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By Sarah Hapgood


Bardin had been sitting on the communal bunk for some while, waiting for Bengo to speak. Bengo though was absorbed in cutting Bardin’s toe-nails, and was concentrating, his tongue sticking out of the corner of his mouth. Bardin had to wait with subdued impatience until Bengo had finished this engrossing task.

“There, you should look quite presentable now”, said Bengo “You might even like to come outside and join us in the dunes. Or are you gonna stay and sulk down here like you have done all the trip so far?”

“I’m not sulking”, said Bardin.

“Yes you are”, said Bengo “I suppose it’s never occurred to you that one of the reasons you weren’t allowed to go to Krindei was that the Church might take you as a hostage to get Kieran to go to them? It’s just the sort of weasly, underhand thing they could do”.

“How did you get to work all that out?” Bardin snapped.

“Because whilst you have been SULKING down here I’ve been talking with Adam, Julian and Ransey. And they told me all the dangers there were in you going to Krindei, and as you won’t think of your own safety, you might at least think of Kieran’s”.

Bardin stuck his bottom lip out, unconsciously imitating Lonts when he had been told off. Bengo picked Bardin’s cap from out of the rubble on the desk and ceremoniously held it out to him.

The clowns went up to the forward deck, where Finia was doing some muscle-toning exercises, watched with withering disdain by Tamaz.

“Old Flat-Cap’s appeared”, said Tamaz.

Finia looked round.

“I hope you haven’t been thinking up anymore ideas”, he said.

“No”, Bardin mumbled.

“Good”, said Finia “’Cos that last one was bilge!”

Everyone else was on the beach, where they had put up a couple of tents to serve as temporary shelter against the searing glare of the sun. Bardin dived into the nearest one as though he was suffering from acute shyness.

“Gawd, it’s like living with Howard Hughes”, said Joby “Chuckles the Clown, a laugh a week … if you’re lucky!”

“I thought you lot were going for a walk?” said Adam.

“Yeah alright!” said Joby.

Adam went into the tent, where Bardin had peeled off his singlet and was using it as a pillow.

“Finia said my idea was bilge”, he mumbled.

“Finia can have rather an abrasive tongue sometimes”, said Adam, crouching down on his haunches next to him “Perhaps you should be grateful he never became a theatre critic!”

Bardin managed an involuntary laugh.

“You really have got to put all this behind you, Bardin”, said Adam “It’s not worth all this angst and breast-beating. Lo-Lo wants to organise a cricket-match later and you’re the best over-arm bowler we’ve got!”

“Bardy doesn’t like it when I act clever, it annoys him”, said Bengo, walking with Julian, Hillyard, Joby and Kieran over the top of the dunes. Mieps was following on a short way behind.

“Don’t worry, it doesn’t happen very often”, said Joby.

“I would have thought that a lifetime spent in showbusiness would be enough to give anyone a thick skin”, said Julian.

“Yeah, but being on the receiving end of all those custard pies would be enough to dent anyone’s confidence!” said Joby.

“Bardy’s tough, but he’s also temperamental”, said Bengo “But then I guess we all are really”.

“We’ll have to slow down a bit”, said Julian “Mieps is having trouble keeping up, aren’t you, Girly?”

Mieps hissed irritably in reply.

“Do you want a piggy-back, Mieps?” said Hillyard, who was ambling along with his hands in his pockets as though he was on a hard flat road.

“I can manage!” Mieps exclaimed.

“We should make allowances for having a woman in our midst I suppose”, said Julian.

Mieps used his walking-stick to whack Julian across the behind.

“Have we actually decided where we’re going on this walk?” said Kieran, who was carrying the water-bottles “Only as far as I can see we could be setting out across the Sahara!”

Everything they could see was silvery-grey, apart from the sky which was pure blue. Like a great salt-plain the silvery sand stretched out towards the horizon, completely unbroken. The loneliness and desolation of it got to Bengo, who announced that he was going back to check on Bardin.

“Jolly good idea”, said Julian, after Bengo had gone “Bardin’s starting to worry me considerably. He seems to be turning into Captain Ahab, and seeing the giant worm as Moby Dick!”

“He’s got it into his head that he’s gotta prove something”, said Joby “Don’t ask me why!”

In spite of Adam’s best endeavours Bardin still continued to be in a moody frame of mind. He had gone back onto the sloop, and when Bengo returned he found him sitting at the desk in the cabin, staring blankly at the window. He turned sharply when Bengo came in.

“For someone who promised to obey me completely when we got married you haven’t been doing much of a good job of it lately!” he said.

“I want to obey you, Bardy”, said Bengo “But not when you’re behaving like a total pillock”.

Bengo sank to his knees and buried his face in Bardin’s thigh. He began to cry which thoroughly undid Bardin’s frosty demeanour.

“Bengo, don’t”, he pleaded “I’m sorry I’ve behaved like a jerk, I didn’t want to upset you, but I feel … it’s just I feel I haven’t done anything to deserve being called Captain. I haven’t vanquished anything for a start”.

Bengo raised his teary little face to look up at him. He wore almost the same expression he had as a little boy when they had first teamed up together, and Bardin had clouted him in the face with a custard pie for the first time. Bengo had certainly known it was coming, it was part of the script, and yet he had still looked at Bardin with abject hurt and betrayal. Bengo had run to their dressing-room afterwards screaming “don’t talk to me, don’t touch me!” “You knew that was gonna happen”, Bardin had said, when he had finally been allowed to get close to him “So why all this carry-on?” “I hadn’t expected you to do it so well”, Bengo had sniffed “As if you really meant it”. “It’s your own fault”, Bardin had muttered, grumpily “For having such a cute little face!”

“Bengo, please don’t look at me like that”, Bardin said, in the here and now “I can’t hack it when you look at me like that”.

He coaxed Bengo up onto his knee, and held his plump little body close to him.

“I don’t wanna go chasing monsters, Bardy”, he said, sobbing into Bardin’s shoulders “I thought you’d be happy with us just being together”.

“Oh I am”, said Bardin, with a heartfelt sigh “I am. But I got this stupid notion in my head that everyone was just humouring me at being Captain. I haven’t proved myself in any way. I haven’t vanquished anything. And remember at Sade’s place, Rumble punching me because I’d cocked things up”.

“No, it was the pressure getting to him that’s all”, said Bengo “He thought we were gonna be stuck there. We were all afraid of that. He has a lot of respect for you. If he hadn’t he couldn’t put up with you shouting all over the place like you sometimes do! We’ve had such hard lives, Bardy, we had to work and work and work. Why can’t we just live for the present?”

