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By Sarah Hapgood

“I didn’t realise it was going to be so noisy here”, said Brinslee, lying propped up on his pillows in the four-poster room at Midnight Castle.

“Yes, the monks’ building-work never seems to come to an end”, said Adam, handing him a cup of coffee from a tray “Or did you mean on OUR side of the river?”

“How’s Bardin today?” said Brinslee, tactfully changing the subject.

“He’s got to that restless stage of flu”, said Adam “Where he wants to get up but hasn’t the energy. I must get his coffee along to him before it gets cold”.

Adam escaped from Brinslee’s presence with regretful relief. There was nothing strictly wrong with Brinslee, but on his arrival at the Castle he had taken to bed, and dangerously showed signs of staying there. Bardin though had been genuinely ill, having gone down with a flu virus since arriving home. The other Indigo-ites sagely concluded that this was due to Stress, whereas Bardin took it as some sadistic persecution directed by Fate at him personally.

When Adam went into the main bedroom he found Bardin lying over the edge of the four-poster, trying to direct a spilled slice of cake towards him with a tennis racquet.

“I’ll get you a fresh slice”, said Adam, coming to his rescue.

“No it’s alright, I’ll have that one”, said Bardin, taking the dilapidated slice from him.

“You really shouldn’t eat food that’s been on the floor, Bardin”, said Adam “You could get some horrible disease”.

“I shouldn’t think I’d notice!” Bardin grumbled “Where’s Bengo?”

“He’s down in the kitchen, talking to Lo-Lo”, said Adam “I’ll send him up with a dustpan and brush to sweep up the crumbs, otherwise the mice will have a field-day”.

Back down in the kitchen once more he found everyone much as he had left them a few minutes before. Lonts and Bengo were playing Jacks at the kitchen table, Toppy was polishing his precious silver candlesticks, and Joby was attempting to unblock the sink.

“Haven’t you finished that yet?” said Adam.

“No I haven’t, so what?” said Joby “I’m not on a bleedin’ time-and-motion study!”

“Don’t be cheeky”, said Adam “Bengo, take the dustpan-and-brush upstairs. Bardin dropped his cake on the floor”.

Bengo almost sprang to attention, and then scampered up the staircase behind the stove with the dustpan and brush.

“Any sign of Brinslee getting up?” said Joby.

“I do wish he would!” said Adam “It creates so much extra work, and it casts a rather gloomy pall over the house, having him lying up there staring up at the ceiling”.

“I think he’s got clinical depression”, said Toppy.

“We’d never have guessed!” said Joby “If the monks’d hurry up and finish everything, we could send him across the river with the other nutters!”

“Don’t be cruel”, said Adam.

“I’m thinking of him actually”, said Joby “Living with us ent gonna do him any good. We’re probably what’s made him so depressed!”

“Nonsense”, said Adam “He keeps complaining in fact that he doesn’t see enough of any of us”.

Joby flung the sink-plunger onto the draining-board in frustration.

“If he got out of his coffin now and again he might see more of us!” he cried “And whilst he’s lying up there all the time it means the best nookie-room’s out of bounds. It’s become a bleedin’ sick room instead!”

“I feel as though I’m neve gonna be fit to get up”, said Bardin, whilst Bengo knelt on the floor by the bed sweeping up the cake crumbs “It’s too hot to be ill! I had plans for us to go down to the beach as soon as we got home. Perhaps stay up at the clearing for a few days”.

Bengo peered hopefully over the edge of the bed. He climbed up onto it and curled up next to Bardin.

“I keep having bad dreams about our old landlord, Bardy”, he said “In the dreams he comes to get me and says I was promised to him when I was little”.

“In his dreams more like!” said Bardin, pressing him close to him and patting him vigorously.

Julian, Ransey and Hillyard came up the outside staircase from the garden, all of them hot and sweaty from working with the horses.

“How’s our little malingerer?” said Julian, patting Bardin’s hair.

“Looks as though Bengo’s caught it too”, said Ransey.

