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A month passed. Codlik kept them posted regularly as to what the Barlazzi Constable was doing, namely collecting evidence against Kieran. He tried to reassure Kieran that this was turning out to be by no means an easy process, but all the same he advised Kieran to spend the summer at Woll's, and only to get personally invovled if it was absolutely necessary.
Hillyard made a solo trip to Toondor Lanpin, via air-buggy, in July, ostensibly to show his face as Governor, but on the quiet to see what the ordinary people were making of it all. Persephone informed him that the gossip in her bar was that the whole thing was absurd and a waste of time, and Kieran should simply carry on being Kieran, that no one bothered too much about his sex life as he'd never tried to hide anything, or set himself up as the ultimate paragon of virtue. Sensible people despise hypocrisy and deceit more than anything, and Kieran could not be accused of either. Hillyard privately reflected that the Barlazzi Constable was himself guilty on both counts though. He flew back to Woll's with this thought safely stored away at the back of his mind.
Julian had been agitatedly pressing Kieran as to when he was going to start mobilising the women. Kieran said it was far too soon for all that, that people had to be given more time to get thoroughly sick of the Barlazzi Demon, as he called the Constable. "Enough rope, enough rope", he chanted, calmly.
In the meantime, aside from all these worries, life at Woll's was looking up. Much to Lonts' disgust, they had all resigned themselves to being there for another couple of months at least, and so decided to make their situation more comfortable. Adam, aided by Lonts, Toppy and Lillijana (he jokingly referred to them as his Household Cavalry), set about re-vamping some of the rooms. In the barn-like Great Hall, he installed carpets, to muffle the dispiriting and incessant clack-clack-clack of people's shoes on the stone floor and stairs, and hung tapestries on the walls to try and absorb some of the tiresome echoing. This alone seemed to make it more homely, and he was determined to break the institutional feel that the whole house had acquired.
He commandeered an empty first-floor room and turned it into the Indigo-ites' new saloon. This was in a secluded part of the house, away from the staring eyes of passing staff, and it had an external staircase connecting it to the garden, which meant they could get outside easily, without having to trek through the house.
Time passed very pleasently on these home improvements, and he was delighted with Lilli, whom he found to be a quietly-cheerful, amiable young woman. She got on very well with him and Lonts, which made Toppy's aloof treatment of her even more maddening.
"He's behaving deplorably", said Adam, letting off steam to Julian one evening "I don't care how mixed up he is about his own feelings, he could at least try and not be some damn arrogant and off-hand. I don't know where we went wrong with him. I'm afraid we've spoilt him".
"Everybody is bloody spoilt!" Julian exlaimed "He's spoilt, Lonts is spoilt, Bengo has a tantrum everytime anyone disagrees with him, Finia ran off and married an accountant in a fit of pique, mere words cannot do justice to exactly how spoilt Freaky is, Joby is a law unto himself, and Hillyard and Kieran live in worlds of their own. Everyone is spoilt! And do you know whose fault it is?"
"Mine, I suppose", said Adam, shortly.
"Yes", said Julian "Because you always give in to people. Anytime I've tried to impose any discipline, I get you trilling about how we must be fair and ethical all the time. Well look where it's got us! I hope you're satisfied!"
"At least I do something", said Adam, indignantly "I don't ponce around in my dressing-gown all day, like Gloria Swanson, smoking cigars and barking orders at people. I don't know why you couldn't help me with the decorating. You are supposed to be an interior designer!"
"What would have been the point?" said Julian "You'd never agree with me on anything. Seeing as you've made it perfectly clear many times over the years that you think I have deplorable taste. Anyway, I know how much you're enjoying playing Mrs Danvers, I wouldn't want to queer your pitch!"
