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By Sarah Hapgood

The emptiness of the main square was played down by Brinslee as being just a natural reaction to the latest earth-tremor. People were so unnerved by these constant eruptions that had hid in their houses. He assured them that by tomorrow morning, with full daylight and the storm over, everyone would be tentatively emerging again.

Bardin was in a quandary. It was up to him how much longer they would stay in Aspiriola. They couldn’t stay there indefinitely, and yet Brinslee was in no fit state to be left alone. Unless he could be persuaded to make the arduous overland journey back to the Bay with them (not an easy prospect for a man of his age), then there was no solution which could please everyone.

In spite of the wearying day he had just passed, he found it difficult to sleep that night. The heat was intense, and he got up and paced the room for a while, envying Bengo his deep slumber. He looked out of the window, which was almost directly over the front door, as though checking the main gates were still shut.

He climbed back onto the bed, and lay against his banked-up pillows. He heard the clock at the top of the stairs strike three times, and was dismayed at the thought of so much of the night still left to be endured.

Suddenly he gave a short scream and fumbled for the switch of the bedside lamp.

“Did you have a bad dream, Bardy?” said Bengo, patting his friend’s stomach “Bardy?”

Bardin was staring so fixedly into space that for one terrifying moment Bengo thought his friend had had a heart-attack.

“There was something standing there”, said Bardin, eventually “Right by the bed. It had its arms raised up like this, like a ghost in a cartoon”.

“It probably was a ghost in a cartoon!” said Bengo “Something you saw ages ago and you’ve just dreamt about it. That’s what you’d be telling me anyway. What did it look like?”

“As though it was made out of bed-sheets”, said Bardin “All shapeless, but with long bony fingers”.

“Are you trying to wind me up?” said Bengo.

“If I was gonna wind you up I’d pick something more bloody believable than that!” said Bardin “Feel my heart-rate, go on”, he pulled Bengo’s hand onto his chest “It’s going like the clappers isn’t it?”

“I still think you dreamt it”, said Bengo.

“I haven’t been to fucking sleep yet, so how could I have dreamt it!” said Bardin.

“You do seem a bit shook-up”, said Bengo “But if you only saw it briefly it could be your eyes playing tricks with you. I sometimes see little silver fishes darting about in front of mine when I’ve been coughing a lot”.

“I’m gonna keep the light on for the rest of the night”, said Bardin “Do you mind?”

“No”, said Bengo “We might as well make the most of electric light whilst we’ve got it”.

Bardin pulled the bedclothes over them both, in spite of Bengo’s protestations that they would “boil”.

“Perhaps we should go along to Julian’s room?” said Bengo.

“He’d throw us out”, said Bardin “He’s already got Mieps and Hillyard in bed with him”.

“He might let us sleep on the floor”, said Bengo “Like we did up at the Big House”.

“We might as well stay here in that case and be comfortable”, said Bardin, who was feeling safer by electric light, and with Bengo awake next to him.

He felt even safer when daylight and the warbling of the tropical birds broke out a couple of hours later.

By daylight everything seems easier, and Joby and Adam preparing breakfast in the kitchen (the staff hadn’t turned up at all) joked that it all sounded like something out of an episode of Scooby Doo! Joby was rather tickled by the idea of Bardin and Bengo as Shaggy and Scooby and couldn’t stop chortling about it. Until breakfast was over anyway, and he noticed Bardin pacing up and down the terrace outside, restlessly.

The Bardin was in a considerable state was evident enough when he burst into tears when Joby went outside to speak to him. To spare him embarrassment Joby clamped his hand on his shoulder and walked him down to the lawn, feeling as though he was walking a sick donkey along Blackpool beach.

“I know everyone thinks I can cope with anything”, said Bardin “Bossy Bardin, right?”

“Well sometimes you can sound like my Mum”, said Joby “Mainly when you’re talking to the other clowns!”