“I was just telling Bardy about some bad dreams I’ve had that’s all”, said Bengo “Our old landlord was trying to get me again. You don’t think it’s dark forces trying to mess with my brain do you?”

“Has he been talking to Kieran?” said Ransey, as though talking to Kieran was a sure-fire way of taking a shortcut to lunacy.

“Bengo, nothing is messing with your brain”, said Julian “You don’t have one to start with!”

Bengo got of the bed in a huff and stepped straight into the dustpan and brush. He picked it up and flounced out of the room. Bardin laughed so much he had a fit of coughing.

“Someone should go after him and see that he’s alright”, said Hillyard.

“Yes, preferably not you though!” said Julian.

He decided to go after Bengo himself, but in a somewhat leisurely fashion, perambulating slowly through the upstairs portion of the house. He saw Kieran sitting in his vestry, engrossed in a book, his blonde hair bathed in sunshine. On the opposite side of the corridor Brinslee was lying flat on his back, staring mournfully up at the ceiling.

“Good morning, Brinslee”, said Julian, giving a rap on the door with his cane in passing “Still loafing about I see!”

Julian went down the kitchen staircase, which halfway down split into two, one half coming out behind the stove in the kitchen, and the other half leading straight into the dining-room. He heard Bengo and Joby talking as they set the table for lunch, and hovered out of sight around the bend in the stairs, so that they couldn’t see him.

“The only time I really came close to being in danger from him”, Bengo was saying “Was one day when I was little and I was in the bathroom. I’d forgotten to bolt the door and he came in, and started saying things like how he’d like to get in the tub with me”.

“Yeah I can imagine it, the perverted old sod!” said Joby.

“Nothing happened though because Bardy came down to see what was keeping me”, said Bengo “He was really good at keeping an eye on me”.

“Must’ve been a full-time job!” said Joby.

Julian continued on down into the kitchen, feeling as shaken as Joby had sounded. Like Joby, it always appalled him when he heard some of the more sordid details of the clowns’ childhood. He realised how much he loved them when he thought about their past vulnerability at the hands of their ex-landlord. He felt as angry then as a real father would have done on hearing that his sons had come into contact with a notorious paedophile.

“He’ll be dead meat if I ever get my hands on him”, he said, as he marched through the kitchen.

“Who will, old love?” said Adam, but Julian had gone out through the back door.

Adam found him and caught up with him by the chicken-run.

“I would think it’s very unlikely he’s still alive”, said Adam, when Julian had told him what was on his mind “Not after all these years”.

“It’d be bloody lucky for him if he isn’t!” said Julian.

Adam noticed that Lonts and Toppy were watching them anxiously from the back door, and managed to coax Julian into a less volatile state of mind. Over lunch though Julian decreed that if Brinslee wanted any food he would have to come downstairs and join them at the dining-table.

“It’s not as if there’s anything wrong with his arms and legs”, he said “And he’s hardly likely to waste away in a hurry is he!”

All these sentiments were reinforced when Bardin managed to come down to lunch, and shouted at Bengo to sit down when his partner fussed about him being out of bed.

Nobody wanted Brinslee on his feet again more than Adam, who was finding the extra work in this heat almost unbearable. Unfortunately he sympathised wholly with Brinslee’s plight, and found it hard to get the right attitude of mind together to get him out of bed. In the event it was Brinslee himself who provided Adam with the impetus he needed to be ruthless.

Brinslee had managed to stagger across the upstairs corridor to Kieran’s Vestry at some point during the day for a one-to-one talk. Kieran had given him sympathy and understanding, and had told him about the time plague had broken out in the City, and he, as President, had felt heartbroken and frustrated at seeing so many of his people struck down by a dark force of nature.

When Brinslee had said that he wasn’t sure if he should ever go back to Port West, that perhaps it was time, after all these years, for a new Governor of the depleted colony, Kieran had said that that had to be his decision and his alone, and he must take time to consider it. Kieran had suggested the old Benedictine idea of spending a few days looking at the decision from one side, and then a few days looking at the decision from the other, and seeing at the end of it which one seemed right. All very sensible, but the fact was that Brinslee didn’t want his advice or his understanding, he wanted Kieran to tell him exactly what to do, and that had never been Kieran’s style, outside of the family group at any rate.