Infuriated by Julian's remarks, Adam next set to work on transforming the dining-room. He ordered the huge refrectory-style trestle table to be taken apart and stored away, and a smaller one put in, one just big enough to seat the dozen of them comfortably. Half the dining-room was then screened off, to make it a more cosy and convivial area. He was delighted to find that a pair of French windows opened out onto the garden. These had been obscured by thick curtains and shutters when they had been there at Christmas-time, but now they were kept open and provided a relaxing backdrop to their evening meal.
Joby meantime was busy in the garden, and even began to wistfully resurrect his old ambition of creating a blue rose. Such dreams and the long hours he spent out in the sunshine helped to take his mind off his worries over Kieran.
Unfortunately his new routine left Tamaz feeling marooned. For several weeks he had been the centre of attention whilst they were doing the show, and now it seemed he was expected to amuse himself. It was therefore somewhat inevitable that one July afternoon he would decide to don his petticoats and go and seek out Mieps at the other end of the house.
Mieps greeted him in his room slyly, like a fly-catcher that had been waiting patiently for some choice morsel to buzz near him.
"You don't have to be so nervous, Tamaz", he purred, standing in the middle of his room "I'm not going to lock you in here. You can leave anytime. Leave now if you wish".
"You're being very calm about having me here", said Tamaz.
"Because the catch is hooked, my little Ghoomer brat", said Mieps "I don't have to be aggressive anymore".
"I don't want to get pregnant", said Tamaz, firmly "One litter of lumps was enough".
"You won't", said Mieps "I know what I'm doing. But why be so clinical about it? Is that a habit you've picked up from your human friends? Less talk. Come here".
Tamaz looked behind him at the shut door, and then at Mieps who was standing there with his arms wide open. He ran up to him and wrapped himself up against Mieps' body. Tamaz's vital craving for affection ensured his enthusiasm. The thought crossed his mind many times as to "what the hell am I doing here? With this creature who alarms me so much?" But at the same time he couldn't force himself away. He wanted to try out Mieps, even if it was only just the once.
Mieps was fully aware of all this. He got Tamaz onto the bed, and tore off his petticoat, drawers and bodice. He thrust himself into Tamaz without any preliminaries, and Tamaz found himself swept along on that strong current that goes with vigorous sex. At the same time he realised with a vague inkling of disquiet that he had got himself involved with someone whom he would never be able to manipulate.
Afterwards he lay and watched as Mieps washed himself at the sink and then pulled on a yellow silk robe that had seen better days. Tamaz sat up and reached for his drawers.
"I knew you'd be worth the wait", said Mieps "The best catch always is. I don't know why you're leaving, you might as well stay".
"Haven't you had enough yet?" Tamaz stormed over to him and jabbed him in the chest with his finger "You've got what you wanted".
"Exactly", said Mieps "We're mated, so we're now together".
"Wrong, you vile old snake", said Tamaz "I only did that out of curiosity. It was alright for a one-off, but I bet it'd get bloody boring after a while".
"You belong to me now, Tamaz", said Mieps.
"No I don't!" Tamaz grabbed his corset and petticoat "You're not my keeper".
"Do you really think Joby's going to want you back after this?" said Mieps "He doesn't deserve you back anyway, not if he can't value you properly. There's no way I'd let you run about out of my sight all day. You'll be back here in a little while, when he's thrown you out. We'll be licking each other's faces again by the end of the day. Like should be with like".
Tamaz spat at him out of frustration and ran out of the room. He ran through the house, meeting no one in these gloomy back corridors, until he came to the broad stone staircase which led up to the bedroom wing the Indigo-ites now occupied. Halfway he collapsed into a sobbing heap. He had partly gone with Mieps to try and exorcise the hold Mieps had over him, fully believing that afterwards they would find themselves coolly indifferent to each other's company. This wasn't the case. Tamaz realised he would still feel the same mixture of excitement and repugnance everytime Mieps was near him. He was frightened, envisaging a bleak future of being fucked, beaten and impregnated by Mieps on a regular basis. There would be no cosy talks, no laughter, no warm embraces. In no time at all he would age and lose his looks, ending up like so many Ghoomers, with a hard face which permanently wore a bad-tempered expression.
