“I’m going to check on Lo-Lo”, said Adam, edging past him.
“You’ve only just put him down”, said Julian.
“Don’t push me any further today, Jules”, said Adam, jabbing him in the shoulder “You have been warned”.
“Why don’t we keep warning each other and see who cracks first?” Julian retorted.
Adam muttered something under his breath as he left the room. Joby put on his canvas apron and started sorting vegetables, until he became aware that Julian was watching him lasciviously. Suddenly Julian got up off the chair and moved towards him. He was stopped in his tracks when Kieran and Tamaz, both joyously in the nude, thumped down the wooden steps. Tamaz wore a pearl necklace, and had lipstick smeared on his nipples.
“Finia did that”, he said “I think Rumble was hoping he’d do it to the old snake too. You know what a thing he’s got about Mieps’s tits”.
“Bloody hermaphrodites!” Julian exclaimed “Sometimes I think a dozen women would be less trouble than two bloody hermaphrodites!”
“What’s eating him then?” said Kieran, jerking his head in Julian’s direction.
“Dunno”, said Joby “But I do know it’s not safe for you to roam about in here with no clothes on. Too many sharp knives about. You don’t wanna end up like Finia now do you!”
Tamaz gave a yodel of alarm.
“I could end up like a woman!” he cried.
He and Kieran yelped and ran down the corridor past the hold. Julian took a lengthy swig of the barley-water and then gave Joby another lascivious look. He strode across to him purposefully and caught him in his arms.
“Don’t look at me like that”, Joby growled “It’s not fair. You look all tender and I know you don’t really mean it”.
“Try me and see”, said Julian, kissing his hand.
Joby promptly swooned and collapsed in his arms.
Adam was reading to Lonts from one of the ‘Happy Bears’ books. Lonts squelched on his thumb, and occasionally ran his massive paw dreamily over the page Adam was reading.
“Sorry to break up this cosy domestic scene”, said Julian, carrying Joby into the room “But he’s fainted on me. Must be the heat”.
They laid Joby on the bunk and removed his apron. Lonts fanned him with it, and Adam sprinkled water on his face. Joby came round very slowly. Kieran and Tamaz, who had been fooling around in the hay-store, both ran into the room, and a chaos of concerned faces broke out around Joby. He though could only see Adam. He sat up and kissed Adam hungrily on the lips, squeezing him as though he never wanted to let him go.
“He seems spaced out”, said Kieran, perplexed.
“It’s a pretty nice trip he’s on if he is”, said Julian, drily “Lonts, take Freaky along to the galley and calm him down”.
Tamaz protested that he wanted to stay with Joby.
“He’s perfectly fine”, said Julian “Just a little bit out of it. Now run along”.
“Come along, Tamaz”, said Lonts, gently but firmly, leading him out of the cabin.
“What’s he saying?” said Julian, as Joby mumbled incoherently into Adam’s hair.
Kieran shrugged and looked concerned.
“Now we shan’t ever be parted”, Joby said, with a lusty snort “Nothing can ever separate us. We have to make it work, or we lose everything, Maurice. You’re giving up everything for me aren’t you?”
“We can’t let a chance like this pass us by”, Adam replied “All my life I’ve wanted a really special friend, someone who understood me. We don’t need other people, we can live without them …”
“He seems to be on his wavelength anyway”, said Julian “Perhaps one day we might find out what’s going on!”
“They’re playing Maurice and Alec”, said Kieran, quietly “They’ve done it before. Sometimes I wish that ruddy gamekeeper had been Irish, then I could’ve had a go too!”
“Joby’s not playing”, said Julian “He seems to really believe it”.
At the mention of his real name, Joby looked across blearily at Julian.
“Hello”, he said, in surprise.
“Hello”, Julian answered him.