Brinslee made the mistake of telling all this to Adam, when Adam came upstairs with his afternoon tea. Adam could take criticism of Kieran about as well as he could take criticism of Lonts, i.e not at all.

They had Words, or rather Adam had words at Brinslee, leaving Brinslee possibly as shaken as he had been by all the earth tremors. A short while later Brinslee emerged from his room and nervously made his way downstairs. Julian and Bardin were talking in the library.

“You must take more care of yourself”, Julian was saying “One day you’re going to have to take over from me”.

“I thought I already had!” said Bardin, who was lying on the sofa.

“No I mean as the group’s father figure”, said Julian.

“We agreed that that should always be the next one in age”, said Bardin.

“Really it should be the Captain”, said Julian.

He turned and watched as Brinslee hovered around the doorway like a conspirator.

“Have you heard the news?” Brinslee whispered.

“Mafeking’s been relieved?!” said Julian.

“No …” Brinslee sidled into the room, casting a lascivious glance at Bardin, who pulled his dressing-gown closer around him “Me and Adam have had a row. I’ve never fallen out with him before, it’s terrible”.

“Adam has a filthy temper, but don’t let it worry you”, said Julian “When he’s calmed down he’ll be extremely contrite”.

“But I don’t want him to be contrite”, said Brinslee “It’s all my fault”.

Bardin gave a groan and announced that he was going up to bed after all.

“I think from what I’ve heard that Adam is just a bit annoyed that you expect Kieran to be able to live your life for you”, said Julian.

“I know, that was wrong of me”, said Brinslee “It’s just that lately I haven’t been able to think straight. One part of me keeps saying that I should go back to Port West, but I know I don’t really want to”.

“I should think not”, said Julian “You’re far too old to carry on being Governor. There comes a time when all us oldies have to make way for younger men”.

Brinslee thought this was sound advice, but a touch bizarre coming from a man who, these days, looked no older than thirty! To the dismay of the other Indigo-ites Brinslee said that he had found Julian’s straight-talking invaluable, a fact of which Julian reminded them at frequent intervals for the rest of the day.

The following morning Joby and Bengo went to the end of the garden to cut some rhubarb. Whilst working there they found under the soil an old metal trapdoor right up next to the crumbling garden wall, completely rusted over.

“It must connect with our cellar”, said Bengo.

“Calm down”, said Joby “It’s probably only an old drain cover or a sewage pipe”.

“We should go down and have a look”, said Bengo “We haven’t explored much of our cellar yet”.

“No, and with good reason too, particularly after what happened in the one in Aspiriola!” said Joby “There could be anything lurking down there”.

“Oh let’s look”, Bengo pleaded “We’ll be careful. We can take Mieps and Tamaz with us to be on the safe side”.

“I said no!” said Joby “Don’t go on about it anymore or I’ll give you a slap!”

Bengo sulkily helped him carry the rhubarb back to the house. The kitchen was deserted when they returned to it.

“Adam must’ve gone upstairs”, said Bengo “We could sneak down now”.

“What is the matter with you?” said Joby “You were born in this time, you should know it’s not safe to go poking around underground. You’re as bad as Tamaz you are when you get a fixation about something. There’s Bardin all laid up too. He ent gonna think much of the way I’ve kept an eye on you in his absence if I let you down in the cellar behind his back”.

“We’ve only ever seen the bit directly below the hall”, said Bengo.

“Right that’s my last word on the subject”, said Joby “Go and wait for me in the room behind the pantry. I’ll teach you a lesson you little scrote”.

When Joby got into the said room he found Bengo had pulled the wicker shutters together and taken off his pinny in anticipation.

“Have you been winding me up on purpose?” said Joby.

“No I really would like to see where the trapdoor comes from”, said Bengo.