Lonts found him and took him in his arms. Tamaz tearfully confessed everything.
"Joby will understand", said Lonts "He won't send you away. He was saying only the other day that you and Mieps were bound to come together at some point. I won't let Mieps take you anyway. I've told him that too".
"Joby'll hate me for this", Tamaz sobbed "It'll be the last straw".
Kieran came upon them and instantly guessed what had happened.
"I'll take Tamaz into our room", he said to Lonts "You run down to the garden and fetch Joby".
Lonts was only too pleased to do so, and he located him by a rose-bush.
"Joby, come up and see Tamaz", said Lonts, breathlessly.
"What's he done now?" Joby sighed.
"Don't be like that!" said Lonts, sternly "He's had sex with Mieps, and he's really worried about how you'll take it".
"Not so worried it stopped him doing it!" said Joby.
"Joby, that's really mean", said Lonts.
"Alright, don't go on at me", said Joby "I'm not angry. Tamaz is naturally naughty, that's the way of it. It's one of the reasons I love him so much".
"Then you'll be kind to him?" said Lonts, pensively "You won't slipper him like you did after he went with me?"
"After going with Mieps I should think he's had enough trauma for one day!" said Joby.
"Do you know, I think this room is growing on me at last", said Kieran, after putting Tamaz into the huge four-poster the three of them shared "I hated it at first, so big and bare. Reminded me of my old study at the Ministry. But now I think we can make it homely, particularly in the winter, with the fire lit and the curtains drawn. Us three'll have some cosy evenings up here, that's for sure".
"I hope so", said Tamaz, miserably.
"Hey now, don't forget I'm on your side", said Kieran, squeezing his hand "Between us we'll bring him round".
The door opened and Joby walked in, having sent Lonts back to his decorating duties. He came up to the bed, pulled up a chair and sat down.
"He didn't hurt you did he?" he asked, softly.
"Not really", said Tamaz.
"Two hermaphrodites together", said Kieran "Must've been quite an experience!"
"Very little of him's female", said Tamaz, sombrely.
"He might be useful to us one day", said Joby "If all this business with the Constable turns really nasty, there's no way I'm gonna let him or anyone get Kieran, so we'd have to take him away and hide him somewhere".
"Into the mountains perhaps", Tamaz suggested "There must be whole areas we'd never be found in. Mieps would be useful as a sherpa, hunter and guide".
"That's what I was thinking", said Joby.
"I hope it doesn't come to that", said Kieran.
"I'd do anything to keep you safe if I thought there was a plot afoot to have you bumped off", said Joby "That's one of the reasons I'm not upset about all this. The important thing is us, being together like this. I've grown up a bit since Wolf Castle. I've learnt what the most important things to me are, and at the moment they feel more important than ever".
Joby went downstairs ahead of them to dinner. In the Great Hall he found Julian standing in the doorway to the outside world, smoking a cigar. He was gazing out at the summer evening, with a deceptively tranquil expression on his face. This changed when he noticed Joby, whom he called over in a rather brusque voice.
"I take it you've heard about Tamaz's little adventure then?" said Joby.
"Are you getting as soft and liberal as Kieran in your old age?" Julian barked "Why aren't you being your usual sensible self and beating the living daylights out of the little brat?!"
"Oh I'm a bit too concerned with all this stuff with Kieran and the Barlazzi Constable at the moment", said Joby "All the business with Mieps was partly my fault anyway, I've been too wrapped up in me own worries. I'll keep Tamaz closer to me from now on".
"We'll sort it out", said Julian, squeezing his arm.
Kieran and Tamaz came down the stairs and crossed the hall to the dining-room. Julian and Joby followed them. Everyone else had gathered round the dining-table. The French windows were wide open, and the wind-up gramophone was perched on the sideboard, playing a soothing violin piece, entirely at variance with all the different heated conversations going on around the table. Snowy had been placed on the sideboard as well, with his head peering quizzically at the turntable.
