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“Oh God, there’s someone at the door”, Rumble groaned, flipping open his watch and squinting at it in the gloom “Cripes, it’s 10 o’clock! We’ve overslept”.
“The candle’s burnt right down, that’s fucking dodgy”, said Bardin, blowing it out.
He got out of bed and let in the monks, who deposited their shaving-water, pulled back the curtains and left again. He was about to shut the door when Julian barged in, elegant in his silk pyjamas and dressing-gown, as though he’d had a night of perfect restful sleep, which he hadn’t. Bengo bellowed with joy, jumped out of bed and threw himself at him.
“What total squalor you all live in up here”, said Julian, glancing round him disdainfully.
“Did you hear anything down in First Class last night?” said Bardin.
“Naturally”, said Julian “That’s why, with my usual concern and thoughtfulness, I came up here to see how you were”.
“Barely alive”, said Bardin, raking the embers of the fire.
“Don’t waste too much time on that”, said Julian “With your permission, dear heart, I’m requesting that you all move downstairs. You and Bengo can come in with myself, Mieps and Hillyard. Farnol and Rumble in with Kieran, Glynis and Drusica are moving in with Adam from now on. Hoowie can go in with Ransey and Finia. It’ll give Ransey something to grizzle about other than the blasted Household Accounts!”
Bengo burst into tears.
“You great baby, pull yourself together!” said Bardin, sternly.
“I can’t help it, Bardy”, Bengo wept, groping at the sleeve of Bardin’s nightshirt “I’m so happy! We don’t have to spend another night up here!”
“I dunno why the women can’t come in here”, said Joby, washing his hands and face at the bowl in his room “Instead you get to have ‘em, and we get Farnol and Rumble! That’ll make a real change that will!”
“It’s good that they’re coming in with us”, said Adam, handing him a towel “Toppy will enjoy himself making their bed, and anyway you can’t be trusted to behave yourself!”
“That was uncalled for!” said Joby “I’m not Hillyard!”
“I know”, Adam smirked “But I am missing having you to boss around all day!”
“Dashing through the snow, in a one-horse open sleigh!” Kieran came into the room, singing.
“I dunno what there is to be so bleedin’ cheerful about”, Joby grumbled.
“Ach you never do, you old misery”, said Kieran “I’m gonna have to trade you in and get a cheerful partner”.
“No one else’d put up with you”, said Joby.
“Hah, that’s all you know!” said Kieran “I have a whole harem of monks in the East Wing to choose from”.
“Blind adoration would do you no good at all”, said Adam “You’re very excitable today, Patsy. It must be the thought of our little jaunt to the village after breakfast”.
“Like getting a day-release from prison”, said Joby.
“I’ve had a brilliant idea for cheering everyone up, that’s why I’m so pleased with meself at the moment”, said Kieran “Wait til you hear this …”
“Hang on!” said Joby, with annoyance “It’s not your job to cheer people up, leave that to the clowns, you’re here to get this place free of demons, so we can bleedin’ well go home!”
“But this will all help, trust me”, said Kieran “I propose that we celebrate Christmas again”.
“It’s the middle of fucking January!” said Joby.
“No no listen to him, Joby”, said Adam “I rather like the sound of this”.
“We had a tropical Christmas at the Bay”, said Kieran “So now let’s have traditional white Christmas here. I heard of a man once, back in our time, who celebrated Christmas every day of the year”.
“How?” said Joby.
“He just did”, said Kieran.
“There’s no reason why someone can’t put up a tree and eat roast turkey whenever they want”, said Adam “And we’re not exactly short of pine trees round here are we! I think it’s a wonderful idea, and Lo-Lo will absolutely adore it, he loves Christmas. I must go and tell him”, he ran to the door excitedly and then stopped “I take it we’re starting immediately? What day shall this be?”
“Christmas Eve”, said Kieran.
“Of course!” said Adam, as though it couldn’t be anything else, and left the room.
“Shouldn’t you check this with Glynis first?” said Joby “She is sposed to be in charge round here you know”.
“I have”, said Kieran “I was talking to her before I came back in here. She thinks it’s a great idea. Now cheer up for fock’s sake! You quite enjoy Christmas once you get into the swing of it”.
