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By Sarah Hapgood

Glynis ran towards Adam as though he was her husband and he’d just been released from a long stretch in prison. It was 11:30 at night and the air-buggy, much to Hillyard’s surprise, had just deposited them safely in the dark snowy grounds of the Big House. As they all straggled into the cavernous Great Hall, Glynis caught hold of Adam’s fur coat and dragged him over to the fireplace.

“Glynis, my poor little girl”, said Adam, overcome by such an emotional reception “Has it really been that bad up here?”

“You wouldn’t believe it”, Glynis babbled “Oh I’m so pleased to see you. I’m pleased to see all of you, but most particularly you, you’re so kind and gentle. I could really go for a man like you!”

“Glynis, darling!” Adam laughed.

“I can’t put you in your dormitory room”, Glynis continued “The ceiling’s fallen in”.

“Didn’t it do that once before?” said Joby “Or was that the pipes bursting, I can’t remember”.

“So I’ve put you in your old rooms, I hope you don’t mind”, said Glynis “I will be close by. I’ve moved more into the main section of the house, whilst … well for the duration. Drusica sleeps in with me. I can’t leave her in the maids’ wing all by herself”.

“You don’t mean to tell me Drusica is the only member of staff who’s stayed?” said Adam, horrified “You two girls have been alone up here?!”

“No, Bertha’s here too”, said Glynis “The monks are around of course. They’ve taken on most of the heavy duties, like the fires”.

“Has Laughing-Boy been locked up for the night?” said Ransey.

“Codlik?” said Glynis “We don’t lock him up”.

“Why not?” said Julian “He’s mad isn’t he?”

“Yes, but he doesn’t bother anyone”, said Glynis.

“That’s a first then!” said Joby.

“He stays in the North Wing for most of the time”, said Glynis “Nola does all his fetching and carrying for him. I have very little to do with either of them”.

Bengo and Bardin had been put in their old room on the second floor, only this time they were sharing it with Farnol, Rumble and Hoowie. Glynis had ordered an extra bed put in the room for Farnol and rumble, and Hoowie had a mattress on the floor.

“Bardy?” Bengo whispered in the dark, as he and his partner lay under their fur coats.

“Go to sleep”, Bardin muttered, lying on his side.

“I can’t, it’s so dark in here”, said Bengo “Those thick curtains keep out all the light”.

“There isn’t much light tonight anyway”, said Bardin “There’s no moon, it’s a bloody great ink-blot in the sky!”

“Can we have a candle lit?” said Bengo.

“Don’t be such a wimp!” Bardin hissed “And go to sleep”.

“Please Bardy”, said Bengo, plaintively.

“You’re nothing but a great baby!” Bardin groped on the bedside table for the torch, and then deliberately shone it in Bengo’s eyes.

The only candle in the room was on Rumble’s bedside table, so Bardin had to pick his way over to fetch it, and the matches.

“What’s the matter?” Rumble looked up blearily.

“Dingbat wants the candle lit”, Bardin grunted “He’s suddenly decided he’s afraid of the dark now”.

“Can’t we shove him out into the corridor?” said Rumble.

“No, he might scare the ghosts!” said Bardin, picking his way back across the room.

He lit the candle on his own bedside table, and then climbed back into bed.

“Happy now?” he snapped.

“It’s much better when we can see everything”, said Bengo.

“Oh sure”, said Bardin, glancing down at Hoowie who was snoring with his mouth open “It’s a real bonus!”

Bengo began to fumble under Bardin’s nightshirt, but Bardin slapped his hand away.

“I’m not in the mood”, said Bardin “I’m too tired and it’s too fucking cold for all that!”

Bengo snuggled up close to him instead. He felt drowsy, it had been a very long day after all, but he was prevented from sleeping by a man screaming in the very far distance, but still sounding as though it came from within the house. Rumble got out of bed, but then stood in the centre of the room in his long nightshirt and socks, uncertain what to do next.

“Do we unlock the door and look out?” he said.

“No!” said Bardin “All of us agreed we wouldn’t leave our rooms short of an emergency. And particularly not for something that ent real!”

“It sounded fucking real”, said Hoowie.

“Well it wasn’t!” said Bardin.