“Itr’s not a trapdoor on a stage, Bengo”, said Joby “There could be anything down there”.

“Ooh don’t go all kind on me”, said Bengo, shaking his rear at Joby “Don’t you want to smack me? I’ve got a hard-on just waiting to burst and cover you in spunk”.

Such talk almost seemed even more obscene coming from the mouth of the childlike Bengo. But there was nothing childlike about the way he fully ejaculated over Joby’s lap a short time later. And Joby didn’t like to analyse what his feelings were when he disciplined Bengo. It certainly wasn’t just lust, but something rather more complex, an interweaving of all close human relationships.

“Have I got any clean shorts, Bardy?” Bengo said, a few minutes later, on appearing in the main bedroom upstairs “Adam sent me up to get changed”.

“I should think so!” said Bardin, looking him over majestically from the four-poster bed “Try looking in the chest-of-drawers. You’d better wash yourself whilst you’re about it”.

“Joby’s just as bad, but he’s getting changed in the laundry-room”, said Bengo, shimmying out of his soiled shorts “I think he was too embarrassed to see you”.

“Why?” said Bardin “If he’s walloped you he must be doing a good job. What have you been naughty at?”

“N-nothing really”, Bengo stammered. He hadn’t foreseen that he would have to explain to Bardin exactly why he’d been spanked so thoroughly.

Bardin lowered the book he’d been reading and stared at Bengo in an intimidating way.

“I-I dropped some carrots on the floor”, said Bengo.

“Don’t lie Bengo, you’re no bloody good at it!” said Bardin.

Bengo nervously explained about what they’d found in the rhubarb patch.

“And I suppose you were gonna set off on this little subterranean expedition without telling me?” said Bardin.

“I hadn’t thought that far ahead”, said Bengo “I was still trying to persuade Joby!”

Bardin reached over and yanked him towards him by his t-shirt.

“You do not go anywhere near that cellar until I’m completely better, is that understood?” said Bardin.

“Y-yes”, said Bengo.

“Good”, said Bardin, releasing him “Now go and fetch me a cup of tea”.

Joby brought it up to him a few minutes later, and Bardin thanked him for keeping a rein on Bengo.

“I don’t think he was really that bothered about going down there”, said Joby “I think he was more interested in winding me up so that he could get his bum smacked actually! Sometimes he’s as bad as Kieran!”

On glancing out of the window Joby saw Kieran and Hillyard heading up to the garden wall, in a suspiciously purposeful manner. Hillyard was carrying a jemmy. Joby gave a cry of extreme annoyance and ran down the outside steps that led from the bedroom to the garden.

“Oi!” he yelled “Oi! Why can’t you ever leave things alone you scrawny little scrote? You’re always meddling!”

Kieran squinted at him in the hot sunshine.

“We just want to see if we can get it open”, he said.

“There might be anything down there”, said Hillyard “Like buried treasure perhaps”.

“What the hell do you need with buried treasure?” said Joby “That’s just being plain greedy that is!”

“I can help you get it up, Hillyard”, said Lonts, ambling towards them.

“No you won’t”, said Joby “You’re gonna get back in the house”.

“But I don’t want to go back into the house”, said Lonts, his bottom lip beginning to tremble with emotion “I want to see what’s in the drain”.

“There’s nothing in the drain, now get back into the house!” said Joby, herding him and Kieran back across the lawn.

Hillyard was left standing by the rusty drain-cover, clutching the jemmy rather spuriously.

“I spose everyone’s gonna think now that I’m going off my head!” said Joby, storming into the kitchen.

“Well you are giving a very good impression of it, old love”, said Adam.

Joby made for the dining-room door. Bengo had been standing on his head next to it, and only scrambled out of the way in time. Kieran pursued Joby up the back stairs, caught up with him at the top and persuaded him to come into his Vestry with him.

“I’ve got some brandy in here somewhere”, said Kieran, after settling him in an armchair.

“I bet you have”, said Joby “I bet you’ve got a case of it hidden away!”

Kieran poured out a glass and held Joby whilst he drank it.