“Yeah but Kiel”, Joby pleaded “Think a minute. Tamaz! When he hears about this he’ll be relentless! Christmas is like Mecca to him!”
“It’ll take your mind off the haunting”, said Kieran.
Tamaz ran across the corridor from Lonts’s room and yodelled joyfully as he sprang through the doorway.
“Looks like he’s already heard”, said Kieran.
When Joby went down to the Service Wing an hour later, on his way out to the back yard where the sleighs were being fixed up, he found Bengo standing on the threshold of the knife-grinding room, staring fixedly at his reflection in the glass panels of the door. He was wearing sunglasses.
“Is the glare a bit bright for you in here?” said Joby, peering at him in the dingy institutional-style gloom.
“I could play a hero couldn’t I?” said Bengo “I mean, I’m good-looking, I’ve got lots of hair”.
“What are you talking about?” said Joby.
“I want to be a hero”, Bengo wailed.
“Why?” said Joby “We can’t all be heroes you know. Some of us have to be satisfied with just being ordinary old schmoes instead”.
“But you’re not ordinary”, said Bengo “When you walked into Father Gabriel’s Evil with Kieran, that really proved something”.
“Yeah”, said Joby “That I’m as daft as he is!”
“I want Bardy to be proud of me”, said Bengo “I was such a wimp this morning when Julian told us we could move down to his room. No wonder Bardy made Rumble his deputy and not me, he can’t rely on me”.
“He couldn’t do without you!” said Joby, finding something endearingly pathetic about this little man who, because of his upbringing in the unreal world of showbusiness, could only think of it as ‘playing’ the hero. Bengo the boy-man, the red-nosed clown who wants to be the romantic male lead instead.
“The others’ll be wondering where we are”, said Joby “Where’s your coat?”
“It’s around here somewhere”, said Bengo, looking around hima s though is coat was going to magically materialise out of thin air “Oh I remember, I left it in the kitchen”.
“Have you seen Bengo’s coat in here, Bertha?” said Joby, walking into the kitchen where Old Jake was wheezing by the stove.
“On the back of the chair there”, said Bertha.
Joby helped Bengo into his coat and then bustled out of the back door, surreptitiously squeezing his bottom as he did so.
Glynis surprised the Indigo-ites by appearing in the back yard accompanied by Drusica and two overnight bags. She had spent the preceding few hours debating with herself whether or not to go to Toondor Lanpin with the children, and had finally made up her mind to do so. She urged her friends to carry on with their plans for a mock-Christmas, as it would bring some much needed festive cheer to the house. She would be leaving them in this mammoth, complex mausoleum along with Bertha, Old Jake, the monks in the East Wing, and Codlik and Nola in the North Wing.
“I feel like I’ve dumped on you”, said Glynis, sharing a sleigh with Julian down to the village.
“No I think you’ve got the worst of it”, said Julian “You girls will have to wrestle with the stove a the Town House. Not a job for the faint-hearted!”
The village street was worryingly deserted, and looked a gloomy sight with patches of frozen mud showing through the snow, and a chained-up dog barking repetitiously. There was an emotional meeting with Leon, who on seeing all his uncles announced that he wanted to stay, although he sadly knew there wasn’t a hope of this happening. Lilli perked up on seeing Toppy, and went to greet him, only for him to shake hands with her rather stiffly.
“Toppy’s hopeless”, Lonts whispered to Adam “He should have kissed her, like this”.
He kissed Adam boisterously on both cheeks.
“We’ll never change him, Lo-Lo”, Adam sighed.
They all walked out to a nearby field where the air-buggy was waiting.
“You will be alright in that madhouse?” said Glynis, as Joby helped her into her seat and tucked a blanket round her.
“Yeah, we’ll get it all sussed out sooner or later”, said Joby “Kieran’s got some idea that the screams we keep hearing are Codlik’s tortured subconscious manifesting itself”.
“That sounds a bit deep and intense for Codlik!” said Glynis.
“Take no notice”, said Joby “It’s only Kieran trying to impress us. He’s got that idea entirely from ‘Forbidden Planet’! He weren’t half put out when I said that and all! If anyone’s tortured subconscious keeps rearing it’s ugly head it’ll be his, not Codlik’s!”