“It’s daytime”, Joby glanced at the windows “I thought it was night”, he wiped his face tiredly with his hand “I must’ve dozed off. I didn’t know you and Kieran was here. I could only see Adam. He had a coat on. I could hear all these frogs keep croaking, and a vixen screaming outside. Must’ve been looking for her cubs”.
“You were in a boathouse”, said Adam “On a lake. It was 1913. We’d both given up everything, defied the world, to be together”.
“Do we survive the War?” said Joby.
“I think so”, said Adam “We were seen in later years by my sister, working as woodcutters, still devoted to one another even after all that time”.
Joby smiled, reassured.
“You haven’t got a sister”, said Julian, impatiently “Joby’s not a gamekeeper, you’re not a stockbroker, this is not 1913, and I don’t know what madness all this is, but I’m going to the galley to make some tea!”
“Good grief, these must be extraordinary times”, said Adam, sounding more like his usual self “Julian’s going to make his own tea!”
“There’s no need”, said Kieran, whose turn it was now to sound odd “There’s already some in the room”.
It was a samovar on the table, in a cluttered, stuffy sitting-room with an ugly sofa. The samovar meant they must be in Russia, surely? A plump, blowsy young woman with flaxen hair was draped over the sofa in front of him, her head resting on a couple of pillows. She looked at him in the same predatory, lascivious way Julian had looked at Joby earlier.
“Grushenka”, said a man’s voice behind him “We need some candles in here”.
“Alyosha”, the woman got off the sofa and advanced towards them “Darling, I can hardly believe my eyes. Good Lord, that you should have come to me! I never would have expected that you would come. It’s not the most convenient time, but you’ve made me so terribly happy! Let me look at you, you’re a very fine-looking boy”.
Kieran stepped further into the room. He became more aware of his own movements. He was wearing a long cassock-type garment. His hair was brushed smoothly away from his face, and streamed down his back.
“You owe me champagne for this”, said the man behind Kieran, whom he couldn’t see.
“Yes”, said Grushenka “You know, Alyosha, I promised Rakitin champagne if he brought you along. I’ll have some too. I don’t really feel like it, but I’ll drink with you, I feel we should be reckless!”
“Snap out of it!” Julian bellowed, shaking Kieran roughly by the shoulders.
“Julian?” Kieran cried “What are you doing here? You’re an Englishman!”
“At this particular moment in time I’m no longer sure what the hell I am!” Julian snapped.
“Grushenka wanted to rob me of my virginity”, said Kieran, dazed.
“She’s a bit late for that isn’t she!” said Julian.
“Just a bit”, Joby guffawed.
“Grushenka doesn’t sound terribly Irish”, said Adam.
“She was Russian”, said Kieran “And I’m a Karamazov Brother. The youngest one”.
“I’m getting out of here before I end up playing the murdered father!” said Julian “Tea, and not out of a bloody samovar!”
“Don’t cry, Tamaz”, said Lonts, who was in the galley, helping Tamaz to get dressed in a shirt and a clean pair of drawers “Joby’ll be alright. I expect it’s just a bit of heat-stroke. It is very warm in here”.
“He looked like he’d had a heart-attack”, Tamaz sniffed.
“No, Joby’s very fit and healthy”, Lonts sat down opposite him at the table “Let’s have some barley-water”.
Lonts concentrated very hard on pouring out the drinks. When he looked up he started in amazement. Tamaz was now wearing a silk dress. He had powder and lipstick on his face, and his beautiful eyes were scanning the room around them restlessly, as though he was searching for someone else.
There was music playing nearby, and people everywhere. They were in a busy restaurant, the remains of their meal on the table between them. Lonts’s large body was stuffed into a suit which he found restricting. He felt deeply unhappy, wretched with despair in fact. He loved the beautiful creature sitting facing him, but he knew that she didn’t love him, she barely tolerated him in fact. He was too stupid for her, too dull and unexciting. She had only come out with him this evening because he had promised to take her here, and she was such a crashing little snob and social-climber, that she couldn’t resist the chance of being seen in such a swish restaurant. Some people nearby were talking about the prospect of a war and a man called Hitler. Lonts had no idea what they were talking about. All he cared about was making Netta love him. Netta?! Surely this was Tamaz wasn’t it? Who was Netta?