After a couple of minutes of listening to silence, Rumble got back into bed.

“Do you think Glynis could run to some hot water bottles for us tomorrow night?” he said “And another candle!”

“A bottle of brandy wouldn’t go amiss either”, said Farnol.

At daybreak Rumble got up and pulled back the curtains. Bengo squeaked with joy and fell out of bed in his haste to go and look out of the window. Bardin grabbed the back of his nightshirt and yanked him back towards him. There was a knock at the door.

“Now that sounded real to me”, said Rumble.

They unbolted the door and let in two monks. One carrying a tray of tea, and the other two jugs of warm water for washing and shaving. Solemn “good mornings” were exchanged all round, and then the monks departed again.

After washing and dressing the clowns and Hoowie went on the long draughty trek down through the house to the dining-room. Every one of the Indigo-ites was assembled around the table there, eating fry-ups. Except Hillyard, who had gone out to the stables with Glynis.

“Hello clowns”, said Adam “Did you sleep well?”

“As well as could be expected”, Bardin snapped “With some crazy spook screaming its head off in the night! I spose you’re all now gonna say you didn’t hear anything!”

“Yeah, we heard it”, said Joby “I had to practically spend the rest of the night with the torch trained on Kieran, in case he got it inot his head to go off looking for it!”

“Fat chance!” said Kieran “I had no intention whatsoever of going after it”.

“I’m glad to hear it”, said Ransey “No one should leave their rooms at night, short of a life or death emergency or their bedroom chimney catching fire”.

“Bedroom chimney catching fire?” Bardin exclaimed “That might be a danger to you lot on the poncey first floor, with fires lit in your rooms, but it doesn’t apply to us. We’ve only got a dismal empty grate!”

Julian, who often liked to start the day by spanking someone, took advantage of Bardin’s whingeing to wallop him. The others stood up to get a better look at Bardin’s neat behind, and Bertha walked in the midst of it all.

“Is everything alright?” she asked.

“Absolutely fine, Bertha2, said Adam “Thank you very much”.

Bertha gave him a gracious smile, as Adam was a favourite with the female staff at the house, but glanced suspiciously at Julian before leaving the room.

“Do you have to fawn over the staff like that?” Julian snapped at Adam “It’s so bloody middle-class!”

“Well you would know, dear!” said Adam, tartly “I don’t know what comes over you when we come up here, Jules. You start turning into your mother, it’s always most distressing to see!”

Hillyard burst in through the French windows, dusting everything in snow as he shed his outdoor clothing.

“Glynis has gone down to the village to see the kids”, he said “She says she’ll see us later this morning, if not, it’ll definitely be at lunchtime”.

“Did she survive the night alright?” said Adam.

“Sort of”, said Hillyard “She said it’s not something you ever get used to, those weird noises. But the ride this morning’s done her good”.

“I’m sure it has!” said Julian, dryly.

Hillyard flopped down on a chair and stuck out his feet.

“Help us off with me boots, Lonts”, he said “You’ve got the strongest hands”.

“Watch your feet don’t come off as well!” said Joby.

After breakfast Ransey insisted on Hillyard joining him in the library, so that they could both go over the Household Accounts, which Glynis had left in neat order for Ransey’s inspection. Ransey exploded that the house was “eating money left, right and centre”. Hillyard got bored with his raving and had a game of billiards with Lonts, Kieran and Joby instead. Ransey put on his fur coat and paced up and down outside on the dining-room patio in high dudgeon. Adam joined him, and scolded him along the lines of “a place like this” couldn’t be expected to turn a profit.

“It’s a focal-point and a means of livelihood for the surrounding neighbourhood”, said Adam “That is it’s function. If we all lived up here would you expect us to turn a profit too?”

“We don’t get wages”, said Ransey, sourly pointing out the house’s biggest overhead.

“Good job too!” said Adam, shortly “Or you would expect us to turn a profit wouldn’t you!”

He ordered Ransey back into the house in the same tone of voice he used when Lonts was being stubborn about something. In the dining-room Bengo and Bardin were helping Drusica to clear the table and load up the trolley. They watched silently as the two older men stormed through the room like a bad-tempered draught.