“I’ll send a wire as soon as I get to town”, said Glynis “And let you know we arrived safely”.
“You have a rest at the Town House”, said Joby “It’ll seem very nice and homely after up here”.
“I might do a bit of work on the garden”, said Glynis “And if you like I’ll get the animals moved up from the sloop”.
“Good idea”, said Joby “Just in case Jonner gets wafted away with the pixies like he usually does! And watch him if he starts offering to sleep over! None of the bedroom doors have got a bolt on ‘em!”
“Are you coming out of there?” said Hillyard, standing outside the door “The pilot wants to get off”.
“Alright, alright!” Joby climbed backwards out of the air-buggy, watched by a tearful Leon.
The village felt even more gloomy when they returned to it. Bardin herded everyone into the local boozer, which was completely empty, although there was a good fire lit in the main room.
“Landlord”, said Julian “All the brandy you can muster if you please. Hillyard, flash the cash!”
It was only too predictable that anyone connected with the Big House would be about as welcome as leprosy at this time. Glynis’s sudden departure would have reinforced the current popular image of the Big House as a place of horror and foreboding. Kieran’s appearance in the pub might help to add a touch of “normality”, but it was going to be an uphill struggle. Nonetheless any landlord worth his salt is not going to be too dismayed by sixteen people walking onto his otherwise deserted premises. Bengo, Rumble and Tamaz made themselves at home on one of the hard wooden settles, and Rumble got out his tobacco tin and began to roll himself a smoke.
The Indigo-ites talked breezily about cutting down a tree for the Great Hall, as if to impress their captive villager that things couldn’t really be that bad up at the house if they were feeling so festive up there. This was almost completely an act on the Indigo-ites’ part. Most of them felt downcast by Glynis’s departure, as though she had taken the last vestiges of normality away with her.
“Well the little baggage has got what she always wanted”, said Julian, sitting by the fire “Herself installed at the Town House, with our animals and our garden, and us … up here”.
“Julian!” Adam hissed “Not in front of the landlord, he might think you’re being serious”.
“The silly arse!” said Julian.
A tree was selected at the edge of the estate, and cut down in the icy gloom. It was loaded onto a cart and towed back behind one of the sleighs to the house. The stable-boys, along with the three women in the dairy, had all carried on working up at the house, because their jobs rarely entailed them having to actually go inside the dreaded building, although at present they all insisted on returning to the village by nightfall. They all turned out to watch the Indigo-ites returning with the tree, which only confirmed what they had long believed, that the Indigo-ites were all raving mad!
Adam stood at the back door like a primary school teacher, and made sure everyone knocked the snow off their boots before coming into the house. His good intentions were completely undone by Farnol, who ran into the kitchen shrieking because Tamaz had shoved some snow down the front of his trousers. Farnol grabbed a tea-towel and rubbed himself down with it.
“Stop it”, said Adam, wresting the tea-towel from him “Bertha will think we’re not house-trained!”
“My nuts’ll get frostbite and drop off”, said Farnol.
“No one’ll notice”, said Tamaz, witheringly.
Bardin sat on the great wide staircase in the hall and watched the others messing around with the tree. All too often his eyes were drawn to the windows high above the main doors, which were steadily darkening as the afternoon wore on. Rumble came and sat next to him, and rubbed his back.
“I spose we can safely say the village show is off?” said Rumble.
“There doesn’t seem much point”, Bardin snapped “When our potential audience are being so anti-social”.
“Well I can’t say I was in the mood to be a comic genius anyway”, said Rumble “I didn’t think things would be so tense down there. Looks like we’ll just have to amuse each other up here instead”.
“Fucking house!” Bardin got up and stormed into the library.
Rumble whispered to Bengo to go and console him. Bengo found Bardin leaning against the mantelpiece in the library, staring into the fire.
“What the fuck are we playing at?” Bardin shouted, when he saw him “The villagers are acting as though the plague’s broken out, Glynis has abandoned us, and we’re stuck in a giant tomb with some lunatic screaming at night, and so what do we do? We pretend it’s Christmas!”