If only he could take her away to the country for a few days! Get her away from the gang, get her to himself. He would see the real Netta then, not this … no, he was fooling himself as usual. This was the real Netta. There was nothing else to her. She was empty inside, beautiful but empty. “You can be such a duffer sometimes, Bone. You don’t seem to be cut out for anything very much”.
His schoolmasters had said that to him. All he could do was play golf. Schoolmasters? Lonts thought, what schoolmasters? I never went to school. Even if we’d had a school in Kiskev, I’d have been considered too stupid for it. Too stupid to be taught anything but making sledges. George Harvey Bone hadn’t wanted to go to school at all. He had been happy in his childhood, until they had sent him away to school and ruined it all.
“Go away with you?” said Netta/ Tamaz, disparagingly “You don’t really think I could put up with you alone for 2 or 3 days do you? Poor old Bone!”
Lonts/George wanted to cry. How could she be so awful to him? What had he ever done to her that could merit such cruelty? This large, sad, lonely man felt the emotion welling up inside him. People nearby were looking at him with ill-concealed horror. It would be distressing and embarrassing if this big man were to suddenly break down in tears. Netta/Tamaz was talking at him.
“If you’re going to go into one of your daft moods then we might as well leave”, she said, impatiently “George, snap out of it!”
Netta/Tamaz was now in a bath-tub. She was screaming hysterically as he advanced into the room. He tried to reassure her, even as he grabbed her feet and pulled her under the water.
“No!” Lonts screamed “Tamaz! Tamaz!”
He was thrashing about in his seat as though he was blinded and desperately searching for Tamaz.
“Be still”, Tamaz sprang out of his chair and grabbed him, urging him to take deep breaths, as he had seen Adam do “I’m here”.
He cradled Lonts’s great head next to his bosom and soothed him like a child.
“Never”, Lonts gulped “I could never do that to you”.
Tamaz didn’t ask what, he felt he’d rather not know. He had managed to calm him by the time Julian came into the room, accompanied by Bardin and Hillyard. Tamaz became aware that the engines had stopped.
“There’s something bizarre going on around here”, Julian was saying “Some kind of infernal magic. Lonts, are you o.k?”
“He is now”, said Tamaz.
“Well Joby’s his old self again”, said Julian “I expect he’d like to see you. Lonts, you run along too”.
“Tamaz is a good person”, said Lonts, heaving himself to his feet “He’s a really good, kind person”.
Bardin looked astonished.
“I know he can be a bit naughty sometimes”, said Lonts “But that’s nothing, not really, not on the scale of things”.
“You said summat bizarre was going on around here!” said Hillyard, mopping his sweaty brow with the dishcloth, as Lonts and Tamaz supported each other out of the room.
“Tamaz becoming a saint’s got to be the bizarrest!” said Bardin.
“What’s going on?” said Ransey, thumping down the wooden steps from the deck above “Why have we stopped? We’ve got hours of daylight left yet. If we’re stopping just because somebody’s having an emotional crisis …”
He, Bardin and Julian were suddenly bowling along in a hansom-cab. These were really only built to hold two people at a time, so Bardin, who was in a very excitable state, was perched on the knees of both Ransey and Julian.
“Better calm down, sir!” said Hillyard, who was driving the vehicle, perched up above “Or you’ll end up in the street!”
Bardin sat back and took stock of his surroundings. They were moving through a busy, noisy street, cluttered with other horse-drawn vehicles, and women stepping about gingerly in long skirts and big hats. Ransey was dressed in a black morning-coat, and looked grave and businesslike, a lawyer perhaps. Julian was impeccably-dressed in a well-cut suit. He looked impossibly handsome.