Bengo had more pressing concerns than their patio bust-up though. Druscia had developed a crush on Bardin. This was no surprised. His air of quiet authority was especially welcome now, after they had been largely deserted by all the men of the house. The monks were unapproachable, unless it was to issue instructions to, Codlik was off his head, and the only other man in the house before the Indigo-ites’ arrival, was Old Jake, who spent most of his time wheezing beside the kitchen stove.

“I’ll see you later”, Drusica simpered, as she dragged the laden trolley out of the room.

When Bardin smiled back at her, Bengo gave him a violent shove.

“Moron!” Bardin cried, grabbing the edge of the sideboard for support “Come here!”

Bengo instead headed across the hall to the library, where the billiard-match was still in progress.

“Can I join in?” he asked.

“No you can’t, clear off”, said Joby “It’s two-a-side”.

“Shouldn’t you be with the other clowns, Bengo?” said Lonts, as though Bengo had no right to be anywhere else.

“Plotting world domination or whatever it is you lot do together”, said Kieran.

“Pea-brained cretin!” Bardin yelled from the doorway.

“I think your partner’s calling you!” said Joby.

“Come here!” said Bardin “We’re going down to the kitchen to see Bertha about the hot-water bottles”.

When Bengo joined him in the Great Hall, they both slapped each other around the chops, the sound of which reverberated amongst the rafters.

“Fucking house”, Bardin muttered.

They went into the Service Wing and walked nervously down the main corridor, glancing into all the labyrinth of corridors which led from it as intricate as a spider’s web. All of them disappearing into the shadows at the far end.

“This reminds me of what the others told us about the Winter Palace”, Bardin whispered, as though they were being constantly overheard “I wish we’d been there as well. I’d have felt I’d really earned my spurs then. I told Adam that recently”.

“What did he say?” said Bengo, who had never harboured the slightest wish to go anywhere near the Winter Palace.

“’You didn’t miss anything, old love, it was a perfectly ghastly place’”, said Bardin, giving a very good impersonation of Adam’s feathery voice.

Outside the kitchen they found Tamaz picking at the remains of the breakfast which had been left on the trolley outside the door.

“Didn’t you get enough to eat or something?” said Bardin.

“There’s no knowing what I might be called upon to do whilst we’re here”, said Tamaz “I have to keep my strength up”.

“The amount you eat you could go twelve rounds with Godle the Mighty Strong Man!” said Bardin.

“I expect Bengo would prefer to do that”, said Tamaz, snidely.

Bengo blew a raspberry in response.

“I don’t want you wandering around this house on your own”, said Bardin.

“Why not?” said Bengo “Whatever’s here can’t be anymore weird than him!”

Tamaz blew a raspberry back at him. Bardin ordered them to follow him into the kitchen, where he put in the hot-water bottle request to Bertha.

“Would the young lady like one as well?” said Bertha, who obstinately refused to recognise Tamaz as anything other than a girl.

“I already have one, and a fire in my room”, said Tamaz, haughtily “I’M on the first floor”.

“I’ll put the bottles in your bed myself”, said Drusica, silkily.

“You will not!” Bertha snapped “I won’t have you walking the top floor on your own after dark. I’ll ask Brother Jerome and Brother Russell to do it”.

Glynis returned to the house at noon, and joined Adam, Julian, Kieran, Joby and Hillyard for a glass of sherry in front of the library fire. She gave them news about the children, how the baby was putting on weight again now that she had been removed from the tense environment of the Big House, and how Leon had got very excited on hearing that all his uncles had arrived.

“You should’ve brought the little chap back with you”, said Julian.

“I’d rather we visited him instead”, said Glynis “I don’t like him exposed to whatever it is that’s here. I’m not even happy about him being in the village, even that feels too close. I keep wondering whether to send them and Lilli to stay at the Town House in Toondor Lanpin instead”.

“Well it’s certainly still in one piece”, said Adam “And you have your own keys”.

“It’s not a healthy atmosphere for children up here at the moment”, said Julian “I could sense it as soon as we stepped through the door last night”.

“The air crackles, it’s alive with something”, said Kieran.

“That’s why it’s such a relief having you all here”, said Glynis “Between us all we can try and give this joke a run for its money”.