"What's the rampaging sex-monster doing in here?!" said Tamaz, pointing at Mieps.
"And I thought I'd been behaving myself lately too!" said Hillyard, who was sitting at the head of the table with his back to the windows.
"You can sit next to me, Freaky", said Julian "Where I can keep an eye on you".
Opposite them Bengo was getting more and more exasperated with Bardin, who insisted on tutting censoriously everytime Bengo put some more pineapple chutney on his grilled chicken.
"Tell him, Adam", said Bengo, nudging Adam, who was sitting next to him "Tell him I'm not getting flabby. He keeps on and on about it".
"Once and for all you're not flabby", said Adam "And I don't see why you need to keep harping on about Bengo's weight, Bardin".
"Because his looks are vital to our act", said Bardin "We rely on them".
"Yes well we can't rely on yours can we!" said Bengo, caustically.
"That's enough!" said Adam, firmly "Lo-Lo, swap places with Bengo. He and Bardin can't be trusted to sit next to each other without starting a fight".
Lonts sighed and picked up his plate. He and Bengo manoeuvred past each other with difficulty, and sat down in their new places.
"This is bound to happen", said Toppy, dolefully "There are 13 of us sitting here".
"It's got nothing to do with numbers", said Joby "And everything to do with Bengo and Bardin!"
"Nice evening outside", said Hillyard.
After dinner they moved into the hall where Lilli was engaged in setting up the coffee-pot, under the housekeeper, Widow Bertha's, direction.
"Ah Lilli, I was hoping to see you this evening", said Adam "I'm thinking of starting on the old library tomorrow. We're going to give it a good clean-out. We need to find somewhere to park Julian of an evening, otherwise he storms around the house upsetting people just before they go to bed".
"I can't", Lilli whispered, awkwardly "Widow Bertha's getting funny about the amount of time I spend working with you. It's causing bad feeling. She says I'm getting overly-familiar with you".
"In what way?" said Adam, trying not to laugh.
"She doesn't like the way I call you Adam instead of Mr Adam", said Lilli.
"Well it's either that, or I have to call you Miss Lilli in return", said Adam "Which sounds dreadfully formal".
"She says I'm neglecting my real duties", said Lilli.
"What would you have been doing tomorrow morning instead then?" said Adam.
"Polishing the dining-room table and cleaning the dining-room windows", said Lilli.
"Well that doesn't sound very enthralling", said Adam "I think we'll put Bengo and Bardin onto that little chore".
"But Widow Bertha won't like it", said Lilli.
"Who is in overall charge here?" said Adam "And I don't just mean in the Service Wing".
"Mr Hillyard", said Lilli.
"Quite", said Adam "And I'm pretty certain he'll have no violent objection to you helping me in the library, so that settles it".
Lilli wasn't likely to argue too much with Adam's decision. She thoroughly enjoyed being a member of his Household Cavalry, and the staff in the Service Wing always seemed especially restrained and dull-witted when she returned to them afterwards. This morning she and Lonts were in the garden beating rugs dragged out of the old library. This gradually got more and more manic until they both collapsed onto the terrace in a heap of laughter. Lilli fanned herself in the heat, undoing the front of her uniform, and exposing a sun-tanned bosom above the serviceable brown apron she wore. She noticed Lonts staring at her, and he looked away in embarrassment.
"I'm sorry", he said "It's just that you're very pretty. I think Toppy's mad, or stupid. Would you like to marry him?"
"Not if he doesn't want me, no", said Lilli "He was different at Christmas, we got on so well. I don't understand why he's being so funny with me now. I wish he was more nice and straightforward like you".
"But I'm not normal", said Lonts, despondently "I have rages sometimes, and ... and I have to wear a nappy in bed".
"I know", said Lilli, gently "Toppy told me at Christmas".