“So?” said Bengo, hurtfully “All my life, Bardy, you’ve lectured me that we’re here to put on fantasy, to take people’s minds off reality, even if it’s only for a few minutes, and now you’re going back on all that. I’m really disappointed in you. Julian wouldn’t have carried on like this when he was Captain”.
“Oh thanks!” said Bardin “Kick me when I’m down why don’t you!”
“Well whatever happened to the show must go on?” said Bengo.
“We’re not doing a fucking show are we!” Bardin screamed.
Bengo slapped his face. Dazed but at least calm Bardin sat down in one of the armchairs.
“I’m sorry, Bardy”, said Bengo, sitting at his feet and gazing up at him imploringly “But you were getting so wound up”.
Because I’ve made a career out of being a pillock I guess I can’t stop being one”, Bardin mumbled “You’re right, I’m not much of a Captain”.
“I didn’t say that at all!” said Bengo “It’s just that you brood on things too much”.
“I can’t help it, when I see the darkness coming on outside”, said Bardin “And it was so gloomy in the village, much more so than I was expecting”.
“That’s why we’re pretending it’s Christmas!” said Bengo, in exasperation.
“Hi you two”, said Lonts, gruffly, from the doorway “We’ve just had a wire from Glynis. Everybody’s arrived safely in Toondor Lanpin”.
“Good”, said Bardin.
Bertha and her monkly kitchen assistants had entered into the spirit of the Christmas idea. They had baked a raisin and cinnamon cake for supper, served with such potent dollops of brandy butter that everyone went up to bed in a fairly festive frame of mind.
The corridor where all the Indigo-ites were now sleeping resembled one on a busy train, as they ambled in and out of each other’s room or stood around chatting. Julian went into his room and found Bardin making up a bed on the floor for himself and Bengo. Bardin was still a bit tense, although he was trying his best to conceal it. The others had all guessed that “words” had taken place between the two clowns earlier in the library.
“Is everything alright between you and the little fellow?” said Julian, trying to appear nonchalant as he leaned against the brass rail at the foot of his bed.
“Yeah, yeah, we’re cool”, said Bardin, stuffing pillows into cotton cases “Well actually Bengo seems to think I should leave off being Captain and let you do it again instead”.
“No you can’t”, said Julian “Adam has made it quite clear that if I resume being Captain, he’s going to leave us! You have to lighten up, old fruit. If you don’t start taking a bit more pleasure in your power you’ll end up like Codlik! It’s not as if you don’t get plenty of support from everyone. You four clowns are a tight enough little group on your own”.
“You can say that again!” said Bardin “I don’t think Farnol could stand on his own two feet without Rumble. He’s never had to!”
Bengo came into the room, and Julian used the excuse of going to say goodnight to Adam to leave them alone together.
“What were you and Julian talking about?” said Bengo.
“Farnol”, said Bardin, getting their nightshirts out of a heap of clothing on the floor.
“Why?” said Bengo.
“How he’s hopeless without Rumble”, said Bardin.
“Like I would be hopeless without you”, said Bengo.
“You managed alright when you left me!” Bardin snapped.
“I’ll never be able to atone for that will I, Bardy!” Bengo exclaimed.
“You don’t have to”, Bardin sighed “I forgave you when I first saw you again at the Little Theatre. Even though you were an obnoxious little shit to me!”
“Oh Bardy!” said Bengo, throwing his arms around him.
Mieps appeared and gave a hiss of annoyance at finding them taking up so much room.
“Haven’t you started shaving your tits yet, Mieps?” said Bardin.
It wasn’t screaming that woke him up several hours later, not this time, but instead the sound of someone pacing about overhead. Heavy footsteps endlessly crossing and re-crossing the floor above.
“Can’t you sleep, Bardy?” said Bengo, drowsily, rolling over on the mattress.
“Listen”, Bardin whispered “Hear that?”
“Yes”, said Bengo, tears of fear swelling up in his eyes.
“I wonder if Rumble’s making a note of the time”, said Bardin.
“What for?” said Bengo.