“After lunch I’d like to sit down with you, Glynis”, said Adam “And make a list of everything that’s happened here since this haunting started again. See if by using my old ghost-hunting experience we can try and put a pattern together somehow”.

“Won’t Kieran be joining us?” said Glynis.

“I’m going into the East Wing to see the monks about the Blessing”, said Kieran.

“About bloody time!” said Julian “I was beginning to think you were going to spend our entire visit playing billiards!”

“Ignore him, Patsy”, said Adam.

“I’ll take Tamaz with me”, said Kieran “The monks quite like seeing him, he’s our little miracle”.

“The reformed evil monster?” said Glynis.

“Ach, Tamaz was never evil”, said Kieran “It was our fault, we should never have left him a the Ministry HQ. It was a place completely devoid of love. No wonder he turned into Caligula whilst he was there!”

“He did some pretty dodgy things before he went there”, Glynis pointed out “He and his pals beating up Hillyard in the woods at Thetislog …” “A bunch of Ghoomers”, said Hillyard “What do you expect!”

“Threatening to have you all shot at dawn”, Glynis added.

“We should never have let him out of our grip on the morning of the Blast”, said Julian “He would have been alright if he’d stayed with us. Freaky is a brat that’s all, he simply needs a firm hand”.

This conversation was fortunately diverted by Bertha banging the lunch gong. Lunch turned out to be a rather doleful affair. None of the Indigo-ites were enjoying themselves, except Toppy, who had slipped into footman-mode, and was relishing doing silver service table-waiting again.

“Why don’t you younger ones get on with organising the show you were talking about?” said Adam.

“There’s no point doing a show”, said Bardin, morosely “Everybody’s too tense and dismal”.

“Well really!” said Adam “That’s not the attitude of the seasoned trouper we all know and love. You’re supposed to offer us a distraction, take us away from all our woes”.

“Do you think we were born just to amuse you?” Bardin snapped.

“Yeah”, Hillyard and Joby both said at once.

“Bardy!” Bengo sighed, in exasperation.

“I only hope Rumble’s got some ideas then”, said Bardin.

“I might have”, said Rumble, coyly.

At the end of the meal everyone departed to their own separate occupations. Bengo and Bardin helped Toppy clear the table this time, assisted by Joby, who was feeling at a loose end with Kieran and Tamaz both going to the East Wing, and with no kitchen or gardening work for him to do.

“I dunno what’s the matter with you at the moment, I really don’t”, said Joby to Bardin “At home we can’t stop you doing routines, and now you’re getting all huffy about it. I thought you’d welcome a change of audience”.

“Bardy wants to show everyone he’s Captain though”, said Bengo, sarcastically “It’s not enough for him to be a clown anymore”.

“Shut up, I’m speaking not you!” said Bardin.

“Haven’t you any self-respect at all?” said Joby to Bengo “Captain or no captain, he’s still your partner, you shouldn’t let him speak to you like that. I wouldn’t take it from Kieran”.

“He’s always spoken tome like that”, Bengo sighed “He’s got it into his head that he’s not a proper captain”.

“I’m not”, said Bardin “All I seem to do as Captain is tell people to clean windows or chop logs! Julain never had to get up on stage and make a prat of himself did he!”

“Julian didn’t have to get up on a stage to make a prat of himself!” said Joby.

“Nor did Adam in the early days”, Bardin continued.

“It was all different then”, Joby protested.

“Bardy wishes we’d been at the Winter Palace”, said Bengo, in the same longsuffering tone “He thinks that would prove something. I don’t know what”.

“If I was you I’d count meself lucky I hadn’t been there!” Joby snapped at Bardin “And don’t go saying anything like that in front of Lonts. He had a rotten time up there, it’ll upset him to hear you going on about it as some great fun-filled adventure”.

“I know what all this is about really”, said Bengo “It’s all to do with our time at Sade’s place. Bardy STILL keeps beating himself up over it. It’s stupid. We did what we thought was best at the time. Everybody can be all perfect in hindsight”.

“And it proves you have earnt your spurs”, said Joby “You probably handled it all better than I’d have done in the early days!”

“It wasn’t so bad anyway”, Toppy piped up “I got my livery jacket out of it”.