"Toppy's a little sneak!" Lonts exclaimed "It would be nice if you married him, you could sort him out. And you won't mind the rest of us. We're quite nice really. We fight a lot, which I suppose might get on your nerves a bit, as you're a girl. But we love each other, even Toppy. And you won't get any trouble from the rest of us. I know I stared just now, but it's Adam and Tamaz I fancy really".
"Well that's nice", Lilli laughed.
Adam had overheard most of this conversation and was telling Julian about it a short while later, as they walked around the garden.
"There's only one thing for it", said Julian, decisively "We'll have to force Toppy into it".
"How, for heaven's sake?" said Adam "You'll be suggesting an arranged marriage next!"
"That's not such a bad idea", said Julian "There's a lot to be said for it".
"And how are we going to achieve that pray?" said Adam "Make Toppy exchange his vows whilst held at gungpoint by Ransey?! That'll give a whole new meaning to the term 'shotgun wedding'!"
"I was saying to Finia there's a room near the top of the main staircase that would make an idea bridal-chamber", said Julian "We could do it up for them, like an old-style bedding ceremony. Put them in there together and then go in the next morning and see how they got on".
"Examining the sheets for semen stains I suppose!" said Adam, in horror "It's a grotesque idea. I can't believe even you can believe in that one!"
"I think Julian might have a point", said Joby, who was weeding a flower-bed nearby "The arranged marriages system wasn't all bad. I remember once, back in our time, seeing a programme on it. They had an Indian woman on there who said she hadn't even seen her husband before the actual wedding day. Can you believe it? They hadn't met, not even once, before they both got to the altar. And she said they had a wonderful marriage, very passionate and caring".
"Well I suppose by the law of averages one at least must turn out alright", said Adam "Anyway, Toppy and Lilli have met, that's the problem!"
"That was one idea anyway", said Julian, who had pulled a hardboiled egg out of his dressing-gown pocket and was now shelling it, flicking the fragments of shell into Joby's wheelbarrow.
"And an incredibly stupid one!" Adam roared "We are not the Royal Family, Jules, to go around forcing people into marriage and making everyone miserable. Fortunately we are not a dynastic set-up, and do not have to build our entire existence around producing the next generation! As such, there is no earthly reason why Toppy should get married at all if he doesn't wish it".
"That's a good argument too", said Joby "Why don't we just leave him alone?"
"Yes, I quite agree!" Adam thundered, and stormed off.
He went back to the house, intending to enter via the dining-room window, only to find Bengo up a ladder squawking down at Bardin, who was standing at the foot of it. Suddenly Bengo tossed down his wet chamois leather and hit Bardin squarely in the face with it.
"Why can't we have some peace and tranquillity around here?!" Adam cried, in desperation.
"Because you keep making a lot of noise", said Bardin, wiping his face on his discarded t-shirt.
"Get on with your work", said Adam, as a parting-shot.
He found Kieran wandering aimlessly around the hall.
"I sometimes feel like I'm living in a dismal sex-farce", said Adam "Everyone keeps harping on about the best way to make poor Toppy lose his virginity. Les Liaisons Dangereuse!"
"You keep on like that and I'll start thinking the Barlazzi Demon is right about us", said Kieran.
"I would never agree with that, Patsy", said Adam "Perhaps it's living in a country house that's doing it. Too many associations with bored gentry having nothing better to do than to bonk each other senseless and come up with sexual intrigues to pass the time".
"Make the most of it, Addy", said Kieran "I have a feeling it's not going to be like this for much longer".
That afternoon Julian went on yet another quest to find his ideal bath-tub. He had been doing this ever since they moved in, but hadn't yet decided which one (out of many) in the house suited him the best. He trailed around the chilly stone corridors, followed by Hillyard and Finia. Hillyard was carrying a selection of soaps and towels.