“Because it’s the only thing we’ve got at the moment to try and find a pattern. Hang on, I’d better do it myself just in case”, Bardin pulled his trousers off a nearby armchair and got his fob-watch out of one of the pockets. He squinted at it by the dim embers of the fire “Four-thirty, again!”
“What does that prove?” said Bengo.
“I don’t know”, said Bardin, getting off the mattress “But it’s all we’ve got”.
“Where are you going?” said Bengo, in panic.
“Along the corridor to see Kieran and Rumble”, said Bardin, pulling on his coat over his nightshirt “We can’t carry on hiding from it like this”.
“You can’t go out there!” Bengo screamed. He jumped to his feet and ran across the room to wake Julian.
“Go away you little bastard”, said Julian, sleepily “There’s no room for you in this bed”.
“Julian, listen, the noise!” said Bengo.
Julian looked up at the ceiling, then he leaned across Mieps and shook Hillyard awake.
“So?” said Hillyard, on being made acquainted with the footsteps “If you hadn’t woken me up I’d have happily slept through it!”
“You insensitive old walrus!” said Julian, reaching for his dressing-gown “Get up, we’re going to rouse the others”.
“No you can’t go out there!” Bengo ran to the door and hung onto the handle.
Julian pulled him away from the door and slapped his behind. Out in the corridor a night-light had been left burning in a saucer of water, so the corridor had illumination, of sorts. Bardin swept along the corridor and up the short flight of steps to Kieran’s door. He found it bolted against him. He hammered on it in desperation.
“You’re up flamin’ early aren’t you?” said Rumble, finally pulling it open “Has something else happened?”
“Yes!” said Bardin, pushing him back into the room, followed by Bengo “Can’t you hear it?”
No. The footsteps were only over the left-hand side of the corridor. Bardin explained to Rumble what they’d heard, and Bengo explained it to Farnol, accompanied by marching footsteps as a visual demonstration. Then Joby woke up, very bad-temperedly, in the four-poster and had to have it explained to him as well.
“Joby, what the hell’s going on in here?” Kieran snapped.
“Don’t ask me, it’s not my doing!” said Joby.
“If it’s only on your side of the corridor there was no need to come and wake us up”, said Tamaz, witheringly, to Bardin.
Kieran went into Adam’s room to listen to the footsteps. Most of the others drifted in after him, except Tamaz, who didn’t see anything worth getting out of his warm bed for. So he was alone. The footsteps had finished by now, and Kieran was remarking to Adam that whatever it was was carrying on a war of nerves with them.
“Make us as jumpy as possible”, said Kieran “The screaming and now this. The clever fact is that it’s doing it at the same time of night, so that will get us all jangling and apprehensive waiting for it to happen”.
Tamaz yodelled in horror. Something invisible was in the bed with him, groping at his breasts and sticking a large clammy hand down his drawers. He managed to get away from it, and bravely yanked back all the bedclothes, in a vain attempt to try and expose something that chose not to be seen.
He got some comfort and reassurance from Ransey, who told him about a similar experience he’d had from an invisible attacker during their last days at Wolf Castle.
“It tried to throttle me”, said Ransey “But I managed to literally shake it off. It attacked me when I was alone too, so make sure you’re always with one of us. There’s no excuse for you to be vulnerable and alone anyway, not with all of us around”.
Tamaz took this fatherly rebuke surprisingly well, which annoyed Julian, who always got absurdly jealous on the rare occasions when Ransey played close personal attention to his bizarre offspring.
“He is Freaky’s biological father, Jules”, said Adam “That is a fact. It’s no good you trying to be because if you were, you’d have been arrested for some of the things you’ve got up to with him!”
Adam was now making coffee in his room, using a tea-kettle and a small gas-stove.
“Where did you get hold of all that?” Julian barked, changing the subject.
“The still-room, just off the dining-room”, said Adam “So that I could make us a hot drink in the night if we needed it. It’s such a long walk to anywhere civilised, like a kitchen, from up here”.
“Mm I know”, said Julian “We could do with a concierge in every corridor, like one of those old Soviet hotels! Don’t you have any milk?”
“No, first-floor catering doesn’t run to that”, said Adam “You’ll have to have it black”.