“Where are we going exactly?” said Ransey.
“Waterloo”, said Bardin.
Julian assumed they meant the railway-station, not the battle.
“Can’t you go any faster?” Bardin screamed at Hillyard.
“I’m going at full-whack, sir”, Hillyard replied “I take it you wanna get there in one piece!”
“That scoundrel will get away”, Julian drawled, and then wondered why he’d said it. What scoundrel? Hell in tarnation, what story had they strayed into? Hansom-cabs and women in long dresses, a place that looked remarkably like late Victorian London. Was it a Sherlock Holmes? No, it didn’t seem quite like that. They were pursuing someone. ‘The 39 Steps’? No, it seemed too early for that. By about 10 or 15 years. There were advertisements on the walls and on trams regarding the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee. 1897 then.
“Yeah, I served him”,said the man in the ticket office at Waterloo “In a right hurry he was too”.
“What did he look like?” said Bardin, even more excitable, if that was possible.
“Dressed in one of them long black Araby-type garments”, said the man “And he had a bundle on his head, like they carries. It was so big I don’t know how he managed it. He must’ve had all his worldly goods tied up in it! Come to think, I’m not even sure he was a fellah now. Could’ve been a woman you know. Hard to tell in that get-up. And the eyes, I’ll never forget those eyes. Got the full force of ‘em I did. Thought he was gonna bleedin’ hypnotise me!”
“It’s Mieps!” Julian shouted “I swear it’s bloody Mieps!”
“Sounds remarkably like him”, said Ransey.
“He had two young gents with him”, the man continued “And I swear they was bleedin’ hypnotised! All tranced-up they was. One of ‘em looked half-starved, and the other was practically in rags, like a young tramp”.
“That one was Marjorie”, Bardin exclaimed “He put her in boy’s clothes, the scoundrel! When I think what he could be doing to her as we speak!”
“Try and get out of character for a moment”, said Julian, testily “It’s only Mieps. He probably wants to bore her to death about his bloody bruise!”
They were now on a steam-train, hurtling along in the darkness at one o’clock in the morning. There was a crash, as it ploughed into another one. Screams rang out everywhere, people had blood trickling down their faces. The four of them jumped out onto the tracks and ran to the train in front, which was practically crumpled up like a toy. Mieps was standing in the corridor of one carriage. He had flung off his black cloak and stood there, half-naked.
“It’s a woman by gad!” one man cried, looking at Mieps’s bare breasts.
“Cover yourself up, you outrageous old hussy!” Julian roared, angrily.
Mieps looked down at himself in confusion. Understandably. He was standing in the galley doorway, wearing a fairly respectable pair of white linen pyjamas.
“What happened to Marjorie?” said Ransey “And what did you want her for?”
“To make a sacrifice to the goddess Isis”, said Mieps, casually “I was a child of Isis. She survived, Marjorie that is. Julian was a politician. I met him in a place called Cairo, and he witnessed my foul practices close-hand”.
“I have been to Cairo in fact”, said Julian “But I didn’t have THAT exciting a time there, and I’m sure I’d have remembered meeting you!”
“Julian and me were both in love with Marjorie”, said Bardin.
“Who won her in the end?” said Ransey.
“He did”, Bardin mumbled.
“Naturally”, said Julian.
“Who was I then?” said Ransey.
“Just some professional help we picked up along the way”, said Bardin, dismissively.
“Can I have a more interesting role than the cab-driver next time?” said Hillyard, indignantly.
“We’ll get you a frock and a wig, and you can be Marjorie if you like!” said Julian.
They made three pots of tea, enough for all of them, and took it along to the cabin. Outside it, they found Bengo sobbing his heart out on the quarterdeck steps, whilst Farnol and Rumble patted him ineffectually.
“What’s the matter with him?” said Julian, sharply “What’s he so upset about?”
“Perhaps he was Marjorie!” said Ransey.