“We can”, Bardin tried to reassure him “I was so happy at the old lighthouse, but then that thing, worm, came, and all I could think of was getting out of there, like a great cowardly, yellow jerk”.

“No”, said Bengo “That was being sensible! Do you really think anybody else would have done it any differently? You’re so damn hard on yourself”.

“And on you”, said Bardin.

He recalled his lack of sympathy to Bengo over the first custard pie incident. “I’m gonna be clouting you in the face with them everyday now for the rest of our lives, until the day we die, so you’d better get used to it”. (I was only seven, thought Bardin, kids are hard little shits at that age. Well at least I was anyway … on the surface). “Can’t I hit you occasionally?” Bengo had asked, rather plaintively. “Sometimes”, Bardin had grudgingly conceded “It depends what’s called for”.

Bengo had got his revenge soon afterwards. They were doing a sketch, a three-hander, with Mutton Broth, one of the enemy clowns in Hal’s gang. Bengo was supposed to sock Mutton Broth with a custard pie during the course of it, but had ingeniously wheeled round and hit Bardin instead, giving him a faceful of the gunk. Bardin had chased him round the stage (much to the enjoyment of the audience), seized him round the waist and carried him into the wings. After dumping him there, he had gone back onto the stage and pushed Mutton Broth headfirst into a bowl of green slime.

Meanwhile, Bengo had scooted down the corridor to their dressing-room, but en-route had grabbed another custard pie from the props table. He had hid behind their dressing-room door and hit Bardin with it as he came in. Bardin had picked him up, placed him over his knee, and then squirted the contents of a make-up remover bottle down the back of Bengo’s trousers. When it was all sufficiently squishy he had smacked Bengo’s posterior very hard a few times to make sure it was all as squelchy as it could be.

They had been called in for a routine chat with Ully soon after. Bardin had hastily wiped his face with a towel, but Bengo hadn’t had time to change his trousers, and squirmed from foot-to-foot in Ully’s room.

“I’ve got messy trousers”, Bengo had said.

“Bardin, I rely on you to make sure he goes when he has to”, said Ully.

“No, not messy like that”, said Bardin, and he explained about what had happened.

“Well I’m pleased you both enjoy your vocation so much”, said Ully “But do try and limit your slapstick activities to the stage boys, or my overheads will go through the roof!”

“I thought you might be able to talk to Bardin, Ransey”, said Adam, sitting with the said man up on the poop-deck “I often think he takes after you in many ways. You are both so orderly and … well it must be said I’m afraid, both naturally grouchy”.

“Which is why I’m liable to tell him to stop being such a bloody little fool”, said Ransey, sitting in the neighbouring deckchair “Evil comes to us unbidden enough times without us going looking for it. You’d think he might have learnt that by now! I blame Julian and all those whippings he’s given him. All they’ve done is to make Bardin crave constant excitement all the time”.

“What utter nonsense!” said Adam “The whippings calm Bardin down. He finds them good for releasing tension”.

“They also get him over-stimulated”, said Ransey.

“I still wish you’d speak to him”, said Adam.

“No need for such drastic measures, dear heart”, said Julian, galloping up the few steps to the poop-deck “I’ve just peeked round the cabin door, and a more peaceful, tranquil scene of domestic love you couldn’t hope to see. Bengo on Bardin’s lap, and Bardin’s face wreathed in a positively beatific smile. Does the old heart good to see it and no mistake!”

“Ransey thinks Bardin is over-stimulated by your whippings, old love”, said Adam.

“I bet!” said Julian “I can almost imagine him slobbering at the mouth as he said it!”

“Perhaps you should go down and say a few stern improving words to Bardin, Ransey”, said Adam.

“No I’ll leave him in peace for the moment”, said Ransey.

“Oh you soft-hearted old thing!” said Adam.

Back at the Bay a couple of days later Bardin and Rumble went collecting firewood in the forest, to feed the ever-hungry kitchen stove. They found themselves by the White House of Time.

“That place gives me the creeps just to look at it”, said Rumble “I swear it gives off some kind of aura sometimes. I’m surprised that in your never-ending quest for adventure you haven’t wanted to go back inside and explore it more thoroughly”.

“No I’ve promised Bengo I won’t go chasing all that rubbish again”, said Bardin “Not if I can help it. I don’t know what came over me with all that. Perhaps I’m at a funny age”.

“You always were!” said Rumble.

“I think part of it was that I was trying to justify the great masterful image he had of me”, said Bardin “That I was worthy of it”.

“Which is crazy”, said Rumble “When you consider that all he wants is for you to tell him what to do!”

They got back to Midnight Castle to find Joby and Lonts feeding the chickens in the run with the mashed-up insides of coconuts.

“The Time-House reminds me of the Winter Palace”, said Lonts, when Bardin and Rumble had told them where they’d been on their walk “Except it’s not on a swamp of course”.

“Can you remember much of the Winter Palace, Lonts?” said Bardin.

“Only a bit”, said Lonts “I was possessed by Krik most of the time you see”.

The two clowns went into the house, and Joby said he was going to sit on the bench in the garden for a little while.

“Would you like me to sit with you, Joby?” said Lonts.

“No I’ll be alright”, said Joby “Just a bit tired that’s all. You go and talk to Adam”.

Joby went and sat on the bench in the hot sunshine. He had fallen asleep when Kieran came upon him a few minutes later, with his head slumped forward as though he had suddenly passed out.

Kieran panicked. Coming up on his old friend suddenly in the garden like that, it looked as though Joby had died. Kieran ran over to him, feeling consumed by a chest-restricting sense of panic.

“Hey, what did you wake me up like that for?” said Joby “You could’ve given me a fucking heart-attack!”

“That’s exactly what I’d thought you’d had!” said Kieran, sitting down next to him on the bench “Shit, you didn’t half give me a focking turn!”

“I’m tired that’s all”, said Joby “I didn’t sleep very well last night. I had a really horrible dream. I dreamt my body had started rotting. Christ, it unsettled me, and don’t start thinking that that’s significant of anything ‘cos it’s not. Just a bad dream, nothing else”.

“O.K”, said Kieran, still trying to cope with the palpable fright he’d just endured.

“Bardin’s on about the Winter Palace again”, said Joby “I dunno why he’s so fascinated with that place. I remember it as being cold, dark and frightening. If I didn’t know better I’d have sworn it was Hell!”

“I thought he was getting over all that rubbish”, said Kieran.

“Oh I think he is”, said Joby “But he’s still interested. Which is all very well but I don’t like go quizzing the baby about it”.

“I don’t expect Lonts can remember much”, said Kieran “He was out of it for most of our holiday there. Anyway, he’s quite cool about all that these days. It’s so long ago it must feel like another lifetime to him”.