"I really don't see why you can't bring my hip-bath up from the Indigo, Hillyard", Julian had remarked for the umpteenth time "It's not as if you've got to carry it up here on your back! You can load it onto a carriage".
"There's no point", said Hillyard "We've got more bath-tubs in this house than we know what to do with. I can't understand why you can't find one that fits you".
"They're all too bloody shallow, that's why!" said Julian "I'm a tall person, and if I'm to have a lounging bath, I want one I can lounge in properly, where I don't have to stick my feet halfway up the wall!"
"It might be easier to go and fetch the hip-bath", Hillyard muttered to Finia, as Julian strode down the corridor opening doors at random.
"No, don't give in to him", Finia hissed back "If you do that he'll have you running ridiculous errands at all hours of the day and night, and do you really want to be lugging cans of hot water all over the place?!"
"Spose not", Hillyard grunted "Is it me or has he got worse since we moved in here? He's more demanding than Tamaz!"
"Hard to tell", said Finia "Trouble is, he misses being Captain, I think that's the truth of the matter. You're the owner here, Adam's taken over inside the house, Ransey's seeing to the estate, and Joby runs the garden. He's out on a limb these days. He hasn't got anyone to boss around".
"Could've fooled me", said Hillyard.
"This one'll do!" Julian shouted from a nearby bathroom.
It wasn't the most cheerful of places, being decorated with a gloomy expanse of white tiling. Finia said it reminded him of a public urinal.
"That's probably why Julian likes it", said Hillyard.
"Oh very amusing", said Julian.
He had barely sat down in the bath when Mieps appeared, wearing his disreputable yellow robe.
"This bathroom is already occupied", Julian snapped.
"Don't mind me", said Mieps, turning the handle on the ancient shower unit nearby "After all, we're all boys together", he pointedly looked Finia up and down "Well sort of".
"Don't start on Finia", said Julian "Anyway, it's entirely a matter of opinion as to what you are!"
"I think male", said Mieps "Therefore I am male".
He stepped under the shower-head and exclaimed at the coldness of the water.
"Don't blame me", said Julian "Someone must've turned on a tap in the kitchen. Anyway, I expect you could do with a cold shower!"
"You might need me soon, Julian", said Mieps, pushing his wet hair out of his eyes "I could be invaluable to you if we end up in an open conflict with Kieran's enemies. I won't ask much as a reward. Look at this way, I'll be taking a troublesome brat off your hands".
Julian struggled to get back out of the tub.
"I can't stay here and listen to this wretch", he said "Out of all the bathrooms in this house he had to walk into mine!"
Julian spent half the evening sunk in deepest gloom, slouched in his dressing-gown in their new saloon. Adam found him there at nine o'clock. He had walked into the room, carrying an armful of Julian's clothes.
"Dinner's about to be served, Jules", he said.
"Dinner?" Julian spat "It seems like only five minutes ago since we had lunch! That's all we do in this house, eat and fornicate!"
"Speak for yourself", said Adam "Some of us have been working hard".
"Bully for you", Julian snarled.
"I thought you'd like to put some clothes on", said Adam, placing them on a nearby coffee-table.
"I don't see the point", said Julian "Not if I'm going to be taking them off again afterwards".
"Oh well if you're just going to be plain naughty, I don't see the point in talking to you", said Adam, and stormed to the door angrily.
"Wait", Julian sprinted after him "Don't walk out on me in a temper, Ada. In this house I can never be sure when I'm going to see you again! I'll get dressed, look", he picked up his buckskin trousers and proceeded to put them on.
"You reminded me of Lo-Lo then", Adam smiled, fondly "I do wish you'd go back to being Captain, Jules".
"There's no point", said Julian "When I haven't got a ship to be Captain of! This is Hillyard's house, I can't go taking it over".
"Hilly's not going to mind", said Adam "He's too busy helping Patsy at the moment anyway, sending sweet missives to Toondor Lanpin to make sure they stay on our side".