Toppy had actually meant this remark with the best of intentions, but even so Bardin looked as though he’d like to throttle him! Joby thought it expedient to usher Toppy and the breakfast trolley out of the room. Bengo and Bardin stood silently for several seconds after they’d gone.

“Don’t take any notice of Toppy”, said Bengo, eventually “He’s a nutcase, everyone knows that!”

“Hoowie’s had an idea for a sketch!” Farnol burst into the room, followed by Rumble and the aforementioned Hoowie.

“I don’t want to hear it right now!” said Bardin.

“No listen up”, said Farnol “He remembers seeing us do it at the Cabaret years ago. The Burning House sketch”.

“You were the fire-chief, Bardin”, Hoowie chortled “You got blasted from head to foot with the fire-hose, heh-heh-heh!”

“We can have Tamaz in a nightite as the house-owner we have to rescue”, said Rumble.

“And if he has one of his moods and won’t do it”, said Farnol “Then Bengo can do it in his nightshirt, like he did before. What do you say?”

“Oh Bardy doesn’t want to clown anymore”, said Bengo, flouncing towards the door “It’s not good enough for him. He wants to be an all-action hero instead!”

“Bengo!” Bardin roared “Bengo! Don’t you dare leave this room! Can’t you lot clear off and leave us alone?”

“We can’t”, said Rumble, gesturing at Bengo in the doorway “He’s got the door covered!”

“I shall leave this room unless you come to your sense, Bardy”, said Bengo, sternly “I think a show in the village would be a good idea, and if you don’t agree we’ll do it without you. You can stay up here and play at being Captain!”

“You wouldn’t dare!” said Bardin “You wouldn’t be able to manage it without me”.

“I made you what you are today”, said Rumble, in the tone of a theatrical prima-donna “You would be nothing without me!”

“We need something other than the Burning House sketch”, said Bardin, effectively conceding defeat “That only lasts a few minutes, nowhere near enough for a whole show”.

“A meeting to thrash out ideas then?” said Farnol, hopefully, nudging Bardin “Eh? Eh?”

“We’ll go to the Orange Drawing-Room”, said Rumble “That has a fire lit in it”.

“Orange Drawing-Room?” said Bardin, in astonishment “What Orange Drawing-Room? I didn’t know there was one!”

“It’s on the way to the Service Wing”, said Hoowie.

“The one with no furniture in it?” said Bengo.

“It’s got a couple of sofa’s in it now apparently”, said Rumble.

Once in the Orange Drawing-Room, ideas came thick and fast. The Wardrobe sketch was agreed upon as it was “classy”, but the Nude Waiters was rejected.

“Not in this bloody weather!” said Bardin, slouched on one of the sofas “I don’t mind losing my trousers for a few minutes at the end of the Wardrobe sketch, but total nudity throughout? Brggh! Forget it! Instant frostbite! The locals might not like it anyway. They’re not very sophisticated up here. Better leave out The Really Thick Quiz-Show Contestant as well, in case they think we’re getting at ‘em!”

“Thank God for that!” said Bengo, who was doing ballet-exercises on the hearth-rug.

“Love In The Laundry!” said Farnol “We have to do that one”.

“No!” Bardin barked “I refuse to do that one yet again!”

“You created it, Bardy”, said Bengo, now walking along the brass fender as though it was a tight-rope.

“Yeah, and now it’s a noose around my neck!” said Bardin “Get off the fender before you fall in the fire!”

Bengo ran over to him and jumped on his lap.

“A bank-robbery!” said Hoowie, who was sitting on the floor, smoking a roll-up “A slapstick bank-robbery”.

“Yeah, why not?” said Farnol “Safe-cracking’s always good for a few visual jokes”.

“We could make a giant monkey-wrench and use that”, said Bardin.

They ruminated on ideas for this sketch for several minutes, but the discussion began to grind to a halt as the daylight slowly faded outside.

“You know, I don’t think this house is haunted at all”, said Hoowie, trying in his own way to make everyone feel better about the approaching darkness and gloom “Nothing’s happened since we’ve been here!”

“What about that screaming noise last night?” said Bardin.

“That could have been Codlik having a nightmare for all we know!” said Hoowie.