“I think you’ve really upset poor wee Lonts”, said Kieran, eventually.

“It won’t do him any harm”, Joby glowered.

“He’s only a baby”, said Kieran “I know he’s a strapping great lad, but he gets scared when people shout like that. And he worships you”.

“Yeah alright alright don’t rub it in”, said Joby “I’ll go and speak to him later”.

Kieran kissed and soothed him for several minutes.

“What’s going on?” said Tamaz, standing in the doorway.

“The heat’s getting to Joby”, said Kieran “And he’s been working too hard”.

“Where have you been all morning anyway?” said Joby “I haven’t seen you”.

“Around”, said Tamaz.

“Around where?” said Joby.

“Up in the attic with Mieps”, said Tamaz, pattering into the room.

“Bit hot up there weren’t it?” said Joby.

“That’s why we’ve just come down”, said Tamaz.

“I’ve brought you up a cup of tea”, said Rumble, approaching Bardin, who was still sitting perplexed in the four-poster.

“I’m gonna have tea coming out of my ears soon”, said Bardin, taking the cup anyway “What’s all the shouting about? I can hear it going on all over the place”.

“The controversy of the rusty drain cover rages on”, said Rumble, reclining next to him “Our nerves must be in a bad way for a manhole cover to cause so much upset!”

“Everything’s connected to below ground that’s why”, said Bardin “Most of the bizarre things that have happened in the past year that is. Aspiriola, the Big House…”

“I never want to see that damn place again!” said Rumble “We’re never likely to have to go back there are we?”

“It would prove something if I did go back there”, said Bardin, as though talking to himself.

“Like what?” Rumble exclaimed “That you’re raving mad?!”

“I’ve never proved myself the way the others have”, said Bardin “Like they did in the old Winter Palace days”.

“Julian was Captain before you”, said Rumble “And he’s never been anywhere near the Winter Palace”.

“No but he was in charge of sailing the old Indigo round the Horn of Wonder”, said Bardin “And he and Finia lived out in the jungle when Father Gabriel’s zombies were at large. I haven’t proved anything, except that I’m a clown, I can amuse people for a few minutes at a time”.

“And you think just anybody can do that?” said Rumble “You think by going back to some giant mausoleum where some demonic being’s running around slicing off people’s heads that you’re gonna prove anything, eh?”

Rumble jumped off the bed like an indignant cat.

“You know”, he said, on his way to the door “I always felt sorry for you having to put up with Bengo, ‘cos he’s irrational, but just sometimes I feel sorry for him having to put up with you, ‘cos you’re stupid!”

Bardin poked his tongue out at him after Rumble had slammed the door, and then thumped his pillow soundly before lying down again. He realised he had been lying there for some considerable while, and the house had gone very quiet. What was even more peculiar was that he was certain it must be getting on for lunchtime, and no one had been heard mentioning the fact, which was very odd indeed.

He put on his short silk bath-robe and crept cautiously along the landing to the top of the marble staircase. He heard the distant muffle of voices and sprinted down to the hall, where a large square hole had appeared in the floor. Everyone else it seemed (apart from Brinslee, who had gone across the river to have lunch with the Arch-Patrer) had gone down into the cellar. He could hear the sound of subterranean voices and heavy objects being pulled about.

Standing at the top of the cellar steps Bardin had what amounted to a tantrum, ringing the hand-bell which was kept on the hall mantelpiece, and screaming about being ignored.

“Don’t come down, old love”, said Adam, peering up at him out of the lamp-lit gloom “It’s dreadfully damp and musty down here, it won’t do your cold any good”.

“We won’t be long, Bardy”, said Bengo “We think we’ve found a door”.

“Bengo, get up here, NOW!” Bardin shrieked.

Bengo gave a moan and a sigh, like a little boy being hauled in from play for an early night. He followed Bardin into the laundry-room, where Bardin tipped up the linen-basket looking for a shirt and trousers of his own to put on. He had no intention of wafting around the cellar in a silk robe and a pair of flimsy cotton undershorts.