“I’m afraid I’m going to have to get into your bed”, said Julian “My feet are cold”.
“You should wear bed-socks, like the rest of us do”, said Adam.
“I keep forgetting”, said Julian “I’m not used to such a cold climate anymore”.
Hillyard came in and planted himself in front of the fire, warming his backside. Adam asked him if he’d like some coffee.
“No thanks, Ad”, said Hillyard “It might keep me awake”.
“It’d take a house-fire to do that!” said Julian.
“That’d solve all our problems wouldn’t it!” said Hillyard.
“Isn’t it awful?” said Bengo, appearing, wild-eyed with despair “Now it’s started getting into bed with us! How are we gonna get through the rest of our time here?”
“Oh I’m sure we’ll think of plenty of things to keep us occupied”, said Adam, soothingly “Particularly during daylight hours”.
“Come down to the stables with me in the morning, Bengo”, said Hillyard.
“No!” said Julian, as firmly as possible.
“Don’t be silly, Jules”, said Adam “There would be no harm in it. He can’t exactly get Bengo pregnant can he!”
“I wouldn’t put anything past Hillyard!” said Julian.
“Don’t give Bengo any of that coffee”, said Bardin, from the top of the threshold steps “It’ll only make him even more jangly. Come along, Bengo”.
“Walkies!” said Julian.
Lonts insisted on spending the rest of the night in the four-poster, to keep a watch over Tamaz, which effectively squeezed out Joby, who had to sleep with Adam and Toppy instead. They were woken up at nine o’clock by a posse of strolling minstrels, in the shape of four monks clutching musical instruments, who wanted to give them a “festive” good morning. These monks then set up home in the Great Hall, and serenaded them all through breakfast as well.
Afterwards, Kieran returned with them to the East Wing (“Where they should never have been let out!” – Julian). Tamaz was asked to accompany them, but grandly declined, saying he would rather be with the clowns.
“Although I can’t for the life of me see why!” said Adam, who was now in the process of setting up his easel in the library “Not after all those revolting jokes they told all through breakfast. Farnol only seems to know two subjects for humour: masturbation and bowel movements!”
“I did hear him tell a joke about anal hygiene once”, said Joby, who was reclining on one of the sofa’s like an offbeat Regency beauty. Lonts was sitting at his feet, contemplatively smoking his pipe and gradually enveloping himself and Joby in fumes.
“It was very tasteful I’m sure!” said Adam, caustically.
Hoowie sashayed into the room, wearing Hillyard’s fur-lined robe.
“What’s he doing in here?” said Joby, sounding outraged “I thought he’d gone of to explore with Tamaz and the clowns”.
“I’m going to paint Hoowie”, said Adam.
“Why???” said Joby “What do you want a picture of him for?”
“I want to do a male nude study”, said Adam.
“Oh good”, said Joby, unenthusiastically “We’ll add it to the pile!”
“You didn’t say they were going to be in here!” said Hoowie, pointing at Joby and Lonts.
“Oh really, Hoowie!” said Adam, in exasperation “I expected rather more professionalism from you, considering you used to be an artist’s model. Now let’s get started shall we? There isn’t much good light up here at this time of year, we have to make the most of it. Take off your robe, and your underpants too. You’re not going to be showing us anything we haven’t seen before”.
“Far too many times”, Joby grunted.
Bertha gave a little squeal of surprise, coming into the room as Hoowie was disrobing.
“I wasn’t expecting to see him like that”, she said, breathlessly.
“Yeah I know, it’s a bit of a shock to the system ennit!” said Joby.
“I’ve just come to say that dinner will be ready at around three o’clock”, said Bertha.
“Dinner at sunset, how lovely”, said Adam, trying to genuinely sound as though the idea of sunset didn’t bother any of them at all.
It had seemed like a good idea when it was first suggested: to take Farnol and Rumble on a tour of some parts of the house they hadn’t seen. It quickly became tedious. There is no enjoyment in prowling round cold, dark, empty rooms in sub-zero temperatures, when you are only too aware that there are supernatural forces at large in the building. Matters were made even more complicated when they got lost, and eventually wound up at the first-floor entrance to the North Wing.