“Bardin going to the Winter Palace would be as daft as you going to Krindei at the moment”, said Joby.

“If it was to protect you or any of the others I would go and offer meself to them as a sacrifice”, said Kieran.

“Oh yeah, you’d love that wouldn’t you!” said Joby “St Kieran the Martyr. I can just see you carrying a big cross through the streets of Krindei, wearing a crown of thorns”.

“Joby …” said Kieran.

“No I won’t shut up”, said Joby “What a lot of bloody rubbish you do talk sometimes, Kieran! Well I ent gonna sit here and listen to it. I’m going back to the kitchen. Lonts, Bengo and Hoowie are in there, and at the moment they’d all make more sense than you do!”

Kieran knew that he had annoyed and angered Joby with his dramatic remark, and that it would take some while to placate him. Kieran went up to the attic bedroom and flogged himself with his little whip.

“Of course it stings”, said Joby, as he delicately dabbed cream on Kieran’s shoulders some time later “What do you expect when you hit yourself with that thing? I thought the whole point of it was that you weren’t supposed to hit yourself too hard?”

“It’s easy to get carried away though”, said Kieran, wincing “I was mortified ‘cos I’d upset you by flaunting me own ego so outrageously. You know what it feels like when you know you’ve upset someone with your own foolish words”.

“Yeah I do”, said Joby “But I don’t go hitting meself do I! There, that’s enough for now. I’ll put some more on later”.

Kieran gently pulled his shirt back round his shoulders.

“Now you’d better come down to the kitchen and show Adam you haven’t gone completely off your head”, said Joby “Not yet anyway!”

They left the humid and stuffy attic bedroom, and attempted to find their way down the twisting, narrow stairs which connected the attic floor with the bedroom floor.

“It’s so dark, you could break your neck here”, said Kieran “We need to put a light up on the stairway”.

“Be a bit difficult when we haven’t got any electricity”, Joby grunted, following him down.

“No, I mean a candle-holder on the wall”, said Kieran.

“We might forget it was there”, said Joby “And leave it unattended. It unnerves me sometimes, all these naked flames we have burning all over the house”.

“Ach we’re pretty careful”, said Kieran.

The kitchen was a welcome oasis of light and noise when they got down to it, although Joby wasn’t allowed to linger in there for long, as Adam ordered him across the river to reclaim his bread-making book from the monks. Adam knew they wouldn’t fob the great Mr Joby off with any excuses. Even so, Joby went with bad grace.

The monks had set up a temporary canteen in a large canvas tent to the side of the field, which now looked like a large builders’ yard.

“Bread-making book”, said Joby, to the little bespectacled monk in charge of the canteen “We want it back”.

“I’ll go and find it, Mr Joby”, the monk scampered away.

“Don’t be all day about it!” said Joby, as Nola was also in the tent and he didn’t want to spend much (or any) time with her.

Nola was wearing a man’s winter dressing-gown, which looked far too hot for this heat. Her dark hair hung over her face, obscuring all but one rather baleful eye. Joby noticed she was limping.

“Hurt your foot?” he said.

“I stumbled in the field”, she replied.

“Yeah, you have to watch it round here”, said Joby, although he really couldn’t have cared less if Nola had broken her neck! Not after all the trouble she had given Kieran.

“It must get very hard for you”, said Nola.

“What do you mean?” Joby exclaimed.

“Not having any women over there”, she said.

(Oh she’s not trying that one again! Thought Joby, some people never learn!)

“What’s so bloody marvellous about living with women!” said Joby, and was surprised to find how much he meant it.

“You’re a misogynist”, said Nola.

“Too right”, said Joby “Must have been my mother’s influence!”

The little monk returned with the book.

“You took your bleedin’ time!” said Joby.

As he returned across the field he realised he wasn’t at all upset at being called a misogynist. Perhaps he had got past being upset at having the truth flung at him. It made too much sense anyway. It explained why, very fond though he was of Glynis, he had never been particularly attracted to her. Why he hadn’t wanted to get too close and intense with someone who was so obviously all-woman. And why he vastly preferred Tamaz’s unorthodox charms.

“I knew you’d be able to get it back, Joby”, said Adam, back at the Castle “I’ve been dropping polite hints for some time and to no avail”.

“I’m gonna lie down for a minute”, said Joby “Got a headache. Must be the sun”.

(Or being in Nola’s presence, he thought).

Kieran left him for about half-an-hour, only going in once to remove his pinny from him. When he went in again Joby was waking up from a short but deep sleep.

“Cup of tea”, said Kieran, holding out the cup to him.

“Gawd, thanks, I need it”, said Joby, taking the cup “I had a really shitty dream. It won’t sound bad to describe it, but it gave me the creeps. You were in it”.

“Thanks!” said Kieran.

“We were in some really grim sort-of institutional building”, said Joby “I kept trying to be alone with you, but every room we went in had some bloody woman whingeing in it about summat! Then one got out a map, unrolled it, and pointed at the Arctic, and said ‘that’s where you’re gonna have to go to get away’”.

“I hope not!” said Kieran.

“So do I”, said Joby “I don’t fancy wearing thermal undies again!”

“Anyway it’d be no good going all the way up there”, said Kieran “My Church’d still be able to track us down, even up there, if they were that determined”.

“Tamaz back yet?” said Joby. Tamaz had been out hunting in the forest with Mieps and Hillyard.

“Yeah, he was a wee bit concerned to hear you’d taken to bed”, said Kieran.

“So concerned he obviously dashed straight in here to see me!” said Joby.

“He’s busy bragging to the others at the moment about how many cute bunnies he’s just slaughtered”, said Kieran.

“Kiel, I was such a fool when I spoke to Nola”, said Joby, looking stricken “What if she tells the outside world about me admitting to being a misogynist?”

“I thought you’ve never cared what the outside world thinks of you”, said Kieran.

“I don’t”, said Joby “But your Church might use it as a stick to bash you with. You know, closest friend of the Vanquisher admits to being a woman-hater. Shit! The damage that could do to your image!”

Joby got quite distressed about this. Kieran crouched over him, dabbing at his tears with a handkerchief as though he was staunching a wound. He also made soothing noises.

After some while the door opened and Tamaz pattered softly into the room like a cat. He had got changed in the larder, out of his grass-stained clothes and into a clean white camisole and a newly-pressed pair of faded blue jeans. He looked like a slightly tomboyish 15-year-old girl.

“You’re being silly”, he said, looking down at Joby “If people start being troublesome like that we simply shan’t go out into the outside world”.