"Yes, Hillyard will be good at that", said Julian, pulling on his shirt "He'd make an excellent diplomat".
"We need you in charge, to pull us all together", said Adam.
"You're the one that holds everything together", said Julian.
"I don't know how much longer for", said Adam, sinking into a chair "I know you're going to laugh, but I think I'm losing my mind".
"What on earth makes you think that?" said Julian, sitting on the carpet at his feet.
"I get so confused lately", said Adam "I start to do things and then forget why, and I'm always mislaying things".
"That's hardly a sign of imminent dementia!" said Julian "You've always been a bit scatterbrained, even when you were 12-years-old you were constantly forgetting things, the right books, that kind of thing. You were always being reprimanded about it at school".
"This is different, Jules", said Adam "The other evening I was feeling a bit tired so I went up to bed straight after dinner".
"I remember", said Julian "You'd been carting stacks of books about all day".
"Well I went upstairs", said Adam "And I sat down in the armchair. I didn't get into bed as I knew I would have to help Lo-Lo with his nappy when he came up. Anyway, time passed. And I got to thinking, gosh Lo-Lo's a long time coming upstairs. And then Bengo and Bardin walked in. I was in their bloody bedroom, not mine!"
"Easy mistake to make in this house", said Julian, dryly.
"No it's not, Jules", said Adam "Their room looks nothing like ours, and it's on a different floor entirely! How could I have made such a crazy mistake?"
"You've said yourself, you've been working hard lately", said Julian "And you're very preoccupied with Kieran. It's all bound to make you a little absent-minded at times".
"Do you remember your Great-Aunt Blanche?" said Adam.
"Vividly", said Julian "Nutty as a fruitcake".
"What if end up like her?" said Adam.
"Running down the street in your nightie, you mean?" said Julian "Stopping traffic!"
"I'm being serious", said Adam.
"Well I'm not", said Julian "I refuse to believe you've got senile dementia until I see a little more evidence of it, other than your usual, day-to-day eccentricities. Now let's go and see what's on the menu tonight which will make Bengo fat!"
"He's like his mother, that's the trouble", said Julian, sitting in the Great Hall after dinner. Kieran was next to him, and they were both drinking port "Thoroughbred racehorses. Frisky as hell, live on their nerves. A bit like you really".
"I'm trying to get better", said Kieran "Although sometimes it's hard to maintain peace of mind when there always seems to be some vindictive bastard out to get me! To be honest, I don't think Adam's ever known perfect health".
"That's quite true", Julian sighed "There's usually been something lurking in the woodwork. His lungs for example, and as a boy he used to get terrible headaches. All nerves-related. He's never had a well-balanced equilibrium. Sometimes it amazes me he's got this far! Must be your doing".
"I was about to say it must be yours", said Kieran.
"Let's be neutral, and say it's all down to Lonts", said Julian "You could draw a line down the this family and put us into two halves. The solid, balanced ones like Hillyard, Joby, Finia, Ransey, myself, Bardin, even Bengo when he's not being prone to his artistic tantrums! And then the others, the irrational, excitable, nervy ones. You, Adam, Lonts, Tamaz ..."
"Where does Toppy fit it into it all?" said Kieran.
At that moment Toppy had emerged from the library. The others were all inside there, engrossed in a game of bar-billiards which had been unearthed from under a pile of dust-sheets and books.
"Let's find out", said Julian "Toppy, come over here a moment".
"Have I done something wrong?" said Toppy, nervously.
"No, we're not going to tell you off, don't be alarmed", said Julian "Pull up that footstool. Kieran and I are just a little concerned about you at the moment. You don't seem terribly happy".
"I could be, I could be very happy", said Toppy "If everyone would stop deciding they know better than me what makes me happy! I've said loads of times I want to be just friends with Lilli, I do like her a lot, but not in the way you all keep thinking. I'm not allowed to be just friends with her though, I have to put up with everyone keep trying to manoeuvre us together all the time".