“This is the entrance to the North Wing!” Tamaz spat, indignantly.
“Does that mean Codlik’s down there somewhere?” said Bengo, looking nervously down the oak-panelled corridor.
“I can hear someone coming”, said Rumble.
“I bet it’s that Nola”, said Tamaz.
Bardin hustled them all up a nearby narrow staircase cut into the wall. There they all crouched round the turning, out of sight, until Nola had walked past. They couldn’t have been more nervous if she’d been Tamaz’s mother!
When she was safely out of earshot they carried on up the staircase, and soon found themselves in a large, echoey room with what had once been a polished floor. This part of the house hadn’t been used in years. They all sat down on the long windowseat to collect themselves.
“All this space doing nothing, it’s obscene”, said Rumble “You could house the whole population of Toondor Lanpin in this building, and still have room to spare!”
They all tensed considerably on hearing a manic weeping noise outside the door they had entered by. Whoever, whatever, it was moved away down the corridor, still weeping. Bardin herded them all out of the opposite door and down another flight of stairs. They found themselves in a grim deserted corridor at the bottom, which had rubble and bits of plaster on the floor from where parts of the ceiling were falling in. The windows overlooked the back of the house.
“We’ll never get out of here if we try and go through the inside of the house”, said Bardin “It’s like a maze”.
“And you never know what we might find!” said Rumble.
Bardin glared at him, considering that this wasn’t a very helpful comment at this moment! There was no outside door in sight, so he tried opening a window, but they had all been painted shut long ago, in another lifetime. Bardin picked up a large clod of rubble and smashed the glass with it. Covering his hands with the sleeve of his coat he pushed away enough glass to enable them to help each other out and into the snowy wastes.
“I dunno where those little bastards have got to”, said Joby “But I’ll kill ‘em when they get here!”
He was having a pre-dinner drink with Kieran and the others in the Great Hall. Kieran looking incongruous as he sipped a delicate schooner of sherry whilst sporting his long hair and scruffy clothes. He had spent the past couple of hours burning shovel-loads of creosote in the Service Wing and parts of the first floor with the other monks, but he wasn’t optimistic of a positive result this time.
The clowns and Tamaz burst in through the main doors, their shoes soaked with snow. In the general uproar of greeting them and demanding explanations, Bengo ran through into the library. Bardin followed him, and made it clear to the others to stay out.
“I want to be a hero all the time”, Bengo wept, lying on one of the sofa’s, and looking uncomfortable in his snow-splattered coat.
“You were pretty heroic yesterday when you sorted me out”, said Bardin, kneeling down beside him “It’s not just about rescuing babies from burning buildings you know. What’s the matter?”
“This is so fucking embarrassing”, said Bengo, sobbing into his hands “I’ve peed myself!”
Bardin hugged him and told him it could happen to anyone when they were very scared.
“But it didn’t, it happened to me, Ballast-Brained Bengo, the walking accident!” said Bengo “Now I know how Lonts feels when it happens to him”.
“Let’s go upstairs and get changed”, said Bardin, firmly “Then we can have some dinner. Do as I say, Bengo”.
“Yes, Bardy”, said Bengo.
“This’ll give Julian something to complain about”, said Bardin, putting Bengo’s underpants and trousers in to soak in the wash-bowl in their bedroom “We’d better make sure we get them out before he comes up to bed later”.
“I’d better be careful with these”, said Bengo, putting on another pair of trousers “I only brought two pairs with me”.
Lonts, Hillyard and Kieran came into the room.
“Ooh you gave us a turn”, said Bengo “We heard you just outside and thought you were something awful”.
“We are!” said Kieran “We wanted to make sure you got down to dinner o.k”.
Bengo threw himself at Kieran and they rolled around on the bed.
“He’ll have another accident if you get him all excited like that!” said Bardin.
Bengo chucked Julian’s pillow at him and it burst, scattering feathers everywhere. Lonts hooted with laughter, and Kieran playfully spanked Bengo. They left the mess and went down to dinner.
“I’m very sorry, but we had to start without you”, said Adam, tersely, who hadn’t liked any of them going upstairs.
The meal was going down with great relish, particularly by Tamaz who, to his own astonishment, had been given a turkey leg and was now eating with immense enjoyment.