“How did you know …?” said Joby “Oh don’t tell me … Toppy. Listening at bloody doors again! One day I’m gonna stick summat sharp in his ear, or somewhere else if he ent careful!”

“I’m glad he does”, said Tamaz “Or you would keep everything from me”.

“Chance’d be a fine thing!” said Joby.

Lonts looked cautiously round the door, holding out Snowy like a hostage.

“Joby”, he said “Would you like Snowy to keep you company?”

“I’m sure he’d much rather be with you”, said Joby “I know I would if I was him!”

Joby climbed wearily off the bed.

“I’d better go and show meself”, he said “Otherwise everyone’s gonna think I’ve gone off me head!”

“Why can’t everyone outside leave us alone?” Bengo was saying plaintively in the kitchen, as he swept up some crumbs on the floor.

“Nothing’s happened yet”, said Joby, causing Bengo to jump and fall against the dresser “See!” Joby pointed accusingly at Toppy “This is how rumours start you know. Somebody says one thing, and before you know it it’s all got blown out of all proportion”.

“You were very upset, Joby”, Lonts boomed.

“That was between me and Kieran!” said Joby, embarrassed that his outburst of unbridled emotion now seemed to be common knowledge “Nobody’s allowed any private moments in this house. It’s like living in a fucking loony bin!”

“Well you should feel right at home then, old love!” said Adam.

His conversation with Nola haunted Joby for several days. He was convinced that she would immediately wire the Global News Agency, who would in turn announce to the world that the Vanquisher’s oldest and closest friend was a self-confessed woman-hater. This thought plunged Joby into periodic bouts of melancholia, when he would retreat to the room behind the pantry, lie on the bed, and stare at the ceiling. Adam rather caustically noted that these moods often seemed to come on him when particularly onerous jobs needed doing in the kitchen! Nevertheless though, Joby’s concern was very real, and he became obsessed even more than normal with thoughts of impending doom.

“Joby, I do wish you’d snap out of this, old love”, said Adam, one morning in the kitchen “That’s twice I’ve spoken to you now and you haven’t noticed”.

“Sorry”, Joby roused himself from his reverie at the kitchen sink “What did you say?”

“Bardin wants some coffee”, Adam had just been into the dining-room where Bardin was sitting magisterially at the table composing lists – what of, nobody was entirely sure.

“Alright, I’ll take him some through”, said Joby.

“No, he specifically wants Bengo to actually take it in”, said Adam.

“Well where is the little squirt?” said Joby, looking round him as though Bengo was a wallet he’d mislaid “I sent him along to the library with Julian’s coffee ages ago”.

“Go and find him”, Adam sighed.

Joby wasn’t surprised to find Bengo upended over Julian’s knee, being very harshly spanked, for no other reason than apparent pleasure.

“Oi!” Joby yelled “Bardin wants you to take his coffee into him. Now!”

Bengo scuttled into an upright position, and he joined Joby in the back corridor.

“You’re weird”, said Joby.

“So are you”, said Bengo.

“Don’t be cheeky”, said Joby “And find out what Bardin’s up to. If he’s planning another trip, give him a bloody good clout from me!”

“I am not planning another trip actually”, said Bardin to Bengo “Quite the opposite in fact. I’m thinking of ways to avoid another supply-run for a while, so that we don’t have to leave here. What makes him think I want to go away anymore than he does?”

“Oh all those daredevil adventures you’ve been saying you must do to prove yourself worthy of being Captain”, said Bengo, climbing up into the middle of the table and tucking his feet up underneath him.

“What took you so long to bring my coffee in?” Bardin snapped.

“Julian was punishing me”, said Bengo “For no reason at all, so don’t look all suspicious. He just did it for the hell of it”.

Bardin tried to look serious, but had to work dreadfully hard to conceal a laugh coming out of his mouth. Bengo plopped with remarkable agility onto his lap and sat astride him. He began to fiddle down the front of Bardin’s trousers.

“Bengo”, said Bardin, feeling an erection coming on with alarming speed.

“You just put yourself in my hands, Bardy”, said Bengo, kissing him tenderly on the cheeks.

“You’re supposed to do everything I say”, said Bardin.

“Only when I know you mean it”, said Bengo “And you don’t really want me to get off you”.

He gently but firmly moved Bardin’s penis to and fro. A whole horde of images flooded into Bardin’s mind. He imagined Bengo’s beautiful arse being smartly paddled under Julian’s hand. Then the scene swiftly changed to himself on the sloop at the sand dunes a few days before, being beaten by Bengo until he was stiff with soreness. The flood-gates opened and the sperm shot out. Bengo fished a handkerchief out from the front pocket of his pinny and tenderly wiped it, before tucking the tender organ back inside Bardin’s pants. Bardin felt utterly vanquished, spent, drained.

“Now you just sit there quietly, Bardy”, said Bengo, as though talking to a pet “And I’ll go and do some work in the kitchen”.

“That’ll make a bleedin’ change!” said Joby, who was sitting alone at the table, peeling potatoes.

“Where’s Adam?” said Bengo, joining him.

“Out in the garden somewhere”, said Joby.

“I’ve just had a thought”, said Bengo “It’ll stop you feeling unhappy”.

“Go on then, I’m desperate enough to try anything”, said Joby.

“Your worst fear at the moment is that the Church will come out here and arrest Kieran isn’t it?” said Bengo.

“Yes”, said Joby.

“Well they can’t”, said Bengo “You see they have no … oh what’s the word? They have no jurisdiction out here, nobody has”.

“Jurisdiction?” said Joby “Have you been reading a book again?”

“But they haven’t, Joby”, said Bengo “Nobody has any say out here, only the rules we make up, and they only apply to ourselves. Nobody owns this place, not even us. The Church might have a lot of say in Krindei or wherever, but not out here. They would hav no say at all if they came out hassling Kieran. Do you think that’s a good idea of mine?”

“It’s pretty good”, said Joby, giving him the most lavish praise he could think of “Not bad at all in fact. You know I often think that nobody could really be as daft as you make out you are sometimes. I think you’re probably pretty smart really, you just pretend to be dumb”.

“No I am dumb”, Bengo laughed “That’s why I panic when I’m given things to do sometimes”.

“That’s ‘cos you’ve had a bad education”, said Joby “I know what that’s like ‘cos it was my trouble. A bad education doesn’t give you any confidence to deal with things. Julian’s an arrogant sod because he had a good one, it convinced him he was the bee’s knees at everything. And your other trouble was that you always had Bardin to do your thinking for you, it made your brain lazy”.

“Even with a good education I’d have still been stupid though, Joby”, said Bengo “I mean Julian’s education can’t have only produced geniuses can it?”

“Hardly!” said Joby “Some had loads of confidence but no brain cells at all”.