"Heck, Topps", said Kieran "We've made a right balls-up here haven't we? Try and forgive us. It's just that we got carried away in our enthusiasm to see you happy".
"I'm happy as long as I'm left in peace", said Toppy "I really am not interested in sex. But I can't win. If I try to explain that everyone thinks I've got it on the brain! I remember you talking about when you had your eating disorder, Kieran. You said you got to the stage where you just couldn't be bothered to eat, you were bored at the thought of eating, and that's how it is with me about sex. I don't want to stop anyone else doing it, anymore than you wanted to stop anyone else eating, but if you'd stopped eating you would have died, but even if I never have sex I'll still live and be fine ... well that's it anyway".
Toppy trailed off in embarrassment, having given perhaps the longest speech of his life.
"Kieran was right", said Julian "We do just want to see you happy, and you have, as you rightly say, told us what you wanted all along. We just got above ourselves that's all".
Toppy was slightly disconcerted at seeing Julina, whom he passionately adored and secretly thought of as godlike, acting humbled, and he hastened to reassure him that he hadn't taken offence. Not really.
"You have to talk to Lilli sometime though, Toppy", said Kieran "It's only fair. Otherwise the blunt truth is you'd be stringing her along".
"Actually it's us who've been stringing her along", said Julian.
"No, I'll talk to her", said Toppy "We'll go for a walk in the garden tomorrow. I'll try and explain everything. Sort of".
Lonts and Joby came out of the library, arguing vociferously, followed by Adam, who was looking with amusemnt at them both.
"You're a bad sportsman, that's what you are", said Joby "You go into a stupid sulk just because you start losing. You remind me of my brother. When we used to play Monopoly together as kids, he used to beat me up if I wouldn't let him buy all the stations!"
"I'm not a bad sportsman", said Lonts "It's you, you were making up the rules as you went along. I don't believe I can lose all my score like that and go back to zero".
"That is what happens if you knock over one of the pegs", said Joby, with forced patience "I've told you that God knows how many times!"
"He is right actually, Lo-Lo", said Adam.
"Well that's a really stupid rule!" said Lonts "I don't see why we couldn't just ignore it. Think how many people have probably been made unhappy by that stupid rule!"
"Lonts, it's just a game!" Joby squawked, in exasperation "Not a breach of human rights!"
"Never mind, Lo-Lo", said Adam "You can always have another game tomorrow".
"Not with me, he can't", said Joby.
Widow Bertha appeared at the fringes of the Great Hall, and stood there looking very self-important indeed. It transpired that she and the rest of the staff wanted to go to bed.
"Well no one's stopping you, old love", said Adam "You could've gone hours ago if you'd wanted".
"We can't go to bed until you all go to bed", she said, having rehearsed this little speech many times over the past few days in the servants' hall "It is causing much unpleasentness amongst the staff".
"Why?" said Adam "Why can't you all just go to bed? What's stopping you?"
"If we went to bed before you, you might need something later", said Widow Bertha.
"Then we could just get it for ourselves", said Julian, irritably "We're not helpless dolts. Believe it or not, we did manage to fend for ourselves before we met you!"
"Somebody needs to lock the house up", said Widow Bertha.
"I think we could just about manage that", said Hillyard, glancing at the big front doors.
"This is most irregular", Widow Bertha bristled.
"I always wondered if people said that in real life", said Joby.
"There is nothing irregular about it", said Adam "It is our house and we go to bed when we wish. We're not in prison or hospital!"
Widow Bertha retraced her steps in an indignant fashion.
"She'll probably resign tomorrow", said Kieran.
"Good", said Julian "Save us the trouble of sacking her!"
"Sometimes I feel like I'm back at school with her around", said Joby.
"It simply isn't good enough", said Adam "We haven't been through everything we have to be bullied like this. Being told what we can eat, which room we can sit in, and when we have to go to bed. It's completely unacceptable!"
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