“How dare they!” he was squealing, as he got dressed “Nobody bothers to come and tell me what’s going on do they! Oh no! This has really made me aware of how I’m regarded as Captain!”

“Oh Bardy, that’s really stupid”, said Bengo “We all just decided to do it on the spur of the moment. It was Julian and Ransey’s idea really, they said no one would rest happy until we’d looked. We didn’t come up to see you because we thought you might be asleep”.

“You were hoping you mean!” said Bardin.

Bengo trailed him back into the hall, but he blatantly ignored Bardin’s order to “stay up here and don’t budge an inch”. Bardin pushed his way through the throng in the cellar. Kieran and Finia were standing in front of an iron door, which was covered in a sheen of cobwebs, and with two iron bolts firmly rusted into place. They were trying to decipher some symbols that had been crudely etched onto the door. Kieran had a feeling they might be voodoo symbols, but Finia so far didn’t recognise them as such.

“We’ll never get these bolts undone”, said Hillyard “Not in a hurry anyway”.

It was palpable that everyone felt uneasy at what might or could have been lurking behind the door. They all decamped from the cellar to the library in a subdued mood, except Bardin that is, who threw yet another tantrum and stormed upstairs. Bengo scurried after him.

“I’ll go too”, said Julian “Meanwhile you lot get on with some lunch. It’s way past time”.

Bengo was helping Bardin off with his clothes when they heard Julian shouting at someone on his way up the marble staircase.

“He’s gonna be real mad at you, Bardy”, said Bengo, pushing him back onto the bed and under the covers “Perhaps you should pretend you’ve had a relapse, or … or make out that you were delirious downstairs”.

“Bengo”, Bardin sighed, falling back against the pillows “I’ve had a cold, not typhus! I don’t think he’s gonna buy the delirium theory somehow!”

“Oh you think you’re so smart don’t you!” said Bengo “You weren’t very smart downstairs, shouting at everybody like that. Just because we didn’t come upstairs and consult The Great One first!”

“Well I hope you’re happy now”, said Bardin “Finding weird things in the cellar. I hope you feel you’ve really proved something”.

“There are weird things all around this area”, said Julian, coming into the room “We knew that before we moved in here. Now I know you didn’t have those little fits downstairs out of fear, but out of sheer ego”.

“I thought that was a requisite of being Captain”, Bardin snapped.

“BARDIN!” Bengo yelled, standing there clenching his fists and sounding about as angry as anyone had ever heard him.

Julian noticed that Bardin closed his eyes and visibly tensed as though he was about to be hit with a custard pie! Julian assumed this must be some innate reflex action that all clowns possessed! Bengo meanwhile stamped purposefully out of the room.

“It’s quite an event to see the little fellow so upset isn’t it?” said Julian, walking round the foot of the bed and sitting down next to Bardin “Has he ever shouted at you like that before? In quite that forceful way I mean?”

“Yes”, Bardin mumbled “Except when we were kids it used to come out more as a squeak”.

“I can imagine”, said Julian, and then he adopted a mock-humble attitude “I have a proposal, of course that is if you don’t mind, I mean I wouldn’t want to presume on your Captainly authority”.

“You should have been on the stage, Julian”, said Bardin “Anybody who didn’t know you might even be fooled!”

“I suggest we go up to the clearing for a few days”, said Julian “Get away from that infernal hammering over the river. We’ll still have to come down here to check on the animals, but I think a touch of the Robinson Crusoe lifestyle wouldn’t do any of us any harm”.

“And I expect the sloop could do with some care and attention”, said Bardin.

“Quite”, said Julian “But not with you and Bengo on it. My further suggestion is that you two spend a couple of nights over at the old lighthouse. A sort of belated honeymoon. Just the two of you”.

“You want some pace and quiet, is that it?” said Bardin.

“I’d have to get rid of more than you and Bengo to achieve that!” said Julian “I shall not enjoy having you out of my sight at all, but I think, after everything that’s happened of late, you both could do with a little space together”.

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