“Well there you are then”, said Bengo “That would have been me”.

“Possibly”, said Joby “Although I still think your real problem is lazy brain cells not lack of ‘em. You had too many times in your childhood when Bardin told you there had never been anybody as stupid as you”.

“You’d have said exactly the same in his position”, Bengo smiled “I was so stupid at times I even amazed myself!”


The monks’ colony seemed to be coming along gradually, and although the Indigo-ites feared that there would never be an end to the infernal hammering, by the middle of August it was starting to look as though it was going to be a proper settlement at last. Brother Jerome, the Arch-Pater’s second-in-command, came over to the Castle to quiz various of the Indigo-ites on how they organised their own community, and what System they had. Which annoyed Julian and he retreated to the library, where he sat in his favourite armchair, supposedly reading a book, but really watching Rumble paint the front door.

Rumble had been wanting to do this for quite some time, and had finally unearthed some tins of blue paint in one of the outhouses. None of the other Indigo-ites had the heart to tell him that this particular colour reminded them of the Bone-House, and he set to work with a passion. He knew Julian was watching him covertly, and he found it rather entertaining. Julian had never given him any impression that he found Rumble sexual in any way up until now, and Rumble amused himself by titivating him in the most obvious manner, rubbing the handle of his paintbrush against his crotch, and pulling off his singlet to supposedly wring out the sweat.

A few feet away from him, on the riverside, Bengo was teaching Brother Ignatius the art of clowning. Brother Ignatius, an amiable if rather shy bespectacled little man, was a frustrated performer, and on the quiet he harboured fantasies of entertaining the other monks the way the clowns sometimes entertained the other Indigo-ites at Midnight Castle.

“You’ve gotta have more killer instinct”, said Bengo, when Brother Ignatius had refused to joke-wrestle him for a bottle of river-water, because he was afraid of hurting Bengo “A clown should be completely fearless when he performs. Not afraid to do anything to anyone. Everyone is fair game to a clown. That’s why we often have a sinister image, ‘cos we respect no one. Everyone else is there to be made a prat of. You have to be more ruthless. Here’s Bardy, he’ll give you some useful tips as well”.

Brother Ignatius was scared stiff of Bardin, whose fiercesome reputation exceeded the boundaries of showbusiness. Brother Ignatius knew that when it came to dealing with other performers, Bardin was like a stern Victorian hospital matron inspecting a ward. To make matters even more terrifying, Bardin was obviously today a little tipsy. Hillyard had just brewed up another batch of homemade beer, and Bardin had been helping him to “sample” it.

“I-I can’t”, Brother Ignatius quailed “N-no, I-I … no, no I can’t!”

“Bloody amateurs”, Bardin spat “You can’t choose who your audience is going to be made up of you know”.

“Don’t be so hard on him, Bardy”, said Bengo “Everyone has to start somewhere, and then they need encouragement”.

“But he doesn’t want to bloody start does he!” said Bardin.

“I-I must be getting along anyway”, said Brother Ignatius, retreating towards the bridge “Can I come and call on you again for instruction, Bengo?”

“Yes, anytime”, said Bengo “Apart from when I’m working in the kitchen of course, because I’m busy then”.

“Well that’s going to be very cosy isn’t it?” said Bardin, once Brother Ignatius had gone “A right little academy for clowns you’re starting up here!”

“He would probably have liked your help too, Bardy”, said Bengo “But you scared him too much. I wish you’d let people see your tender side more often”.

“But I don’t want to get tender with HIM!” said Bardin.

Bengo kicked him in annoyance, and then awkwardly slung him over his shoulder and carted him back into the house, accompanied by shouts from Rumble of “watch my door!” Bengo dumped his partner on the sofa in the library, and then went along to the kitchen to fetch him some black coffee.

In the kitchen Brother Jerome had departed, but he had left Ransey dangerously excited with his earnest talk of the “necessity for flow-diagrams to illustrate organisational structure”.

“We’ve got along very nicely without such hideous things up til now, Ransey”, said Adam.

“What’s a flow-diagram anyway?” said Bengo.

“Something men like Ransey get very excited about”, said Adam.

“You could do with one in here”, said Ransey, scanning the wall as though already looking for somewhere to pin this masterpiece.

“No we couldn’t!” said Adam “The organisational structure of this kitchen is very simple: everyone does as I say!”

“And what would happen if you fell ill?” said Ransey.

“Then Joby would be in charge”, said Adam.

“And if he fell ill at the same time as you?” said Ransey.

“What are you expecting, a bleedin’ smallpox epidemic!” said Joby.

“One can tie oneself up in knots with that kind of ‘what-if’ scenario, Ransey”, said Adam.

“If Joby fell ill as well then I would be in charge”, said Bengo.

“That don’t bear thinking about!” said Joby “In charge of who anyway?”

“Toppy”, said Lonts, who was sitting at the other end of the table.

“That would be good”, said Bengo.

“It’s not just the kitchen that needs organising”, Ransey continued afresh.

“It doesn’t need bloody organising I tell you!” said Adam.

“There’s the laundry too”, said Ransey, still unthwarted “O.K, Toppy does the ironing, and Finia does the mending, but the actual washing side of it all is often very slapdash”.

“I’m afraid that’s Patsy’ fault”, Adam sighed “That is supposed to be his department, but it’s often hard to actually pin him down to do anything. More often than not Mieps ends up doing it”.

“Mieps enjoys it”, said Bengo “I think it’s because turning the handle on the mangle makes him frisky!”

“If the laundry is bothering you so much, Ransey”, said Adam “Why don’t you do it yourself?”

“I have enough to do with maintenance work”, said Ransey “Hillyard and I are often rushed off our feet round here”.

“I never notice Hillyard rushing anywhere”, said Joby.

“No it’s usually more of a casual saunter isn’t it?” said Adam.

“And that’s the key to the whole problem”, said Ransey.

“What, Hillyard’s saunter?” said Adam.

“No, the unfair distribution of labour”, said Ransey “Some of us work bloody hard, others do hardly anything at all it seems”.

“Such as?” said Adam “Name names”.

“Tamaz”, said Ransey.

“Tamaz does work”, said Joby “He goes hunting a lot”.

“And no one else picks coconuts as well as Tamaz does”, Lonts pointed out.

“That’s true”, said Bengo “He shins up those trees better ‘en anybody. Even us clowns can’t do it as well as him”.

“You see”, said Adam to Ransey “That sort of valued little detail is never included in the sort of management organisational half-arsed nonsense you’re coming out with!”