“He’s a bit worried about Joby”, said Farnol.
“He’s fine now, Bengo”, said Bardin “Come into the cabin and have a look if you don’t belive me”.
“And where did you go to?” Bengo snapped.
“We’ll gradually tell you all about it”, said Bardin “As much as I understand it anyway”.
“The Events”, as they could only think of describing it, were discussed, but the only conclusion that was reached satisfactorily was that it was some kind of midsummer magic, a combination of where they were and the day of the year. Like a time-slip, but instead it was a kind of mass hallucination, where fictional characters and events suddenly sprang to life and involved them in their activities, to the extent where the Indigo-ites sometimes actually BECAME those fictional characters, like a virtual reality game.
Most of it had been pretty harmless, and even fun, except for Lonts’s experience, which had devastated him. Julian had tried to make a joke of it by saying that most people felt like drowning Tamaz from time to time, it was a perfectly natural feeling, but it took a long time for Lonts to be consoled.
“What if I had actually managed to kill him?” he wailed.
“The very fact that you didn’t suggests that no harm can come to us from all this”, said Ransey.
“I can’t even remember all that bath-tub bit”, said Tamaz, who was sitting on the floor behind Julian’s chair “All I can remember is the lousy food we had in the restaurant, and then suddenly Lonts started crying opposite me, but I didn’t know what I’d said that upset him so much”.
“Very dreamlike, all of it”, said Adam.
“Why did it only happen to some of us?” said Bengo, petulantly, who was jealous of Bardin’s madcap rides in a hansom-cab and on a steam train.
“As I said earlier perhaps you were Marjorie!” said Ransey.
“Mieps had abducted you”, Adam laughed, hoping that Lonts would find it amusing too “I wonder what he would have done to you in the privacy of the railway compartment!”
“Hypnotised him into a state where he couldn’t speak or move”, said Mieps, shortly “It’d make a change from all his fidgeting and moaning all the time!”
Hillyard pulled Bengo onto his knee and petted him as though he was a small child. Bengo chewed a strand of his own hair and cast surreptitious looks at Mieps.
“I wonder where Toppy’s got to”, said Adam “He seems to be a long time in the heads”.
“Perhaps he’s spacing out now too”, said Joby.
Toppy was sitting astride a white horse, looking very dashing in a pale blue uniform, complete with epaulettes and sash. Everyone in the town was gazing up at him. The women admiring his good looks, and the men murmuring with annoyance that this “low-bred peasant” should have such an honoured place in the festivities. Among the crowd, in her own small carriage, his mistress, Madame de Renal, was watching him, recalling to herself all the delicious nights when he stole down the corridor from his room to hers. Julien Sorel, the tutor to her children. What a scandal it would cause if everyone knew! Little did she realise that by getting him a place in this procession, she had validated all the rumours that were flying around about them.
Toppy saw her though and was shocked and disappointed. Mme de Renal was beautiful and charming, but she wasn’t Tamaz. He thought she could at least have been played by Tamaz, no one else would do. He wanted Tamaz to see him like this.
The horse and the crowd disappeared, but he was still Julien Sorel. He was running down a corridor, a cassock-like garment flapping around him. He had to fetch the Bishop for the blessing ceremony. No one should keep the King waiting, not even the Bishop. Toppy/Julien burst into the large, dimly-lit room. The Bishop, robed but minus his mitre, was rehearsing the hand movements for the blessing. He looked round and Toppy gasped. It was Kieran. He was good-looking like Kieran, and he even had Kieran’s quirky self-mocking humour. Astonishingly down-to-earth for a Bishop, and with no airs and graces at all, but a lot of the right sort of dignity.
Toppy was now in a small room with him which was awash with lighted candles. Kieran/The Bishop was being watched adoringly by 24 virginal-looking young women, who appeared to be every bit as besotted with him as Toppy was. It was a beautiful scene.