“At least they look relatively clean”, said Julian, who was looking with obvious disapproval at Adam’s paint-stained shirt “My Mother would have sent you from the table looking like that!”
“Your mother understood absolutely nothing about the artistic impulse”, Adam retorted.
Bertha appeared, and cut short the avalanche of congratulations on her cooking by asking if she could speak to Adam alone. He followed her into the Orange Drawing-Room nearby.
“I’m sorry to have to take you away from your meal”, said Bertha, standing in front of the fire with him “But I’m leaving. Now. Old Jake and I are moving out for a while and going to stay in the village. Neither of us feel we can take the strain up here anymore, we obviously haven’t the healthy constitution you all have. I am truly sorry to let you down”.
“It won’t be same up here without you”, said Adam, and he meant it. He remembered how, when they first knew the Big House, she had often sat with them in the evenings with her knitting “But I don’t feel the village will be any better”, he added “There is an extraordinarily tense atmosphere down there these days”.
“I know”, said Bertha “But it does at least feel safer than up here. I shall miss you very much, Mr Adam. The monks will of course still be here, they won’t leave Kieran”.
“And you’re going right now?” said Adam.
“I think you should all leave too”, said Bertha “There is nothing that can be done for this house. You should all leave, and the monks should all leave, and Lady Glynis should stay in Toodnor Lanpin, and Mr Codlik should go into a home. Leave this house to the demons”. Before they departed Bertha and Old Jake gave the Indigo-ites an unusual gift, an old barrel-organ that had stood neglected in the corner of the servants’ hall for some time, left behind many years before by a travelling fair. They set it up in the Great Hall, and in spite of the huge dinner they’d just eaten, Bengo and Bardin did a few somersaults and cartwheels to it. Then they got together with Farnol and Rumble, to show everyone a march they sometimes did at the end of a gala show at the Cabaret of Horrors.
“This was the Parade of the Clowns”, said Bengo “Some of the others would play whistles as well. We’d all be in costume of course”.
“This place would be unbearable without them”, said Julian, standing by the library fire with Adam a few minutes later.
“Perhaps Bertha’s right, we should all leave”, said Adam “But I can’t believe that abandoning this place, and leaving it as some great rotting shell, casting a long shadow, will be any good for the neighbourhood either!”
They all retired upstairs early, as though anxious to get the dreaded night over and done with. Bardin rescued Bengo’s pants and trousers from the washstand before Julian found them, and ordered Bengo to tidy up the remains of the burst pillow before Julian got back from Adam’s room.
Bardin took Bengo’s things along to Rumble, to ask him to come with him to hang them up in a bathroom. He didn’t fancy doing it on his own. The bathrooms at the Big House were eerie enough at the best of times.
“They’ll take weeks to dry if you leave them in there”, said Rumble, who was lying on his makeshift bed in Kieran’s room, sucking on a roll-up “Hang them over the fireguard in here”.
Farnol finished pulling shut the thick, heavy brocaded curtains at the windows, and then walked out of the room without saying a word.
“He’s very quiet”, Bardin whispered “Now I know things are bad!”
“Don’t worry, his quiet phases don’t last long”, said Rumble “It’s always a problem if Farnol starts thinking about things too much. He’ll brood, and then all the evils of the world get to him”.
“It makes me relieved in some ways that Bengo panics”, said Bardin “If he thought deeply about things I’d really worry about him!”
“As it is he just pisses his pants!” said Rumble.
Toppy came in, fussily attired as usual in pyjamas, dressing-gown and slippers. He was carrying the hot-water bottles for the two beds.
“You shouldn’t smoke in bed”, he rebuked Rumble “It’s a filthy habit”.
“That so?” said Rumble, sitting on the edge of his bed to remove his shoes and trousers.
“I really dig those slippers, Toppy”, said Bardin “They are so-o-o cool!”
Toppy muttered something under his breath, and moved across to Kieran’s bed.
“We’re really gonna have to do something about him”, said Rumble.
“Ignore him”, said Bardin “He’s mad. It’s just a shame we haven’t got a North Wing back home to put him in!”
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