Over the next few days Brother Ignatius’s presence became so ubiquitous that Bardin began to feel as though he had taken up permanent residence in their garden. Everytime Bardin went looking for Bengo, he found his partner absorbed in some fascinating discussion with the little monk.

Bengo tried to draw Bardin into these conversations, but instead Bardin would retreat to the bench in the middle of the lawn and glower at them from under his cap.

“You look even uglier when you frown”, said Tamaz, who this morning was also on the bench, making a necklace out of wild flowers.

“Everybody looks uglier when they frown”, said Bardin.

Tamaz put the finished flower garland round Bardin’s neck, but Bardin continued to look disgruntled, like a depressed flower child.

“I wish Bardy would come over and talk to you”, Bengo was saying “He could help you so much”.

“He’s too scary”, said Brother Ignatius “Doesn’t he ever scare you?”

“Often”, said Bengo “But he could help you better than anyone. He knows every clowning trick there is, and some others too. Once, when I was little, I had to sing in a sketch with the other clowns, which I really didn’t want to do. Bardy wasn’t to be in it, but he really helped me with my lousy singing, showing me breathing exercises and things”.

“Why didn’t you want to be in the sketch?” said Brother Ignatius.

“Because at the end the other bastard clowns had to pelt me with custard pies”, said Bengo “And they really enjoyed that! I was real upset when I heard about it, in tears and everything. But Bardy said you often have to do things you don’t want to do in showbusiness, and we mustn’t get a reputation for being picky and inflexible. He was right of course. He was really kind to me afterwards. He waited in the wings with a towel to clean me off, that gunk was all in my hair and everything. And he bought a tub of ice-cream on the way home and we ate it in bed. He said he was real proud of me”.

(Bengo spoke as though this had been the highlight of his entire childhood).

“You have to be a bit of a masochist really to be a clown”, said Bengo “Perhaps you don’t love humiliation enough!”

He looked over again at Bardin, who still refused to come over. Bengo was annoyed and alarmed that his little chats with Brother Ignatius should be causing such bad feeling. There was no ulterior motive whatsoever as far as Bengo was concerned. He simply enjoyed talking about the art of clowning. He would in fact have made a very good teacher, something which he would never have believed if he’d been told.

“I never knew your feet was so fascinating”, said Joby “You’ve been staring at ‘em for ages”.

Bengo had been standing on the other side of the kitchen, with his arms folded across his chest, staring down at his feet. When he looked up at Joby he was crying.

“Hey, ‘cmon”, said Joby “What’s the matter? Look at you, your face is all red. You keep crying like that and your eyes will get all gunged up”.

“Joby, I’ve really upset Bardy”, Bengo wailed.

“Oh that!” said Joby “Bardy needs a bloody good hiding if you ask me!”

“No you must understand, Joby”, said Bengo “Think what it would be like if Kieran had been talking to one of the monks for ages and ignoring you”.

“You haven’t be ignoring Bardin though”, said Joby “You kept inviting him to join in and the sulky little sod wouldn’t have it. I’m gonna go and find him and give him an earful”.

“Joby, don’t”, said Bengo “He might tell you to go away”.

“He won’t like my response if he does!” said Joby “You stay in here and get on with the vegetables. I dunno how long Adam’s gonna be, but when he gets back make it look like we’ve been working flat out”.

Joby located Bardin in the little wooden shed at the side of the kitchen garden, where Hillyard kept his brewing equipment. Bardin was sitting in there all alone, staring mournfully into a plastic cup of warm beer.

“Thought I might find you down our local!” said Joby, helping himself to a cup of the beer.

“Can’t a man have a drink in peace round here?” Bardin snapped.

“Don’t look like it does it!” said Joby, sitting down next to him “And don’t start getting all arsy with me. Bengo’s in floods of tears back at the house”.

“Why?” said Bardin.

“Why do you think!” Joby thundered.

“Oh he …”, Bardin looked as though he was about to cry himself “T-that boy can be such a moron sometimes”.

“Alright, don’t you start blubbing as well”, said Joby “God, you theatricals are so emotional all the time”.

“I’d hate to drive him away”, said Bardin, the flood-gates now well-opened “I remember he was so chilly and distant with me that time”.

“When?” said Joby, who couldn’t imagine Bengo being chilly and distant.

“When we met up again at the Little Theatre, when I first came to Toondor Lanpin”, said Bardin “He was almost formal with me”.

“He was probably scared you were gonna have a go at him, knowing Bengo!” said Joby.

“It’s a guilty conscience you see”, said Bardin, dabbing his eyes “Because of the way I’ve been lately”.

“Oh we’re back in the present day now are we?” said Joby.

“All that about me wanting to go off on some personal odyssey of adventure”, Bardin continued “It’s because of all the things that have happened in the past year. The Massacre up at the Big House, all of it still unsolved. The Watcher in the woods. The door in the cellar. The sea-monster. The trouble with Kieran’s Church. All of it. I feel I’m not doing anything to solve any of it”.

“No one’s expecting you to solve any of it”, said Joby “These days I just take it all as part of life. It can all rumble on in the background as far as I’m concerned. I’d rather do that than have Kieran going off vanquishing. I’d rather just leave it all be”.

“So would I”, said Bardin “But I feel as though something’s nagging at me”.

“It’s probably Angel, getting into your subconscious somehow and causing mischief”, said Joby “I wouldn’t put anything past him. Ignore him as much as you can. I for one don’t want anymore times like Albatross Island”.

“Albatross Island?” said Bardin.

“I always count that as one of the scariest things I’ve ever done”, said Joby “Me and Kieran creeping round those slimy passages, thinking the Gorgon would appear at any moment. That was too much that was. Believe me, you don’t wanna do something like that!”

“Let’s go back to the house”, said Bardin “Round up all the others and go upstairs. We haven’t done a gang-bang for a while”.

“No, it must be all of a fortnight since the last one!” said Joby “Adam and Julian aren’t around though, they’ve gone for a walk in the forest”.

“I expect they’ll catch up with us when they get back”, said Bardin.

“There is something both fascinating and repellent about that place”, said Adam, lying on his side and staring through the undergrowth at the distant blur of the White House of Time.

“Darling, shut up about it and roll over”, said Julian, who was playing playful pizzicato along Adam’s thigh with his fingers.

“I thought we came out here to talk about Bardin and all his current hang-ups”, said Adam.

“No need, I’ll just whip him sometime”, said Julian, pinning Adam down with his leg “That’s all he needs”.

“I think a light flogging round the shoulders with Patsy’s little whip would do wonders to release his tension”, said Adam.

“Are we allowed to borrow that sacred relic?” said Julian “He normally keeps it stowed away as though it was the Turin Shroud!”

“We’ll ask him nicely”, said Adam.