“I’ve had to be like that”, said Bardin “Always. I had to be bossy with the other clowns because most of the time they needed it. And I had to be bossy with Bengo all the time because otherwise he’d never know what he was doing, and there was no knowing what’d happen to him! If I left our room for even a few minutes to get some shopping I had to shout at him and make sure he locked the door behind me, otherwise the landlord would have got in”.

“Ully had no right to make you kids live in a place with such a dodgy landlord”, said Joby, who secretly never ceased to be appalled by the details of the clowns’ so-called childhood.

“He couldn’t help it”, said Bardin “He had enough to do. Putting on two or three shows a day, every day. Constantly having to keep the people coming in through the turnstiles”.

“Even so …”, said Joby.

“He relied on me to keep us out of trouble”, said Bardin “So I had to be sensible and bossy all the time. And sometimes I got carried away and forgot myself, giving out orders all the time”.

They sat down on a bench at the far end of the lawn, and Bardin got busy mopping his face with a handkerchief Joby had given him.

“Look, I know you’re under the most strain out of all of us”, said Joby “You’ve had a lot to think about lately. But there’s a way round this ‘shall we stay or shall we go’ problem. When we get back to the house ask Adam, he’s your best bet, to go and persuade Brinslee to come back to the Bay with us. Then we can go home and not have to worry about leaving him here all by himself”.

“But there have been weird things happening at the Bay too”, said Bardin.

“There are always weird things happening at the Bay!” said Joby “Weird things seem to happen wherever Kieran is!”

Slowly they ambled back to the house. When they got there they found Bengo clearing the table in the dining-room by loading all the plates and cutlery into the middle of the tablecloth, and bundling it up like a bag of laundry.

“Not like that!” Bardin bellowed, in a voice that Joby thought certainly wouldn’t have disgraced his old battleaxe of a mother.

Bengo yelped in terror, but Bardin suddenly softened. He went up to Bengo and placed his hands gently on his shoulders.

“Bengo”, he said “Sometimes I am harsh with you and I don’t mean to be. It’s just a habit I’ve got into over the years”.

He walked out of the room and Bengo by now looked thoroughly alarmed.

“Don’t worry about it”, said Joby.

Adam found Brinslee, still dressing-gown-clad, sitting mournfully on the window-seat in his room when he took him up a cup of tea.

“You shouldn’t do all this for me, Adam”, said Brinslee “You brought me breakfast in bed too. It’s a lot of extra work for you”.

(Adam had to bite back a remark that if Brinslee made an effort to shake off his doldrums and come downstairs there wouldn’t be any extra work at all!)

“I’m afraid you have to face the fact, old love, that we might be going home tomorrow”, said Adam, joining him on the window-seat “I strongly urge you to consider coming with us. I know it’s an arduous journey overland, but if you sit at the front of the truck it won’t be so bad”.

“But what would I do at the Bay?” said Brinslee.

“Whatever you want”, said Adam “You can join us in the Castle, or go over the river with the monks and all the other nutcases!”

Brinslee laughed helplessly at this, and was barely coherent when Julian walked in.

“Adam”, said Julian “Lonts has mislaid his pipe. Go and help him look for it before he turns the entire house upside down”.

“Of course”, said Adam. He patted Brinslee’s knee as he left, a fact which didn’t go unnoticed by a disgruntled Julian.

“Adam’s such a kind man”, said Brinslee, dabbing at his eyes.

“He always was a sentimental old bean”, said Julian “When we were young he used to cry over things he’d read in the newspaper”.

“Doesn’t he do that now?” said Brinslee.

“We don’t get many newspapers at the Bay!” said Julian.

“I’d like to come there”, said Brinslee “I’ve turned my house at Port West into a sort of refugee centre for anyone who lost their homes in the disaster. I’d only be in the way if I went back there at the moment. I’d-I’d live with the monks of course”.

“Good, then I don’t have to lock up Finia, Lonts and Bardin!” said Julian.

“Me and Codlik could console one another”, said Brinslee.

“He’s quite mad these days you know”, said Julian “If you spend too long talking to him you’d wish you were back in Port West!”

“No”, said Brinslee “No I won’t. Not now”.

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