It moved him so much that he only told the others about the parade scene (which he was much teased about). He wanted time to reflect on the Kieran scenes before he told anyone else about them. He was a little alarmed when Julian recognised the characters’ names, and revealed that Toppy’s experiences had been from Stendhal’s novel ‘The Scarlet and the Black’. Fortunately it was so many years since Julian had read it that he obviously couldn’t recall the Bishop scenes, and Toppy was able to keep them to himself for a little longer. The scene of Kieran, lit by candles, blessing the young women was one to cherish.
After dark he went up on deck with most of the others. The sky was ablaze with stars, and Mieps was staring up at them in the way he had often done when he had lived alone out on the marshes. Bengo was sitting on the bowspit talking to Bardin.
“He still hasn’t forgiven me, Bardy”, Bengo was saying, looking down at Mieps “Not even after all these months”.
“He has, he’s just a funny old bugger that’s all”, said Bardin “And walking around with that dirty great bruise on his face hasn’t improved his temper at all”.
“I spose at least that wasn’t my fault”, Bengo mumbled “He can’t blame me for that”.
“Are you still whining?” said Toppy “You’re like a lap-dog, Bengo. Unless everyone’s petting and stroking you all the time, you mope”.
“He’s a nice bloke actually”, said Bardin, very defensively “He doesn’t like to think he’s upset anyone”.
“So why does he keep doing it?” said Toppy.
“I hope next time you have a dream sequence your horse shites on you!” said Bengo.
“A bit hard to do when I’m sitting on it”, Toppy sneered.
“I thought you two was supposed to try and be friends these days”, said Bardin.
Tamaz strolled up onto the poop-deck, nonchalantly eating an apple.
“Can’t you use your womanly wiles to calm these two down?” said Bardin “Like you did with Lonts earlier”.
“Nothing works on them”, said Tamaz.
“Oh well, guess we’ll just have to lock ‘em up together again then”, Bardin sighed.
“You won’t do that”, said Toppy, at his slyest “It might make you jealous again!”
“Hah! He’s put you in your place, Flat-Cap!” Tamaz guffawed.
“I’ll put you in your damn place before we get home!” Bardin retorted.
That night the Moon achieved a kind of brilliance that is seen very rarely. It bathed the empty marshland in an intense silvery glow. Hillyard and Kieran took the horses ashore and exercised them. Farnol and Rumble took out the donkeys and went at a more sedate pace. Bardin took Tamaz into the skiff and fucked him furiously. Tamaz orgasmed so intensely he thought his head would burst.
Toppy and Bengo dug them out afterwards, and took them down to the cabin to wash them in cold water. When Adam and Julian strolled in an hour later they found the four of them piled on the bunk, fast-asleep.
“Don’t say it”, said Julian “’Oh aren’t they sweet!’”
“Well they are”, said Adam, unrepentantly.
“Discipline isn’t what it was round here since I let Bardin take over”, said Julian.
“I wouldn’t necessarily say that was true, Jules”, said Adam, fishing the leather paddle out of the wash-bowl. Bengo had dealt Bardin a couple of smacks with it earlier.
“I’m completely exhausted”, said Julian, opening the log-book and then immediately shutting it again.
“Hardly surprising”, said Adam “It is two o’clock in the morning. Although with the Moon as strong as it is, it feels like two o’clock in the afternoon”.
“I hope all supply-runs aren’t as hectic as this one’s been”, said Julian “I didn’t expect to find myself hareing about in a hansom-cab!”
“It must be all to do with the Moon”, said Adam “Reminds me of the lunar eclipse which flipped us to Green Ways and back all those years ago”.
“Time-slips seem remarkably straightforward compared to all this”, said Julian “Fictional characters and events coming to life. The mass hallucination theory would only make sense if we had all read those books, but we haven’t. I don’t even know which one mine came from, and I’ve been racking my brains about it for hours! Does it all make any sense to you?”
“Not one bit”, said Adam.
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