The Castle was deserted when they returned to it, with pans of potatoes lying abandoned in the middle of the kitchen table.

“The little rats”, said Adam “As soon as I turn my back they run off! It’s eerie like this, like stumbling onto the ‘Marie Celeste’”.

“I know where they all are”, said Julian, tugging him over to the stairs behind the stove “Come upstairs, you old shrew”.

“Bardin might get the wrong end of the stick, you being in here with me”, said Hillyard, sitting in one of the armchairs in Kieran’s Vestry, with Bengo kneeling beside him.

“Bardy’ll get the wrong end of the stick whatever I do”, said Bengo, who was sharing his brandy “He acted like a little kid over Brother Ignatius. It was stupid”.

“He’s frightened of losing you again”, said Hillyard “Can’t blame him for that. I lost you”.

“You never really had me, Hillyard”, Bengo pointed out, but good-naturedly “I would have always been too much trouble for you. I need Bardy with his obsessiveness”.

Joby led Kieran into the room on the dog-leash, although Kieran was walking upright. Both were naked, Kieran was sporting a black eye, but he didn’t seem too fussed about it. In fact he was very skittish, and tried to climb out of the window.

“Kieran, behave yourself!” said Joby, reeling him back in “It’s a long way down to the shrubbery”.

“That eye looks nasty”, said Hillyard, coming over with Bengo to join them on the windowseat.

“Looks worse than it is”, said Kieran “I guess that’s what you get for trying to get away from Julian!”

“Don’t show your monks that”, said Joby “They’ll never believe you really got it walking into a bedpost!”

“Why were you trying to get away from Julian?” said Hillyard.

“Didn’t want his great big cock inside me”, said Kieran “I doubt I’d survive!”

“That’s the best part of him!” said Hillyard.

“I’d prefer it if he paddled me instead”, said Kieran “Julian’s got to be one of the best there is when it comes to spanking”.

“Don’t say things like that when he’s in the building, it’ll only encourage him!” said Joby “He does quite enough of all that as it is!”

Bardin came into the room. He took in the scene with a leisurely and critical eye. The four of them sitting side-by-side on the windowseat. Two naked, Hillyard in his dressing-gown, and Bengo wearing only a shirt. Bardin was carrying a posy of wild flowers and a folded piece of paper.

“These were left on the windowseat in the hall”, he said “From Brother Ignatius at a rough guess”.

“Who for?” said Bengo.

“Who do you think!” said Bardin “And he’s put a little note with ‘em as well”.

“What does it say?” said Bengo.

“I don’t know, I don’t read other people’s love letters!” said Bardin.

“You must have amazing self-control in that case”, said Kieran.

Bengo gave a longsuffering sigh and took the note which Bardin kept thrusting at him rather aggressively.

“Oh Bardy, you ignoramus!” he exclaimed, when he had finished reading the note “The flowers are for you, not me! ‘Dear Bardin, these are a little peace offering, as I am truly sorry if my coming over to talk to Bengo has upset you in any way. Please accept my sincerest apologies, Brother Ignatius’”.

“Sweet”, Joby grunted.

“How was I to know the flowers were for me and not you?” said Bardin “Nobody’s ever given me flowers before have they! It was always you who got them, not me. One jerk once filled our whole dressing-room with ‘em!”

“Jaysus, nobody ever did that for me when I was President!” said Kieran.

“I bet that was exciting for you, Bengo”, said Hillyard.

“He was like a dog with two tails”, said Bardin “Ran into the room, yapping all over the place”.

Hillyard had a delightful image of Bengo running joyously around a flower-filled dressing-room.

“I wasn’t allowed to enjoy them for long though was I?” said Bengo “Guess who made me give the whole lot away to the hospital!”

“You didn’t?” said Joby, looking at Bardin.

“There would have been no point taking them home”, said Bardin “They would have only stunk our room out”.

“Did you ever meet this admirer?” said Joby.

“He was as I expected”, said Bardin “He appeared round the back after a show one day, a right greasy old sod. I heard him trying to make arrangements to take Bengo out”.

“Which I had no intention whatsoever of doing”, said Bengo “I know I’m stupid, but I’m not THAT stupid!”

“He said ‘no need to bring your ugly friend’”, said Bardin.

“Oh Bardy, he did not!” said Bengo “I’ve never heard anybody say that, except the other clowns, and I never took any notice of them. You were always imagining people saying that. If you were really ugly so many people wouldn’t find you sexy. Brinslee goes mad when he sees you, he can’t keep his hands off you”.

“Yeah but be fair, Brinslee can’t keep his hands off most people!” said Joby.

“I’m very glad you said that, Joby”, said Bengo “I was falling into the trap I always do, of massaging his ego”.

“I think I’ll rescue these”, said Hillyard, taking the much-reviled flowers from Bardin “And go and put ‘em in some water”.

After Hillyard had gone Bengo tore up the note into little pieces and then scattered them down the front of Bardin’s shorts. Bengo then left the room with a great deal of dignity.

That self-same evening the Indigo-ites were invited over the river, to join the monks in celebrating the completion of the first stage of the building works. The mention of this only being the end of the ‘first stage’ was more liable to provoke groans of dismay amongst the Indigo-ites than cheers, but they all trooped over the bridge nonetheless.

“I hope you gonna behave yourself this evening, Bardy”, said Bengo. He and his partner were the last ones to cross over, and in this short pocket of privacy Bengo was determined to give Bardin a few improving words.

“I’ll behave as I see fit”, said Bardin.

“Oh no you won’t”, said Bengo “You’re gonna behave as I see fit for a while! I’m gonna be the master for a little while, as you can’t seem to cope with anything at the moment! Of course you’ll still be overall Captain, as the others won’t want to put up with Captain Bengo”.

“I’m glad you’re leaving me with something!” Bardin snapped “And I CAN cope with things actually”.

“But you’re not, Bardy”, said Bengo “You need a little rest for a while, your brain must be overheating”.

“Well that’s not a problem you’re ever likely to have is it!” said Bardin “You can’t be the master, Bengo, you need me to make decisions for you otherwise you panic”.

“But you’re the one who’s been panicking lately, Bardy”, said Bengo “I’ve been getting very concerned about you”.

“Bardin”, Adam came over to them “Jules and I are having a little drink at the Arch-Pater’s table. We think as you’re Captain you should join us”.

Adam led Bardin away with a firm grip on his arm, in case Bardin protested. Bardin though was too preoccupied to do much of that. He kept looking back at Bengo all the way across the field. He was more preoccupied than ever when he and Adam reached the Arch-Pater’s table.

“And how are you coping with being Captain?” asked the Arch-Pater.