“Glynis would have said if it was”, said Bardin. “Perhaps she didn’t realise”, said Hoowie.

“Well something’s made most of the staff leave”, said Rumble.

“Yeah, and we can’t blame you for it this time, Hoowie”, said Farnol.

“And this house has been haunted before?” said Bardin “You weren’t up here that other winter when things got bad”.

“I can’t get over how big this place is”, said Farnol “I was expecting something like back home, Midnight Castle. When we walked into the hallway last night I was gobsmacked! Who the fuck would want to build a place this size for crying out loud!”

“You’ve only seen a fraction of it”, said Bardin “Sometime in the daylight I’ll take you on a walk all round the outside. It’s mind-blowing. I don’t think anyone’s got a clue how many rooms are in it. I wouldn’t be surprised if there’s bits of it no one’s been in for years”.

They all started nervously at a shuffling noise in the doorway.

“Mieps!” Bengo squeaked with relief as Mieps came into the room.

“I’d forgotten how boring it was up here”, said Mieps, as Farnol and Rumble made space for him on their sofa “Particularly in this weather”.

“Yeah, we can’t even go for a walk in the woods easily”, said Bardin.

“Are we going to spend the whole visit just sitting around waiting for the next mealtime to arrive?” Mieps snapped.

“No we’re not”, said Bardin, calmly “Tomorrow we’ll go down to the village and suss things out. Find out where it would be best to put on a show as I don’t think the audience will come up here to see it! And also find out the general mood of everyone”.

“That’s all very well for you lot”, said Mieps, sourly “You’re all going to have something to do”.

“Then why don’t you come with us?” said Bengo.

“We could use you in Love In The Laundry instead of Tamaz”, said Rumble.

“Then again perhaps not”, said Bardin, hastily, as Mieps looked decidedly frosty at this suggestion “But I insist you join us. The exercise’ll do you good”.

“And it’ll stop you sneaking into the North Wing and seeing Codlik behind our backs”, said Hoowie.

“Hoowie!” Bardin bellowed “Goddamnit! Can’t you keep your trap shut!”

“Mieps can take a joke can’t you, Mieps? Ha ha and all that”, said Rumble, sliding his hand down Mieps’s shoulder and squeezing his breast.

“Are those jokes about Codlik and me never going to stop?” said Mieps, waspishly “Nobody makes jokes about Tamaz and hatpins do they?”

“We don’t like reminding Tamaz of those days”, said Bengo.

“If I had been with you then, he wouldn’t have slipped out of your grasp in Toondor Lanpin”, said Mieps “And I would have found him for you when he kidnapped Joby”.

“And then I wouldn’t have loused things up by using those stupid balloons”, said Bengo, despondently.

“Only Bengo could go after an armed kidnapper with a bunch of balloons!” Farnol laughed.

“If your tracking skills are so flamin’ good Mieps”, said Hoowie “Why can’t you tell us what’s haunting this place and where it is?”

“Perhaps his tracking skills only works with Tamaz”, said Rumble, dryly.

Adam concluded his meeting with Glynis, at which Lonts sat in attendance, drowsily sucking his thumb through most of it. Very little headway was made regarding the haunting though. Glynis seemed to want to talk about her children instead, most particularly Leon, whose progress she wanted a man’s opinion on. Codlik no use for this anymore, and Hillyard wasn’t much better! After a couple of hours the only supernatural subject matter had been mention of the villagers’ belief that some giant creature was prowling the community late at night. Which fascinated Adam. He said that he and Lonts would go down to the village themselves tomorrow and get their own impressions of all this.

At sundown they concluded their conversation. Glynis went off to talk to Bertha, Lonts to play draughts with Joby, and Adam joined Julian on the windowseat of the library for a drink.

“It’s like living in some depressing film”, said Julian “I’m surprised we’re not all in black and white! I keep expecting to walk into a room and find someone playing chess with Death!”

“That was on a beach wasn’t it?” said Adam “Ingmar Bergman. The most depressing film I ever saw was ‘Looking For Mr Goodbar’. Enough to put you off sex for life! I really felt for the poor gay guy in the clown’s outfit. He reminded me of me”.