“Fine”, Bardin mumbled, completely distracted now by the problem of how to wrest the upper hand away from Bengo.

Toppy put a plate of food down in front of Bardin.

“I didn’t know you were working over here now!” said Bardin.

Toppy gave a tut and then carefully laid Bardin’s jacket across his knees.

“Bengo gave me this to carry”, he said “He thought you might need it when the sun goes down”.

“How very thoughtful of him”, Bardin growled “Go back and tell Bengo to bring me a beer, and I want only HIM to bring it, o.k?”

The Arch-Pater made valiant attempts to engage Bardin in conversation. The problems of being a leader of men, particularly in a spiritual community, wasn’t a subject that enthralled Bardin at the best of times though, and certainly not now. It was only because of the stern looks that Julian was giving him that he paid any attention at all.

Tamaz brought him over a glass of beer.

“You’re not Bengo”, said Bardin.

“I would have thought that was obvious to anyone”, said Tamaz, who had volunteered instead of Toppy to bring the beer over, so that he could see Bardin’s look of disgruntlement.

Bardin excused himself from the table and steered Tamaz away a few feet out of earshot of the others.

“Bengo told me to tell you”, said Tamaz, relishing every word he uttered “That it’s not his duty to obey you at the present time”.

“You tell Bengo to stop humiliating me”, Bardin hissed “Or I’ll make him sleep in the garden tonight, all on his own!”

“Psh”, said Tamaz “You won’t do that. Anyway, if he’s not obeying it it doesn’t matter what you say, it won’t have any effect on him”.

“You are the messenger, not an interpreter. Now just go and tell him!” said Bardin, and he returned to the Arch-Pater’s table looking very fierce indeed.

No amount of pleasant social chit-chat though could lure Bardin away from his gloom. Whether it was the potent effect of the monks’ homemade wine or not but he began to strongly visualise what his life would have been like if he hadn’t left the Village of Stairs and set off in pursuit of the errant Bengo. A solitary clown in his little room, increasingly isolated and friendless, more and more prone as time went on to those masochistic fits of deep melancholy that are so peculiar to clowns.

Suddenly he got up and left, simply heading back across the fields towards the river and the Castle, leaving all his fellow Indigo-ites in a state of bewildered consternation … except Bengo that is, who saw it just as Bardin trying to cause A Scene.

“Is Bardin going home, Adam?” asked Lonts.

“I’ll go after him”, said Tamaz “Someone should be with him at this time”.

“Yeah, but not you!” said Joby, who had been trying to think of some way of getting out of the same field which Nola was in all evening “I’ll go”.

Bardin entered the Great Hall at Midnight Castle, and realised that for the first time he was completely on his own in the building. It was an unnerving thought, like being Jonah in the belly of the whale. He almost felt the building begin to slowly close in around him. He gave a shout of relief when he saw Joby’s outline in the porch, silhouetted against the deep gloaming outside.

“I don’t think that this place is ever empty, not really”, said Joby “There are other occupants in it that we can’t see”.

“I know”, Bardin whispered “I wonder if they show themselves when we’re not here?”

“That way madness lies”, said Joby, going towards the library “C’mon, let’s make it look a bit more familiar”.

He lit the oil-lamp on the side-table and then the candle on the mantelpiece.

“Light banishes demons, as Kieran would say”, said Joby.

“Did he mind you coming over?” said Bardin.

“Too busy getting stuck into the homemade plonk to notice I expect”, said Joby “Tamaz said you were threatening to make Bengo sleep in the garden tonight, all by himself”.

“That was just words”, said Bardin “I don’t want any strange purple creatures and wild beasts to get him. It’s just when he’s being awkward like this I get frustrated enough to threaten anything”.

“Yeah, he can be a stubborn little bastard on the quiet”, said Joby “Almost as bad as Lonts when he gets an attitude stuck in his brain!”

When Kieran came home a while later he found Joby and Bardin both lying asleep side-by-side on the sofa.

“Ah look, the babes in the wood, so it is”, he said, lurching about with a lighted candle in his hand.

“Patsy, for goodness sake do be careful”, said Adam, taking the candle off him “You could set light to your hair!”

Kieran fell forward like a dead weight onto them. Joby woke up grumpily and pushed him onto the floor. Adam grabbed Kieran and yanked him roughly to his feet.

“Joby, take him up to bed”, said Adam.

“Yeah, alright”, Joby steered Kieran firmly out of the room “Can’t hold yer drink as usual!”

“Bardin, I would strongly advise you to go up as well”, said Adam “Jules is quite annoyed about your sudden walking out like that”.

“Why, was the Arch-Pater upset?” said Bardin.

“No he was fine”, said Adam “But between you and me Jules does get so very middle-class about these things. He will never admit it, but little things like conventional behaviour at special meals like that mean a lot to him”.

“Are you annoyed with me?” said Bardin.

“Concerned actually”, said Adam “As I have been for a while now. All this yearning for Winter Palace-style adventure …”

“But I think I’m o.k now”, said Bardin.

“The others will be back at any moment”, said Adam “Go upstairs and pretend you’re asleep”.

Bardin scuttled up the marble staircase just as he heard the others crossing the bridge outside. He knew he could be seen all the way up to the top of the staircase, and didn’t relax a muscle until he’d got into the main bedroom.

Joby had put Kieran on the four-poster in there, and was now attempting to remove his clothes, with difficulty.

“If it had been me who’d got into this state”, said Joby, removing Kieran’s trousers with a great rattle of belt-buckle “You’d nag and you’d nag and you’d nag”.

“Of course I would”, said Kieran “Have you ever heard of an Irishman who didn’t love the sound of his own voice?!”

“It’d make a nice change if I did!” said Joby.

“Not only that”, Kieran continued “I am three … nay, three-and-a-half months older than you, which makes me your undoubted lord and master”.

“Oh yeah?” said Joby “Like Bardin is Bengo’s I suppose? We had a great example of that all evening!”

“That’ll all change tomorrow”, said Bardin. He stripped off his clothes and jumped in next to Kieran, and immediately affected to be asleep.

Joby gave a longsuffering sigh and went to get a mug of water from the wash-stand. Everyone else filed into the room like spectators going through a turnstyle at a football match.

“It’s Biggus Dickus”, Kieran exclaimed at Julian “His Horrible Lordship of Cockshire, everyone be upstanding …”

“Kieran!” said Joby, trying not to laugh “You wont’ remember saying that in the morning, but you can bet anything you like that he will!”

“I shall want to see you first thing in the morning”, said Julian, pointing down at Kieran “And after that I shall want to see the one who’s pretending to be asleep next to you!”

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