“My darling boy, you are nothing like him!” said Julian “I can’t imagine you in a clown’s outfit for a start, you’re much too elegant, even when you’re all paint-stained”.

“But I have his intense need for love”, said Adam “I must drive poor Lo-Lo to distraction at times”.

“He’s tough”, said Julian “He can take it”.

“You should have seen him last night”, said Adam, fondly “When that ghastly screaming noise went off. Lo-Lo was forbidding Toppy to get out of bed”.

“Knowing Toppy, I can’t imagine he was likely to do otherwise!” said Julian.

“Will it start again tonight do you think?” said Adam.

“If it does, remember it’s only a noise”, said Julian “It can’t hurt you”.

“As long as it stays as just a noise”, said Adam.

Joby had been playing dominoes in the dining-room with Lonts and Toppy, when Drusica wheeled in the trolley yet again.

“Strewth, is it time for another meal already?” Joby exclaimed.

Lonts and Toppy reluctantly put the dominoes back in the box. Joby got up and walked over to the French windows. The sun was sinking very low on the horizon, and all that could be seen was now and fir trees. A dog barked relentlessly in the village, the sound carrying across the empty bleak landscape.

“Darkness falls”, said Joby, ominously. Bengo and Bardin went up to their room almost as soon as the meal was over, in order to grab a few minutes alone together, although marital sex seemed to be the last thing on Bardin’s mind. As they changed into their nightshirts he seemed very pensive.

“Do you want your bed-socks, Bardy?” asked Bengo.

Bardin grunted and took them from him.

“We’ve got a fire tonight”, said Bengo, gesturing at the lit grate “And hot-water bottles, and extra candles. That’s good, isn’t it?”

Bardin grunted again. He sat down in the armchair next to the fire and gazed pensively into the flames. Bengo sensed his extreme unease and sat at his feet, consoling him as best he could until the others came in. Hoowie created a scene about having to spend another night on the floor.

“If we did things fairly we’d do this in rotation”, he grumbled “Bengo as next youngest should sleep on the floor tonight”.

“And where will you sleep?” said Bardin, warily.

“In with you”, said Hoowie.

“Ugh!” said Bardin “Any shred of democracy with us has just died! You’re on the floor again, whether you like it or not!”

“I don’t have to stay in here you know”, said Hoowie.

“You always try and pull this one on me!” Bardin screamed “You did it in Port West, and now you’re doing it again! O.K, fine, go off and find your own room”.

He pulled open the door and pointed out at the pitch-black corridor.

“There!” he said “Doesn’t look very inviting does it?”

Hoowie began to sort out his bedding on the floor instead.

“Tomorrow I’ll try and find you a camp-bed”, said Bardin, closing the door again and locking it.

He was roughly woken up by Rumble a few hours later, who was standing over him with a candle.

“W-What is it?” said Bardin, instantly reaching next to him to check that Bengo was still there.

“The noise”, said Rumble, shakily “It’s happened again. Only this time it’s louder … and nearer”.

“I haven’t heard anything”, said Bardin.

He had barely said this when a bloodcurdling scream of terrifying intensity rent the air. Bardin shot out of bed as though it had suddenly caught fire.

“Holy shit!” he cried “That sounded like it was in the next room!”

He pressed his hand over his heart as if to stop it beating so violently.

“That didn’t even sound human”, said Hoowie.

“Thanks Hoowie, you’re a real comfort at times like this!” said Bardin.

“What are you looking for?” said Farnol, as Rumble fumbled around in his rucksack.

“My fob-watch”, said Rumble “I wanna know the time”.

“What for?” Farnol exclaimed.

“I don’t know”, said Rumble, unusually rattled “I feel we should be making a note of things like this. It’s half-past four, later than I thought it might be”.

“Still hours before it gets light though”, said Bardin.

“At the Bay it would only be half-an-hour til daybreak”, said Bengo.

“Yeah well we’re not at the Bay are we!” said Farnol, grumpily climbing into Bengo and Bardin’s bed.

The others decided to join as well, and see out the rest of the night squashed up together, much as they had done at the Town House the previous winter. Extreme tension is a good way to ensure sleeplessness, and the five of them lay awake for some considerable time, until finally sheer exhaustion brought slumber.

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